LAST YEAR’S FINNISH ENTRY
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.”