Early Look: World Juniors, Team Finland

Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of them here.

With the CHL seasons now well over a month old, I thought now would be a good time to look at the potential line-ups for the World Junior Championships. Last week we started with Team Canada, moved on to Team USA, completed Pool B with Russia, Slovakia and Germany and started Pool A with the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Latvia.

Today, I continue the Pool A Preview and will look at Finland.

Based on the latest in the NHL lockout, I am going to assume that the NHL and NHLPA will not resolve their issues and that premium talent will be available. I’m also going to assume that AHL clubs who have some of these junior-aged players will release them for the tournament.

So let’s get started…

Team Finland:
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.

credit: Wikipedia Commons

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, Left Wing/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, Centre/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.

credit: Todd Korol, CC

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 20 points in 20 games for Tappara, he’s scoring at a point per game pace and leading his team in scoring.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.

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.

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.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to join Max Vasilyev and I on Wednesday Nights at 10:00pm when we host the hockey radio show, “Puckheads”, on the Last Word Radio Network. You can listen in live or to our past podcasts by clicking here, or by searching for us on iTunes.