Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next week or so, we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Toronto and Montreal from December 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Today we preview the Finnish Team and take a look at the players to watch in this year’s tournament. The Finns got a golden goal from Rasmus Ristolainen to win the World Juniors last year, defeating their arch rivals from Sweden in the process. They come into this year’s tournament hoping to repeat that performance. While Ristolainen won’t be back (he’s too old) they still have plenty of talent, and should once again be a medal threat.
Note players must be born on January 1st, 1995 or later to be eligible for the tournament. 1994 birthdates are not eligible. Players are organized by position and then in alphabetical order.
This week I looked at Denmark, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Russia and Sweden Team. Prior to the selection camp rosters being released; I looked at Team Canada’s Forwards, Defence and Goalies; Team USA forwards, and Defense and Goalies . Click the links to check them out. Now without further ado, on to the Finns.
Finland World Junior Preview: Players to Watch
Ville Husso: A fourth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2014, Husso was the backup goalie on last year’s squad. He plays a strong butterfly technique and shows strong positioning and comes out to challenge shooters, which makes him appear even bigger in the net. He is a good skater which allows him to challenge, while still recovering in his net on deke attempts. Husso has a very good leg push and this helps him get from side to side quickly and he tracks the puck extremely well taking away one-timer attempts and cross ice passes. His glove hand is especially strong.Husso has very good rebound control for a young goaltender. He swallows up pucks, and those he can’t he kicks to the corners. His legs are quick and the reflexes good which takes away the bottom of the net. Husso’s puckhandling is a weakness though, as he isn’t the type of goalie to pass the puck up to his defencemen or aid in starting the transition game. He tends to stay in his net though because of this. If Saros falters, Husso can provide Finland with a reliable option in net.
Juuse Saros: A fourth round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2013 Draft, Saros was sensational at last year’s WJHC where a .943 save percentage helped Finland win gold and say him named to the tournament all-star team. In contrast to many of the goalies who are currently taking over the hockey world, Saros is considered a shorter goalie, and a reflex guy, measuring in at just 5’10″. Saros makes up for his lack of height with fantastic athleticism. He is a great skater in the crease, moving forwards and backwards to cut down angles and take away in tight moves, and really having stellar lateral movement to take away the cross crease pass. He tracks the puck well and is rarely caught out of position. He is extremely agile with really quick legs that take away the bottom of the net. Up top his glove hand is very good, and he is decent on the blocker side. Saros seems to be mentally strong and composed. He doesn’t let the bad goals get to him and recovers quickly from them. Like many young goalies, Saros can sometimes have an issue with rebound control, and he will need to focus on improving that aspect of his game going forward. He also lacks the puck handling ability that is popular amongst many goalies today.
Julius Honka: A first round pick of the Dallas Stars, Honka is a great skater who can both lead the rush or join in as a trailer. He has excellent speed and very good acceleration. He has good edgework, and excellent agility. In the offensive zone Honka is able to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes to create offence. Honka has great mobility, has very good pivots and is also extremely quick skating backwards. This and a quick stick help him to defend against the rush. Offensively Honka, has good stickhandling ability, excellent vision and passing skill. Honka is excellent in the role of powerplay quarterback and can create a ton of chances when he is given time and space. He has a booming slapshot and very good one-timer from the point. He has the knack to get this shot through and on net around the defenders that defend high to try and prevent it. He also has effective wrist and snaps shots and a very good release on both. Honka has good offensive hockey sense and can pick the right time to pinch in for an offensive chance. Even when he makes a poor decision his quick skating can often help him to recover. Defensively, he has a good stick and good anticipation, but must overcome a lack of size.
Alex Lintuniemi: A second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 NHL Draft, Lintuniemi has 3 goals and 16 points in 29 games with the Ottawa 67s in the OHL this season. He has good size at 6’3″ 231 lbs, and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, laying out hits on the rush, or battling in the corners and in front of the net. Lintuniemi uses his size and long stick to cut down passing lanes and block shots. Offensively he gets the transition game going as he makes a strong first pass out of the zone. He’s also been known to join the rush from time to time. He has a good point shot and and can also handle the puck at the blueline and make some plays in the offensive zone. His speed is decent and the acceleration is good, but he can use some work on his pivots and his agility. He sometimes can be caught flat footed and beaten to the outside.
