The Day is nearly here, the Pre-Tournament Games are done, and its time for the World Juniors. In October I did early looks and predictions on what the rosters might look like, but I think its time to update them now, as teams are being set, and the tournament is ready to go. If you want to see any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
Over the Next two days I will give you are preview of Each Team in the Tournament, highlighting the key players to watch, their strengths and weaknesses, and what to look forward to in the Tournament. Today, we’ll look at Pool A, which features defending champ Sweden, the impressive Finns, the always dangerous Czech Republic, a team that is no stranger to upsets in Switzerland, and an underrated team from Latvia.
So lets get started with Team Finland, who were very impressive in beating both Canada and the United States in pre-tournament action.
Finland is a strong medal contender after finishing 4th in each of the last two tournaments. There is a strong core this year for the Finns and the team will be heavily scouted bringing in 2013 NHL Draft Eligible Prospect, Sasha Barkov. This team is very well-rounded and will have strong offence, strong defence, and strong goaltending. They are a legitimate medal threat, and while maybe not a top contender for the gold medal, they are a darkhorse that you shouldn’t sell too short either. This team is strong enough to provide a major challenge to anyone in the tournament. The biggest issue with the team is that they will be amongst the youngest of the medal contenders, and the lack of experience may work against the Finnish Club.
Joel Armia, Right Wing: A 2011 first round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Armia is a natural goal scorer, pure and simple. He craves goals, and putting on a show, such as when the young Finn rode his stick on his way past the Swedish bench at the 2012 World Juniors. An outstanding stickhandler, his hands are quick and he is able to dangle past opposing defenders and goalies. Combine this with a hard accurate shot and quick release, and he is a nightmare for opposing goalies. It is very hard to tell if Armia will let the shot go, or make one more move, and before a goalie knows it, the puck is in the back of the net. He is absolutely lethal on breakaways and shootouts. Armia does have some playmaking talent, but his main skill is as a sniper.
A capable and willing backchecker, expect to see the Finnish coaches feel comfortable using this offensive weapon in any situation. Last year, Armia had 5 goals and 7 points in 7 games in the tournament. Expect more of the same type of scoring this year as he plays in his third World Junior.
Teuvo Teravainen, Centre: A first round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks this past June, Teravainen has incredible hockey sense and vision, and is an extremely creative playmaker. He will attempt passes that most forwards don’t even dream about, feathering pucks through sticks and legs and putting them on the tape of his teammates.
The young Finn controls the play in the offensive zone often preferring to be a setup man working off the half boards. Teravainen also possesses a very hard and accurate one timer and often unleashes it from the top of the circle. He is especially effective on the Power Play. Blessed with good top end speed, Teravainen has made great strides in improving his first step, acceleration and agility, making skating ability a huge strength in his game.
A little undersized, Teravainen has shown that he is willing to work on the boards, get to the front of the net, and take a hit to make a play, despite the fact he is often facing larger opponents. He’s been excellent for Finland at previous international tournaments including the Under 18s, the Ivan Hlinka, and the Five Nations. Finland will be hoping he translates that success to the World Junior level.
Markus Granlund, Left Wing: The Calgary Flames 2011 2nd round pick, was a point per game player in last year’s tournament where he played on a line with his brother, Michael. Markus is back this year, but it will be a solo run for him as his older brother is no longer eligible for the tournament. He gets overshadowed by Michael, but Markus is a talented player in his own right. He’s got very good stickhandling, protecting the puck well and extending plays to allow his teammates to get open. He is also a good passer able to set them up when they do. Expect Granlund to once again be a key contributor on the score sheet for Finland. He’s been very impressive in pre-tournament games, especially on the Powerplay. Markus Granlund is a real threat on this team, and he’s no longer just Mikael Granlund’s little brother.
Alexander “Sasha” Barkov, Left Wing/Centre: As a 16 year old Barkov played in the 2012 World Juniors for Team Finland and became the youngest player ever to score a goal in the tournament. He followed that up with an impressive performance for Team Finland at the U18s.
