Finland is the all-or-nothing team of the World Junior. In the past eight years, they have won Gold three times and faced relegation four times. As the defending Gold Medal Champions, Finland will look to repeat but history shows that is a difficult feat.
If Finland is to be on the winning side, they will need a breakout performance from their starting goalie Justus Annunen. The Colorado Avalanche prospect is having a breakout season already in the Liiga with one of the top teams in Karpat. While splitting starts with veteran goalie 26-year-old Patrik Rybar, Annunen has established himself as one of the elite goalie in Liiga. His 1.26 GAA and .947 SVS percentage are very impressive but his 11-0-2 record with five shutouts is mind-blowing as a 19-year-old. Annunen will be in goal for all of Finland’s big games, and if Finland finishes well in the tournament, it will be in large part due to the play of Annunen.
On defense, Finland will be lead by Winnipeg Jets prospect Ville Heinola, who the Jets drafted 20th overall in this past draft. Heinola impressed the Jets so much in his first training camp, that he started the season in the NHL playing in eight games and recording five points. After a brief stint in the AHL, Heinola has been on loan to Lukku in the Liiga and will use his NHL experience to help lead Finland. More leadership will come from their 19-year-old captain Lassi Thomson. The Ottawa Senators drafted Thomson out of the WHL and have since loaned him to Ilves where he has six goals and 10 points through 23 games. Both Heinola and Thomson will log big minutes for Finland as they can be relied on in all situations. Finland has good depth on defense as they will be supported by Kim Nousiainen (Los Angeles), Anttoni Honka (Carolina), Santeri Hatakka (San Jose), and Toni Utunen (Vancouver).
One of the more intriguing storylines to follow with Finland will be the Raty brothers. Older brother Aku Raty of the Arizona Coyotes is a 19-year-old and younger brother Aatu Raty who is a draft eligible prospect for the 2021 draft. As a late November birthday, Aatu has the possibility to become the first-ever player selected first overall from Finland.
One of their offensive leaders will be LA Kings prospect Rasmus Kupari, who is playing in the AHL as a rookie with the Ontario Reign, where he has eight points through 27 games. Kupari is a returning player form last year’s Gold Medal Championship where he posted five points in seven games and will be relied on as their top center.
Another player to watch for will be Matias Maccelli, a left wing drafted by Arizona out of the USHL in the 2019 Draft. Maccelli is back in Finland playing pro hockey in the Liiga with Ilves where he has ten goals and 25 points in 26 games as a 19-year-old rookie. He could be a top scorer for Finland and have a breakout performance on the big stage of the World Junior.
Finland received good news heading into the tournament the Carolina prospect Patrik Puistola will be healthy and ready to play. Puistola showed good chemistry in the pre-tournament game against Canada on a line with a pair of undrafted prospects in Joonas Oden and Kristian Tanus.
While most of the players for Finland are playing in the Liiga, Sampo Ranta of the Colorado Avalanche is on loan from the NCAA where he plays for the University of Minnesota as a sophomore. The big 6-2, 190 pound winger will be very familiar with many of Team USA players and the North American game if they meet in the Medal round.
Finland had been holding a roster spot open in hopes that 2020 draft eligible prospect Anton Lundell would be able to return from injury soon enough to play. It was announced on Dec 23rd after the Canada pre-tournament game that he was not going to participate. This is a disappointing blow for Finland who would be a much deeper team with the highly skilled two-way center.
Finland will play in the weaker Group A pool and open the tournament against their arch Rival Sweden on boxing day. Finland should have no trouble making the Medal round again this year, but will likely have to face on of Canada, USA or Russia in the first game of the Medal round if they fail to lock down first place in group A.