The 2018 World Junior Championship is inching closer and the team previews continue to roll out on DBTB. With the group A teams almost complete, we arrive at Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Team Finland.
Finland is a team with past success but not really listed to start as a favorite. Their defense is deep enough to be considered a sleeper, but their limited speed at the offensive end could pose a problem for the Finns.
Finland names final roster for WJC. Very strong and deep D. Janne Kuokkanen will lead the first line. https://t.co/0XZ1FlM6tq— Sami Hoffrén (@shoffren) December 23, 2017
1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, HPK
30 Lassi Lehtinen, Lukko Rauma
31 Niilo Halonen, HIFK
The expected starter is obviously Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, a name Sabres fans should recognize. UPL has been discussed several times in our weekly prospects updates. He has had a bit of a down year for LeKi this season, but not a bad one by any means. With only one major gaffe that comes to mind, UPL has been a standout in technical movements and confidence on a team that has not given him a ton of help so far this year.
In terms of the tournament, the play of UPL is key for the Finns. If he can hold his crease come elimination time, and the defense plays as expected with him, UPL can help an offensive group that could be potentially limited in scoring.
2 Heiskanen Miro, HIFK Helsinki
4 Salo Robin, Sport Vaasa
5 Räsänen Eemeli, Kingston Frontenacs OHL
6 Välimäki Juuso, C Tri-City Americans WHL
7 Juolevi Olli, TPS Turku
23 Vaakanainen Urho, SaiPa Lappeenranta
28 Jokiharju Henri, Portland Winterhawks WHL
36 Kotkansalo Kasper, Boston University NCAA
No disrespect to a very good group of forwards on Team Finland, but the defensive unit is where it is at. I am a huge fan of defense and defensive prospects, and this is arguably the best defensive lineup in the 2018 World Junior tournament.
The three big names that stick out are Olli Juolevi, Miro Heiskanen, and Juuso Valimaki. All three former first-round picks and all three great skaters with the puck who can move it when needed.
Henri Jokiharju and Urho Vaakanainen are also both former first-round picks and can move the puck just as well as the previously mentioned three. Vaakanainen is really underrated in the defensive zone as well.
The defenseman to look out for is New York Islanders prospect Robin Salo. Another defender on the team that is great with his legs but carries the puck into the offensive zone often. He is able to control possession and begin a transition into offense that more likely than not involves him setting up chances.
3 Jääskä Juha, HIFK Helsinki
9 Kuokkanen Janne, Carolina Hurricanes NHL
12 Koivula Otto, Ilves Tampere
13 Vesalainen Kristian, HPK Hämeenlinna
15 Koppanen Joona, Ilves Tampere
19 Tuulola Eetu, HPK Hämeenlinna
20 Tolvanen Eeli, Jokerit Helsinki
21 Nurmi Markus, TPS Turku
22 Räsänen Aapeli, Boston College NCAA
27 Ikonen Joni, KalPa Kuopio
32 Heponiemi Aleksi, Swift Current Broncos WHL
33 Innala Jere, HPK Hämeenlinna
34 Kupari Rasmus, Kärpät Oulu
When brought together the Finnish forward lineup looks very good. When spread out the forward lines for Team Finland look good but not as impressive. With Eeli Tolvanen at the forefront of threats, Finland holds multiple. Kristian Vesalainen, Aapeli Rasanen, Rasmus Kuparki (2018), and Aleski Heponiemi all stick out as supreme playmakers for the Finns.
Janne Kuukkonen and Joni Ikonen are others that can create space in the offensive zone, but as said before a big takeaway from the remainder of the roster is skating ability and speed. Not speed in themselves, but speed in others. Will they be able to keep up with a Canada or a USA? The playmakers listed will be the biggest factors in answering that.
Finland will open their tournament against Canada then face another quick team in Denmark. On Saturday the 30th they take on Slovakia, meaning Team Finland will close preliminary round versus the United States.