Already 6’2″ and 205 lbs, and just 17, Barkov is a force on the boards. He creates offence by winning battles and then using his passing skills to find open teammates. He has excellent vision and hockey sense and almost always makes the smart play. He also has outstanding hands and stickhandling ability, and has even been compared to Pavel Datsyuk by some analysts. He does need some work on his skating as could improve his speed and quickness.
With 28 points in 32 games for Tappara, he’s scoring at a near point per game pace in the SM-Liga, very impressive considering this 17 year old is playing against men. He’ll be one of the most scouted and watched prospects at the tourney as he’s fighting to be a top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Defence: The Finns feature a mobile and talented defence core who can be relied upon for heavy minutes in all situations. The experience these players got last year, will be extremely valuable to this year’s squad.
Olli Maatta, Defence: A first round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Maatta returns to the World Juniors looking for a better experience than last year. After making the Finnish Team Maatta took a hard hit in the team’s first game, was injured, and did not play again. Playing for the London Knights right now, Maatta has shown improvements in his second season in the OHL and currently has 16 points in 17 games. He is a good puck mover who starts the rush with a hard and accurate first pass. Maatta is a also turning into a good powerplay point man who is poised with the puck and has a hard and accurate shot. Blessed with good size and excellent defensive instincts, Maatta is adept at reading the play and has excellent positioning in the defensive zone. While not a big hitter, he is very good at using his size to take opposing forwards out of the play and separate them from the puck. Maatta is also a good shot blocker, and anticipates well to cut off passes making him a key penalty killer for the Knights, and he should play that role for the Finns as well.
Ville Pokka, Defence: When Maata was injured last year, Pokka proved to be a solid defender when he stepped in seemlessly to Maatta’s spot on Finland’s top defensive pair. Offensively Pokka plays a simple, but very effective game. He has great vision and hockey IQ which help him to quarterback the powerplay. A very good passer, Pokka can make effective tape to tape passes to teammates both from the blue line in the offensive zone and in his own zone to start the breakout. Pokka’s slapshot needs work, as it lacks both power and accuracy, however he does possess a good wrist shot, and can often be seen sneaking in from the point on the PP in an attempt to recieve a pass and unleash it. Defensively, he is very difficult to beat off the rush as he uses excellent positioning and good quickness to always keep the opposing forward in front of him. He has a quick stick and is good at pokechecking opponents. Pokka has shown that he can be physical and throw a hard hit if he catches a forward in a vulnerable position. He is also willing to battle hard in the corners and in front of the net, however Pokka is sometimes overwhelmed by bigger, physical forwards. A New York Islanders draft pick, expect him to once again play huge minutes and be a key to the Finnish defence in this tournament.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Defence, TPS Turku, SM-Liga: A November 1994 birthdate, Ristolainen is a little more mature, and has already been a player on the international stage as he played in last season’s World Junior Championship and the last two Under 18 World Championships. After the injury to Olli Maatta in last year’s tournament Ristolainen was given far bigger minutes and far more responsibility than was expected of him before the tournament. He performed admirably, and given that experience much will be expected this year.
Ristolainen a very good skater and mobility, acceleration, and agility help him to have a strong two way game. Offensively he moves the puck well both through skating and passing. Defensively, he uses his size effectively and has a definite mean streak in his own end of the ice. Expect him to be a key Finnish defenceman at the World Juniors and his all-around game will allow him to play all situations.
A 2013 NHL Draft eligible player, Ristolainen will attempt to put his rare combination, of size, skating and skill on full display. A good tournament could make scouts salivate, and make Ristolainen another early 1st round draft pick.
Goaltending: Like the other “elite 5” medal contenders, the Finns have a goalie who is capable of getting hot and stealing games at any time. At his best Korpisalo can compete with any other goaltender in this tournament. It will be a matter of who gets hot during this short tourney.
Joonas Korpisalo, Goaltender: The key to any team’s chances in this tournament is goaltending, and the Finns have a good one in Korpisalo. The third round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Korpisalo is a big goalie who takes up a lot of net, and cuts down shooting angles very well. A very athletic goalie he has good lateral mobility and puck tracking as well. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net, as well as a decent glove hand. Korpisalo could use work on his rebound control, however.
Feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @lastwordBKerr, and look for my last preview on Team Sweden coming soon.
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