Projected Team Finland

With both Canada and USA roster forecasts up, I’ve decided to do one on Team Finland. There probably aren’t that many Finns here but I believe this gives everyone another point of view on the World Cup competition. All players are listed in no particular order. I am using the correct roster sizes of 3 goalies and 23 skaters, with 2 goalies and 18 skaters dressed for each game, as announced by the World Cup of Hockey 2004 Organizing Committee.Goaltenders (3)

Traditionally, goaltending has been thought to be the weak link for Finland but the goalies have often turned in surprising efforts. Now, although regular Finnish starter Jani Hurme has been fading and is now injured, Finnish goaltender crop looks stronger than ever. Pasi Nurminen has been the first Finnish NHL starter for about two years now, playing in 47 games so far this season. Miikka Kiprusoff has been a sensation since joining the Flames; he has gone 14-3-2 and leads the NHL with a 1.46 GAA and .941 SV% in 19 games. There are also more Finnish backups than ever. The third goalie is a difficult choice with Vesa Toskala of the Sharks 5th in the league with a .931%, Mika Noronen battling for the starting job in Buffalo and Jussi Markkanen backing up for the New York Rangers. Noronen certainly has the talent, but Toskala and Markkanen have international experience on their side. However, the under-22 rule could force Finland to choose highly-touted Kari Lehtonen. As the third goalie probably doesn’t play, this is no problem and the ultra-talented youngster could shine if given the opportunity. Toskala seems like the strongest choice anyway. Kiprusoff’s rejecting of Salt Lake City duties raises an issue, but as the reason then was that he didn’t feel good enough, that should have changed by now. Who’ll be the starter? Kiprusoff if he continues like this, otherwise Nurminen has the inside track. This season’s Finnish League phenomenom Niklas Backstrom will have to wait for future opportunities.

My picks:

Kiprusoff, Nurminen, Toskala

Skaters (23)

For the last couple of years, Finnish d-men and defensive forwards have become solid NHL contributors while no more flashy forwards have arrived. The Finnish Elite League is the mother of trap and that shows when you look at the players that come to the NHL and, in this case, to the National Team. Defense shouldn’t be a problem, goal scoring could be. However, with mastermind head coach Raimo Summanen and assistant Jari Kurri behind the bench instead of incompetent Hannu Aravirta, Finland will have something to say in the competition.

Defensemen (8)

Kimmo Timonen of the Predators is presently tied for 8th in NHL defenseman scoring, is a perennial huge contributor on the international stage and is expected to wear an ‘A’ in the World Cup. Calder candidate Flyer Joni Pitkanen is an ultra solid d-man with good offense and he satisfies the under-22 rule. Solid Janne Niinimaa of the Islanders and Canuck Sami Salo, the one with the booming slap shot, are PP material with Timonen. That leaves four d-men to compete for two roster spots while the eight players on the team are clear. Toni Lydman of the Flames, who’s been dubbed “a poor man’s Nick Lidstrom” by many, should be picked but traditionally, Team Finland has left Lydman outside looking in. With new management in place this could change. Veteran Teppo Numminen, having lost most of his offensive punch to aging, is still solid and is expected to take one roster spot. The former Phoenix captain could also bring leadership. Much-maligned Aki Berg of the Leafs was a favorite of the old management, making lots of mistakes with the puck and taking stupid penalties at crucial times. However, solid World Championship effort last time he was in could give Berg a chance. He also plays well with Lydman. Don’t expect him to dress often if he gets the nod, however. Ossi Vaananen of the Coyotes is an ok young defenseman with some international experience but might not have what it takes in World Cup level when it comes to handling the puck on the large surface. He’s the only rational NHL choice for the eight spot, though. Finnish league vet Marko Tuulola would get consideration if the timing of the tournament was better.

My picks:

Timonen, Niinimaa, Pitkanen, Numminen, Lydman, Salo, Berg, Vaananen

Forwards (15)

Finland really has forwards for only two lines. After that there are only defensive forwards and youngsters left. Scoring could be a serious problem.

Centers (5)

A traditional weak link, the situation is a bit better now. The centers were a real woe in Salt Lake City with Koivu out. Having Flyers winger Sami Kapanen as the first line center tells the whole story. With Captain Koivu of the Canadiens back in fold and Panthers captain Olli Jokinen turned into a force to be reckoned with, the top two spots at center are a lock. Koivu will serve as the team captain. Stars sophomore, heavily jinxed Niko Kapanen should return to form to fill one of the spots. The choices aren’t hard as Finland has four NHL regulars at center. Luckily, the fourth choice, Tuomo Ruutu of the Chicago Blackhawks, will be a needed under-22 player. Although he has sucked defensively on the struggling ‘Hawks, his age all but locks him to the roster. Wildcards at center include former Finnish League stars and linemates, Tommi Santala of the Thrashers/Chicago Wolves and C/LW Antti Miettinen of the Stars/Utah Grizzlies. As the duo has great chemistry, picking both would give Finland depth both at wing and center. Another option would be Finnish League center Jarkko Immonen who turned some heads at the Toronto Maple Leafs camp. This would require that the Leafs sign him now, which probably won’t happen because of the CBA.

My picks:

Koivu, Jokinen, N.Kapanen, T.Ruutu, Santala

Wingers (10)

Struggling right winger Teemu Selanne of the Avalanche is a lock as a player who can sometimes score at will. He could wear an ‘A’. Three-time Selke Trophy winner Jere Lehtinen, who scored 31 goals last year, will probably be converted to left wing and the Stars forward would play with Koivu and Selanne in the top line that has been together in numerous international events. Sami Kapanen could play right wing on Jokinen’s line and is also a lock as the third Finnish winger with any kind of profile. Panther Niklas Hagman has often played well with Jokinen at international competition and will probably make the team. Antti Miettinen could be in the reserves and can also play center, as told earlier. Antti Laaksonen of the Wild, a solid defensive forward, could be a third line winger and Ville Nieminen of the Blackhawks and Jarkko Ruutu of the Canucks would bring in some badly-needed grit. Lasse Pirjeta of the Columbus BJ’s will probably make the team also and be a depth forward. Tony Salmelainen of the Oilers/Toronto Roadrunners would round out the lineup as an under-22 player.

My picks:

Selanne, Lehtinen, Kapanen, Hagman, Laaksonen, Nieminen, J.Ruutu, Pirjeta, Miettinen, Salmelainen

And finally…

The projected roster and lines of 18 skaters and 2 goalies, according to earlier international events and logical thinking. The only purpose of this is to speculate what the team would look like, for people who don’t know how the team is built. So I’m essentially guessing here ;)

Goalies:

1. Miikka Kiprusoff 2. Pasi Nurminen

Lines:

Lehtinen-Koivu-Selanne

Timonen-Niinimaa

Hagman-Jokinen-S.Kapanen

Pitkanen-Numminen

Laaksonen-N.Kapanen-Nieminen

Lydman-Salo

J.Ruutu-T.Ruutu-Pirjeta


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