I’m honored to introduce the next team in my 2022 imaginary NHL Olympic roster series: Finland. Pound for pound, this is the world’s best hockey nation in terms of success relative to population. Not surprisingly, the Finnish contingent of The Hockey News’ readership is extremely passionate, too. We always appreciate it. So this one’s for you, folks!
The 2022 Finnish roster looks deep, with some legitimate mega-stars sprinkled in at every position. Most promisingly, the forward group offers potential to function like a “real” team, with players working in their proper roles rather than star scorers being shoehorned onto checking lines. That could give Finland a strategic advantage.
Special thanks to my friend, stellar Finnish hockey writer Sami Hoffren, for consulting with me to help me get this projected roster right. Let’s begin. Ages as of Feb. 4, 2022.
FORWARD LINE 1: Patrik Laine (23), Aleksander Barkov (26), Mikko Rantanen (25)
Being a pure shooter, Laine has a game that works on either wing. Playing alongside an all-world two-way pivot in Barkov and a truly elite passer in Rantanen, Laine could lead the tourney in goals. This is one big, star-studded, unstoppable trio.
FORWARD LINE 2: Teuvo Teravainen (27), Sebastian Aho (24), Joel Armia (28)
Teravainen typically toils on Aho’s right side in Carolina but can play either wing. The important part is keeping them together, with the rangy Armia providing the size element.
FORWARD LINE 3: Mikael Granlund (29), Roope Hintz (25), Kasperi Kapanen (25)
Speed, speed and more speed. Not only does this line offer good skill, but all three forwards have experience working in checking roles – even Granlund, who was part of a fantastic two-way line with Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker in Minnesota for a few years.
FORWARD LINE 4: Artturi Lehkonen (26), Erik Haula (30), Joonas Donskoi (29)
This is a “luxury” checking line. There’s no quit in guys like Lehkonen and Haula, but this group obviously brings more skill than your typical fourth unit, too. They’d be a pain to play against.
SPARE FORWARDS: Kaapo Kakko (20), Jesse Puljujarvi (23)
Kakko’s rookie NHL season disappointed, but the ceiling remains sky high. Talking to his coaches back home during his draft year, my takeaway was that he was one of the most beloved and revered young Finnish prospects in years. Puljujarvi remains a project but proved in the Liiga this season he can still dominate. A secret weapon could be reuniting him with Aho and Laine on the 2016 world-junior line.
Final cuts: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Eeli Tolvanen, Henrik Borgstrom
DEFENSE PAIR 1: Miro Heiskanen (22), Rasmus Ristolainen (27)
Heiskanen might be Finland’s most important player in this tourney. He’ll play huge minutes and be counted on as a calming, intelligent presence moving the puck out of trouble. Ristolainen has his warts, but his monstrous frame helps him muscle bigger forwards off the puck.
DEFENSE PAIR 2: Esa Lindell (27), Sami Vatanen (30)
Lindell is one of the best and busiest penalty killers in the NHL and brings a nice defensive sensibility to this pair. Just as Lindell frees up the rusher John Klingberg in Dallas, Lindell can do the same with Vatanen on Team Finland.
DEFENSE PAIR 3: Olli Maatta (27), Henri Jokiharju (22)
Maatta brings size and big-game experience as a two-time Stanley Cup champ. The talented Jokiharju hasn’t hit his ceiling yet and could produce mismatches if he’s moving the puck up ice against other nations’ depth lines.
SPARE DEFENSEMEN: Markus Nutivaara (27), Mikko Lehtonen (28)
Nutivaara ain’t flashy. He’s the definition of a reliable defensive stopgap. Lehtonen led all KHL blueliners in goals, assists and points this season. The Finns can slot him in if they need more offense, and he has lots of international experience.
Final cuts: Ville Heinola, Juuso Valimaki, Sami Niku
STARTING GOALTENDER: Tuukka Rask (34)
There was a time when Pekka Rinne, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi gave Rask stiff competition for the starting gig, but they’ve all aged out. The job is Rask’s by a long shot. He brings tremendous technique and oodles of experience.
BACKUP GOALTENDERS: Juuse Saros (26), Mikko Koskinen (33)
Generously listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Saros is anything but a prototypical modern puck-stopper, but he does his job well, so who cares? It was encouraging to see him get his game back on track this winter with Nashville. The towering Koskinen covers a lot more net and was Finland’s starter at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
Final cuts: Joonas Korpisalo, Antti Raanta, Kaapo Kahkonen, Kevin Lankinen
ROSTER AT A GLANCE
Spares: Kakko, Puljujarvi
Spares: Nutivaara, Lehtonen
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