Given how important the youth have been to Finland this year, it's probably not a shocker that the final seven roster spots for the nation's World Cup of Hockey team skew young. But it is nice to see the kids rewarded.
Leading the way is everyone's favorite kinetic force, right winger Patrik Laine. Coming off a silver medal and tournament MVP turn at the worlds, Laine will get to run with the real big boys in Toronto (if he thought Canada was a challenge with Morgan Rielly and Chris Tanev on defense, wait until he gets a load of Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith).
Now, if I'm the Winnipeg Jets – I'm assuming they will jump at the chance to take Laine with the second overall pick in the draft – I'm perhaps a smidgen concerned that Laine will be having an extremely short summer. Between the worlds, the draft combine, the draft itself, rookie camp/rookie tournament and actual training camp, there will be very little time to rest now that the World Cup is added on. But Laine is already strong and power-packed with energy – and he is still a teenager – so perhaps it won't matter in the end.
Laine wasn't the only young player rewarded for recent success, however. Sebastian Aho, the Carolina Hurricanes prospect, will also be in Toronto now. Aho was the glue of Finland's top line at the world juniors, playing center for Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. He also played for Finland's silver squad at the worlds and by all indications has a roster spot with the Hurricanes waiting for him after an excellent start to his pro career with Karpat Oulu.
Puljujarvi, unfortunately, did not make the cut. It's a bit of a snub, but an understandable one. The excellent two-way prospect is recovering from a lower body injury that required surgery recently, but that may not have been the deciding factor anyway. This is going to be a tough tournament with few teens in it. Laine makes sense because of his lethal shot; you don't need him to play defense or control the play to be effective. Puljujarvi's game is a little more subtle and let's face it, not as potent as Laine's right now (I still love JP as an NHLer, however).
A slightly older youngster who made the final cut is Minnesota's Erik Haula. The Wild center had an impressive playoff run as his team pushed the Dallas Stars to the brink and after a solid regular season, it's clear that his star is rising as a two-way player.
That will help Finland's blueline, since the squad will be young back there. Finnish veterans such as Lasse Kukkonen and Juuso Hietanen were left off the final roster in favor of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ville Pokka (who won silver at the worlds) and he will join fellow upstarts such as Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen and Anaheim's Sami Vatanen.
There was a bit of snub in net as well, as the Finns went with worlds hero Mikko Koskinen instead of an established NHLer. The most obvious candidates were Dallas' tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, but since the Stars were booted from the playoffs in large part because of goaltending, it's understandable.
Besides, with Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask ahead of him, Koskinen is likely just along for the ride, so consider this a reward for being so good in Russia at the worlds. Here's a look at Finland's final roster, which has a lot of youthful energy up front, mobility on the blueline, and veteran netminding.
G Mikko Koskinen, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) *
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
D Jyrki Jokipakka, Calgary Flames *
D Sami Lepisto, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) *
D Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Ville Pokka, Rockford IceHogs (AHL) *
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks
F Sebastian Aho, Karpat Oulu (SM-liiga) *
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild *
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Patrik Laine, Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga) *
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks