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2018 WJC Preview: Team Finland

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.

NHL: NHL Draft David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Goaltenders:

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.

Defense:

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.

Forwards:

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.