LAST YEAR’S FIN­NISH EN­TRY

The Hockey News - - WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP - – RYAN KENNEDY

did about as poorly as a power coun­try can fare at the world ju­niors. As in, it al­most got rel­e­gated. But a lot of that fail­ure could be chalked up to coach­ing – Jukka Rau­tako­rpi was fired dur­ing the tour­na­ment – and youth. Now, the Finns are more ex­pe­ri­enced, par­tic­u­larly on the back end. “Fin­land’s de­fense will be ex­cel­lent,” said one scout. “They’ve got ev­ery­body’s first-rounder. Miro Heiska­nen is play­ing at the same level as Eeli Tolva­nen right now, if you can be­lieve it. His game doesn’t crack up.”

In­deed, Heiska­nen (DAL) head­lines a de­fense corps that in­cludes Olli Juolevi (VAN), Ju­uso Val­i­maki (CGY) and Henri Jok­i­harju (CHI), all NHL first-rounders. Tolva­nen, a right winger and Nashville first-rounder, has been rip­ping it up in the KHL as a mem­ber of the Helsinki-based Jokerit club, and his snip­ing abil­ity will be a key weapon. One word of ad­vice for op­po­nents? Stay out of the box against Fin­land. “Tolva­nen and Heiska­nen to­gether on the power play?” said the scout. “They’re go­ing to be awe­some.”

If there’s a weak­ness in Fin­land, it will come up the mid­dle. The team doesn’t have a lot of high­henudrt ttahleemnt aagt aci­ennst­tetrh, eans­dtroth­nagt Ncoourtldh Amer­i­can teams.

Beyond Tolva­nen, Fin­land should have a nice of­fen­sive bal­ance in its for­wards, par­tic­u­larly if big Kris­tian Ve­salainen (WPG) can dom­i­nate off the wing. Joni Iko­nen (MTL) and Aarne Talvi­tie (NJ) showed great scor­ing punch at the World Ju­nior Sum­mer Show­case.

And while Fin­land has pro­duced some of the finest net­min­ders in the world, the na­tional side doesn’t have a phe­nom right now. UkkoPekka Luukko­nen (BUF) is the best op­tion and ac­cord­ing to the scout, he only needs to be com­pe­tent in his fu­ture home: “The goaltending just can’t fail,” he said. “That’s all they need.”

EELI TOLVA­NEN

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