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World Cup: Finland goes with exciting youth early

The initial 16 players named include three world junior heroes and plenty of other young talents, supplemented by the nation's usual cast of scrappy veterans and leaders.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

There has been a lot of glory on the ice for Finland lately and with the announcement of the nation's first 16 players for the World Cup in Toronto, Suomi will be exciting again.

What stands out on first blush is that the blueline will be both young and dynamic. Dallas Stars prospect Esa Lindell has been assured a spot, as have NHLers Olli Maatta, Rasmus Ristolainen and Sami Vatanen. Perhaps this isn't too surprising, since Finnish blueliners in the NHL are in the midst of a changing of the guard (farewell, Kimmo Timonen and Joni Pitkanen), but it is exciting to see those four names together. This is a group that can really push the puck up the ice and make things happen on the power play.

Not only that, but some of the nation's top talents up front are just getting started in the NHL. Aleksander Barkov is really coming into his own with the high-flying Florida Panthers, while Teuvo Teravainen already has a Stanley Cup ring with Chicago.

Another factor to consider? Many of these guys have won elite tournaments already. Teravainen, Ristolainen and Lindell were all crucial parts of Finland's 2014 gold-medal squad at the world juniors. And when the Finns won the worlds in 2011, the roster included Mikko Koivu, Leo Komarov and Mikael Granlund - all accounted for here, as well.

So intimidation will not be an issue for the Finns, who, let's face it, can never be considered underdogs anymore at this point. While there isn't a ton of high-end scoring on the roster, there are great role players and plenty of grit. Komarov is a horror show to play against thanks to his grating style, while Koivu is a proven leader.

And in net? Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask. Not bad in that category, that's for sure. Rinne is starting to catch fire after slogging through an uncharacteristically bad season, but he is still one of the best goalies in the world. Rask is a more than capable back-up and the Finns still have one netminding slot open, which can be filled by Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi, both of whom are with Dallas (perhaps the tiebreaker is whoever seizes control of the Stars crease in the playoffs).

What happens with the remaining slots? There is still some fun drama there, especially up front. Finland is on the cusp of an incredible generation of talents, with Barkov and Ristolainen leading the way. But more are coming fast, such as Colorado prospect Mikko Rantanen and draft-eligible phenom Patrik Laine, who played for the men's national team in a recent mid-season tournament.

Rantanen and Laine were both major factors in Finland's latest world junior triumph and while the younger Laine may be a long shot, it would sure be fun to see what the rambunctious scorer could do at the World Cup. Rantanen probably has better odds and the powerful producer is closing in on all the rookie offensive records in AHL San Antonio right now after starting the year with the NHL's Avalanche.

One thing is certain: teams are not going to look forward to playing Finland at the World Cup. It's going to be tough, one way or another.


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