Team Finland in World Cup

The roster for Team Finland was announced today. A couple of weird ones here but mostly the expected crew.

Goalies:

Miikka Kiprusoff

Vesa Toskala

Kari Lehtonen

Kiprusoff, a Vezina finalist, is the obvious starter with Toskala as the likely backup. Kari Lehtonen is the biggest Finnish goaltending prospect ever and one of the biggest in the world so he was picked to get some experience on that stage. And who knows, with the way he progresses he could already be a real top goalie come August… A minor surprise is that Pasi Nurminen did not make the team. Rejecting the World Championships job doesn’t seem like such a good idea now, does it Pasi?

Defensemen:

Kimmo Timonen

Sami Salo

Teppo Numminen

Toni Lydman

Ossi Vaananen

Joni Pitkanen

Aki Berg

Jere Karalahti (!)

Probably the biggest surprise on the team is in the defence corps. NY Islander Janne Niinimaa was left out of the team in favor of Jere Karalahti, and Maple Leaf joke Aki Berg was picked ahead of him also.

The situation could change, however: The NHL has ruled that Karalahti should not be allowed to play in the tournament. For people who don’t know his story, he bolted to Finland when he was put to the NHL substance abuse program because of his alcohol use. He served his one-year suspension and then started to play in the Finnish league. Why Finland would pick a mediocre player with a shady past who disappeared during his Finnish league team’s playoff run – apparently he was drinking but that has never been confirmed – I have no idea.

About the rest of the Finnish defence. The whole unit is very mobile. The top 4 is solid even without Niinimaa with PP specialist Timonen, very good but underrated two-way D-man Salo, solid veteran Numminen and Flame Toni Lydman. All four are capable of rather solid play in the defensive end, can run the power play and give the outlet pass. Young Vaananen is a more physical player who plays a defensive style. He played well after a trade to the Avalanche gave him more playing time. After him, however, it gets a bit shoddy. Joni Pitkanen has the talent, no question, and had an ok rookie season, but made some mistakes in the playoffs and was even benched for a while before his injury troubles. But he is definitely better than Berg, the skating catastrophe. If Berg hits the ice, be prepared to see turnovers and leaving guys free in the front of the net coupled with stupid penalties. The achilles heel of the defence corps could be finding penalty killers. The underrated Salo is one of the best PK defensemen in the world and Vaananen can probably handle the job but after the two the unit looks soft. Therefore, these two will probably play most of the time when Finland is shorthanded and someone will have to emerge from the rest. Timonen and Lydman could be the best bets to play in PK situations at least in the beginning, Lydman because he can probably get the job done and Timonen because Finnish coaching overrates his play in such situations.

Forwards:

Saku Koivu

Olli Jokinen

Jere Lehtinen

Teemu Selanne

Sami Kapanen

Ville Nieminen

Niko Kapanen

Antti Laaksonen

Riku Hahl

Tuomo Ruutu

Jarkko Ruutu

Esa Pirnes

Jukka Hentunen

Mikko Eloranta

Ville Peltonen

Captain Koivu is back. That smallish thing has a big mental effect and it could mean that Finland could be closer to the Nagano team (fought their way to the Bronze) than the Salt Lake City team (was ousted in the quarterfinals which were probably the tightest challenge Canada met in the tournament, but something was lacking). And, as Finland had one capable center in Nagano and none in Salt Lake City, now there are at least two with Panthers captain Jokinen joining the team. Tuomo Ruutu can play center or wing and will bring a combination of skill and crash and bang to either position.

Other players that are expected to score are Selanne, Sami Kapanen, Lehtinen and Peltonen, and probably the combination of Niko Kapanen and Hentunen. Selanne had an awful season, but he has always played well for team Finland even when his NHL production is down. S.Kapanen hasn’t been the goalscorer he once was, but he’ll get every opportunity to be one for Finland. Lehtinen, the three-time Selke winner who’s capable of scoring thirty goals, will have to recover from injuries that kept him from being an offensive threat this season. Nevertheless, he’s rock solid defensively. Fellow Star N.Kapanen has been a defensive center in the NHL and had a big sophomore slump this season. He is, however, a rather skilled playmaker and has the chance to play with Hentunen again. Former Flame and Predator Hentunen is now playing in Switzerland but is probably better than ever. He’s always been an ok grinder and defensive guy but what really makes him valuable is a newfound scoring touch. Also, he and Niko Kapanen have unbelievable chemistry. Don’t be surprised to see Kapanen thread the needle a couple of times with a pass that finds Hentunen in the slot… The last scorer type, Peltonen, also playing in Switzerland, probably has no business in being in a tournament like this. He has, however, been on Team Finland in practically every tournament, usually being real bad but playing in the top two lines. But lo and behold! In this year’s World Championship, a miracle happened! Ville Peltonen was actually a very good player on the top line with Jokinen. He finished second in the tournament in scoring, behind only Dany Heatley who played two more games and had just one more point. On a sidenote, Peltonen also scored the winner in the Nagano bronze game against Canada and had a hat-trick in the gold game of the 1995 Worlds when Finland captured its only World Championship gold. So he is a clutch scorer. Expect Koivu, Jokinen, Selanne, Lehtinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Sami Kapanen to see the bulk of powerplay time.

The defensive forwards and grinders of Team Finland are a good group. Flame Ville Nieminen and Canuck, Tuomo’s brother Jarkko Ruutu are able to rattle opponents with checks, insults and some stupid things also. Nieminen can also score the odd goal. Riku Hahl can make everyone crazy with constant chatter in an Esa Tikkanen -like manner and is also solid defensively. Antti Laaksonen is a very good yet underrated defensive forward and Finnish leaguer, former Bruin and King Eloranta is an ok grinder with some skill. The weird choice here is Esa Pirnes. He had a shoddy rookie season with the Kings and finished the Worlds with no points and a minus rating. He is also a soft player. A better choice would have been Penguin Lasse Pirjeta who was in fire in the end of the regular season and in the worlds. Pirjeta also formed perhaps the best PK duo in the Worlds with Laaksonen. Now he’ll have to be replaced by guys like Lehtinen, Nieminen and maybe Eloranta or Jokinen. Laaksonen and Lehtinen are, anyway, the leader of the PK unit and Finland seems to have the forwards to make that unit work pretty well.

Overall, Finland has a team that can reach the medal round if guys like Selanne, Sami Kapanen and Lehtinen overachieve, or play to their potential really. Goaltending, defense corps and defensive forwards are good enough to challenge any country, so it will all depend on goalscoring.


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