What roster will the transitioning Finns field in the World Cup of Hockey 2016? Here’s a preview of who to expect.
The Finns have performed consistently well in recent international competition. They’ve medalled in four of five Olympic tournaments since NHL participation began. They won the 2011 World Championship and finished second last year.
But the Finns are witnessing a changing of the guard, saying goodbye to Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. They’re a team in transition that must rely on new, younger pillars. Their 2014 world junior gold suggests they can do so successfully. What type of roster might they field at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? Here’s a rough projection.
It’s been a nightmarish season for Lehtonen in Dallas, but he’d established himself as a bona fide No. 1 for several good years before that. He’s still young enough, experienced enough and athletic enough to make this team. He slightly edges out Antti Niemi, who typically has better team defenses in front of him in the NHL. Lehtonen is more capable of stealing a game.
This year belongs to Pekka Rinne, even with his knee sprain, but Rask still has the inside track for the No. 1 gig. He’s been a top-five goalie in the world for a few years now, and he sparkled at the 2014 Sochi Games, posting a 1.73 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
Rinne can unseat Rask for the starting gig if Rinne returns healthy, leads Nashville on a deep playoff run and wins his first significant individual hardware. It’s a borderline 1/1A situation here.
On the bubble: Niklas Backstrom, Ville Husso, Joonas Korpisalo, Mikko Koskinen, Antti Niemi, Antti Raanta, Juuse Saros
He won’t bowl anyone over at 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds, but Hietanen brings nice puck-moving ability and a right-handed shot to the blueline. He has tons of international experience, including an appearance at the Sochi Games, where he scored a goal.
Don’t forget, we’re looking a year-and-a-half into the future. Honka is young, but the Finnish ‘D’ corps looks thin on high-ceiling talent. I think he plays his way onto this team, and maybe even the 2015-16 Dallas Stars, with his superb offensive skill.
Let’s hope his health curse ends by summer 2016. The Finns need the Pittsburgh Penguins phenom to eat major minutes in their top four. He’ll be equal to the task.
What Pokka lacks in height, he makes up in thickness and hockey I.Q. He’s been praised for his defensive decision making and was among the pieces going to Chicago in the Nick Leddy deal with the New York Islanders.
Finally, some size for the Finnish blueline. Ristolainen makes sense for the top pair. He’s a rangy 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds. He plays a two-way game and he shoots the puck well.
He’ll be 36 when the World Cup starts, but he brings veteran leadership, having spent many years as captain or alternate captain of Jokerit, formerly of the Finnish League and now in the KHL. Vaananen suited up for Finland in Sochi and he’ll bring more strength and sandpaper than any other D-man on the team.
Say hello to your power play quarterback. It’s Vatanen’s show to run. End of story.
A blood clot threatens his career, but Timonen, 39, may rejoin the Flyers before season’s end. He’s a perfect choice to captain this team in a world without Selanne. Timonen could play in the World Cup at 41 and ride off into the sunset.
On the bubble: Jyrki Jokipakka, Lasse Kukkonen, Petteri Lindbohm, Atte Ohtamaa, Sami Salo
‘Sasha’ isn’t dominating as an NHL sophomore, but consider he’s still just 19 and has 38 points in his first 88 NHL games. Not bad. He’ll only be better by September 2016.
We’ll give the Finnish brass a mulligan for the Sochi snub. Bergenheim is fast, he grinds in the checking game and he scores in the clutch, with 12 goals in 23 NHL playoff contests.
He’s a virtual lock since he’ll be among the highest-scoring NHLers to make this team. Filppula will boost the power play.
His playoff performance last spring suggested an imminent breakout, but it hasn’t happened for Granlund this season. Still, a wrist injury is largely to blame. He remains a star in the making, and he’ll be closer to realizing his potential two summers from now. He may have to shift to the wing, though. The Finns’ best players are almost all natural pivots, and it’s better to have them on the team in their wrong positions than off the team.
Here’s another Finn who put himself on the map for Minnesota last post-season. Haula turned heads with his checking ability. He hasn’t been as effective in 2014-15, but the Finns need his specialized skill set.
Don’t worry too much about his underwhelming campaign with Florida. He still produces prolific point totals with the right linemates.
Little reach here, but if Sami’s son makes the Penguins next season, his profile blows up. He’s speedy like his dad and plays against men in the Finnish League.
If Timonen doesn’t wear the ‘C,’ Koivu does. He’ll center the first line unless Barkov breaks into a new stratosphere in the 2015-16 season.
Can play center or the wing. Will hit everyone in sight either way. Should play on a disruptive checking unit.
He bombed with the Leafs and wound up back in the KHL. Putting up points in the world’s second-best league should still earn Kontiola a World Cup roster spot, however.
The Finns will have no shortage of well-rounded, responsible two-way forwards, and Korpikoski epitomizes that type.
Has been just as good as advertised since joining the Blues. It makes sense to put him on a scoring line, though the glut of natural centers will force someone to the wing.
He’ll be one of Finland’s biggest, most physical forwards if his body holds up. That’s never a sure thing with Ruutu.
He probably has to play his way onto this team. But he has the most raw talent of any Finn and he’s broken into the big leagues with Chicago. Don’t bet against Teuvo Time.
On the bubble: Juhamatti Aaltonen, Joel Armia, Jonas Enlund, Markus Granlund, Teemu Hartikainen, Jarkko Immonen, Jesse Joensuu, Olli Jokinen, Artturi Lehkonen, Teemu Pulkkinen, Jesse Puljujarvi, Mikko Rantanen, Sakari Salminen, Teemu Selanne (you never know!)
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Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin