In our final edition of the 2022 Olympic Roster series we will take a look at Finland who are seeking their first Gold medal at the Olympics. In 2022 they will be coming in with a very young team that has a ton of speed, puck skill and even a little bit of chemistry from previous tournaments. Having visited Finland as a kid and billeted with a family there, I have a soft spot for them so I hope that this is the team that can bring them home a Silver medal.
1st Line: Aho has demonstrated chemistry with both of these wingers at some point in time. Teravainen was a steal as part of a salary cap dump trade that saw him and Aho become two of the main offensive catalysts for the Hurricanes. As for Laine, you will need to go back to the 2016 World Juniors where he played on a line with Aho; the results, Gold.
2nd Line: Barkov is this weird sort of underrated but not really underrated player in the NHL, but he is a complete, 200 foot top five Center in my opinion. Rantanen has been a force since coming into the league, slotting in perfectly next to MacKinnon and should do the same here. Roope Hintz is a projection pick, I think he undoubtably makes the team but he may be competing to keep the second line Left Wing spot on the depth chart.
3rd Line: Mikko Koivu is Finnish hockey royalty with his brother Saku and is the most complete, defensive minded forward on this roster. Kapanen has shown that he is more of a defensively responsible player that can still put up points and allow his line mates a bit more offensive freedom. This will be key for a guy like Kaapo Kakko who should be the engine that drives this line offensively.
4th Line: The all-Habs line, KK should continue to fill out his frame and become a more impactful player by the time the Olympics roll around. Joey Army has shown that he has the skill set to play any role and be successful. Lehkonen takes a lot of unnecessary heat from Habs fans but at the end of the day he is a coaches favourite for his defensive game and he has some Penalty Kill experience.
13th (&14th) Forward: Haula is a versatile player that has shown offensive upside in his career but KK’s development will be the reason that he finds himself as the 13th forward. The ultimate wild card here is Jesse Puljujarvi who walked away from the Oilers to play in the Liiga (top Finnish pro league). He finished as a top 5 scorer in the league and should find his way back to the NHL, most likely through a trade, but if not this could hurt his development and chances to make this team despite being more than qualified skill wise.
1st Pair: Miro Heiskanen is a franchise defensemen that has completely lived up to expectations since Dallas took him third overall. Ristolainen needs to get out of Buffalo, before Dahlin got there he was basically all alone shutting down the opposition’s top line. He is an elite level defenseman that would thrive in any other system which would have all of us talking about him a lot more.
2nd Pair: Going back to Dallas, Esa Lindell is a very strong defensive defenseman but he is regrettably for him, better known for his diving. His projected partner, Jokiharju is still a very young raw prospect, but give him a couple years to fine tune his game and he will be turning some heads in Beijing.
3rd Pair: This may be a bit of a safe pick but both Maatta and Vatanen definitely deserve to be in the running for the final pairing. Maatta may not have lived up to the hype of a top 10 pick, but he is still a reliable and stable stay at home defenseman. Vatanen has quietly been a consistent and effective player through out his career, his lack of notoriety has more to do with the market he plays in than his skill level.
7th (& 8th) D: This could easily be the 3rd pairing in a couple years for Finland, but these two are very tough to project right now. Heinola is one of my favourite prospects in the NHL and was one of the few players I would have been okay with the Habs moving Jeff Petry for at the deadline (I am glad they didn’t). Mikko Lehtonen is a 25 year old undrafted defenseman who led all KHL defenseman in goals, assists, (power play) points, and game winning goals this past season. I am conflicted because I love to see journeyman stories like this, but he recently signed with the Maple Leafs, so how about this Mikko, I’ll pull for you to make the team and you don’t score on the Habs, deal?
This is Tuukka’s crease, pure and simple, Pekka unfortunately will be 39 when the Olympics start and if you have been paying attention to Nashville lately, Juuse Saros’ workload continues to increase each season. I think that by the time the Beijing Olympics begin, Saros will have officially taken over the second spot on both depth charts.
For the final time, the snubs.
THE OBVIOUS SNUBS
Forwards: Joonas Donskoi, Leo Komarov, Mikael Granlund, Valtteri Filppula, Teemu Pulkkinen
Goaltender: Antti Raanta, Juha Metsola
If we are being honest, Komarov and Donskoi have a chance to make a few decisions more difficult than they ought to be, but the latter half of this group is only on this list since they are technically the next in line. Raanta could possibly get the nod if there are some injury issues, but as you will see in the next segment, there are some very good Finish goalie prospects on the horizon.
THE UP AND COMING TALENT
Forward: Julius Nattinen, Aleksi Heponiemi, Jesse Ylonen, Anton Lundell, Eemeli Suomi, Aatu Raty
Defense: Juuso Valimaki, Otto Leskinen
Goaltender: Kaapo Kahkonen, Justus Annunen, Veini Vehvilainen, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
Julius Nattinen, a second round pick of the Ducks (2015) and Aleksi Heponiemi (Panthers second rounder in 2017) are both coming off Point per Game seasons in the Liiga. Former Habs second round pick Jesse Ylonen had a bit of a down year, but if he can bounce back he may be able to put himself in the conversation. Anton Lundell is the best Finnish prospect in the upcoming draft, and has been ranked as high as the #8 prospect by ISS Hockey (Bobfather has him at 12). There is a possibility that if the Habs were to select 9th overall and wanted to go forward, that Lundell could dawn the Blue, Blanc et Rouge.
Eemeli Suomi is a real dark horse, the 24 year old is undrafted, but is currently the Captain of Ilves in the Liiga and is coming off of a Point per Game season. Last but not least is the potential 2021 #1 overall pick, Aatu Raty who will be getting the call up to Karpat’s big club for a full season in 2020-21. This guy will be interesting to follow and if he continues his progression he could be challenging for a spot on the roster.
On Defense, Juuso Valimaki will very much be in the conversation for the seventh defenseman. He missed all of this season due to a torn ACL injury and the hope was that he would rejoin the Flames roster for the qualification round but he is not ready to go yet. The injury is why he finds himself on the outside right now, there are too many variables to consider when coming off an injury like this but we should learn a lot about Valimaki’s game and mental toughness this upcoming season. Another dark horse (and a homer) pick is Otto Leskinen from the Laval Rocket in the AHL, who in his first season got a call up to the big club, even if it was only for a handful of games.
Finally in nets, the upcoming talent between the pipes should come as no surprise as Finland has been a goaltending factory for years. Kahkonen is the future in nets for the Wild, he is considered one of the best goalies in the AHL and he finished last season with a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.07 and Save Percentage (SV%) just below .930. Justus Annunen is a massive (physically speaking) prospect was drafted in the third round by the Avalanche (2018), he had an impressive season with Karpat where he posted a 1.77 GAA and .929 SV% in a limited capacity role. My favourite of the bunch is Veini Vehvilainen, his numbers defy logic as he has multiple seasons with a GAA around 3 with a SV% above .920; those two numbers never, ever go hand in hand. The highest rated of the group (based on draft capital invested) is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, the second round pick for the Buffalo Sabres (2017) is currently playing in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) after struggling a bit with the jump from juniors to the AHL.
BONUS: FINAL QUALIFICATION TOURNAMENTS
With 9 of the 12 spots claimed for the 2022 Olympics, here is a look at the final three qualifying tournaments. I think Slovakia is the only country that is a lock to win their division and Latvia will be in tough against France. Groupe F is the “group of death” in this scenario with Norway and Denmark being the obvious favourites but they will need to eliminate the Anze Kopitar led Slovenian team.
All in all I think that Slovakia, Latvia and Denmark will be the final 3 teams to qualify.
This wraps up our 2022 Olympic Roster projections, at the end of the day we all win with NHL players returning to the Olympics. Will Canada make it three gold medals in a row in best on best competition? Will we see a traditional powerhouse get back to the top or will a new age champion be crowned? As we get closer to February 2022 the anticipation will only build, I for one am very excited to see this again.