Joonas Lyytinen: A fifth round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2014 NHL Draft, Lyytinen has 9 points in 31 games playing for KalPa in the SM-Liiga this season. Lyytinen is a strong skating blueliner who handles the puck extremely well. He is not afraid to join the rush, and can often be found leading it through the neutral zone. He has a good wrist shot, and decent slap shot from the point, but could stand on working to move laterally to open up shooting lanes and prevent his shot from being blocked as often as it is. Defensively he has some decent size, and battles hard, but must work on reading the play and his positioning.
Kasperi Kapanen: The son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, Kasperi was the Penguins first round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. It looked like he was going to be a part of the Finnish entry at last year’s tournament, but an injury in the final pre-tournament game left him off the roster. Kapanen is an outstanding skater, with great speed, and acceleration. He can cut quickly past a defender and get to the net if they don’t respect his speed off the rush, and he has the ability to fool defenders with his changes of pace. Add to Kapanen’s great skating ability, a set of soft hands and great stickhandling and he is deadly off the rush. He can be both a scorer and a play maker. Kapanen’s wrist shot is extremely impressive, with tremendous power, lethal accuracy, and a lightning-quick release. It is close to NHL ready already, especially when he is coming down the wing. Kapanen also has a very good one-timer. As a playmaker, Kapanen has extremely good vision and passing skills, with the ability to thread the needle and put the puck right on a teammates tape. Kapanen understands the game at a high-level and almost always seems to make the correct play. Without the puck, he finds the soft spots in the defence and gets open. He also has a well-developed defensive game. Again, the hockey sense is key, as he reads the game extremely well, and cuts down passing and shooting lanes.
Juho Lammikko: A third round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2014 NHL Draft, Lammikko is a good sized (6’2″ tall) winger, who plays a very north-south game. He skates well and has a very good shot and release. His passing skills are also good. Lammikko is at his best driving the net and getting involved in board battles though. His stickhandling is average, so instead he seems to focus on playing a dump and chase style with a strong forecheck, or on getting the puck to a more skilled teammate and then going to the dirty areas of the ice to try and create a scoring chance. Like many of the Finnish players though, he shows good anticipation and hockey sense, as well as a strong two-way game.
Artturi Lehkonen: A second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2013 NHL Draft, Lehkonen is playing in the tournament for the third time, and is Finland’s captain. He is a talented offensive player and natural goal scorer. He has great stickhandling and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one. He also has a hard and accurate wrist shot, and his lightning quick release helps him to beat goaltenders. Lehkonen also has good hockey IQ, and a knack for finding the open areas. This ability allows him to set up for a one-timer, which he can unleash with great results. Lehkonen is also a decent playmaker, with good passing and vision, but it is the goal scoring that he is best known for. Lehkonen comes in at 5’11” and while he may not be the biggest prospect, he goes to the net very hard and is strong in battles along the boards. He is a very good skater, with excellent speed an acceleration. Add in a non-stop motor, and Lehkonen can be very effective in all three zones, and an absolute menace to play against.
Mikko Rantanen: The 17-year-old, 2015 Draft eligible Rantanen, is playing with TPS in the Finnish Sm-Liiga. He has started the season with an 10 points in 30 games while playing against men. Add this to the 5 points in 5 games that he scored at the 2014 Under 18s, and the 3 goals and 7 points in 5 games that he scored in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Rantanen is a big kid who plays a power forward style of game. He works extremely hard along the boards and is extremely effective at winning battles in international tournaments in his age group. He also drives the net hard and can finish in close. He controls the puck well down low on the cycle and can spot teammates to set them up in front of the net. Rantanen’s skating is decent. He has a good top speed but he can improve his first step and acceleration. He shows good effort at the defensive end and is a solid two way player.
Jesse Puljujarvi: Just 16 years old, Puljujarvi is not eligible for the NHL draft until 2016 and will likely be eased into the lineup at this tournament. Don’t expect huge minutes, after all, this is a tournament where it is the 19-year-olds who really shine, the fact that he even has a chance to make Finland’s final roster is impressive in and of itself. He was already impressive as an underager in the Ivan Hlinka tournament with five points in four games. Puljujarvi is big (6’2″) for his age, and plays a game based on excellent strength. He uses his body to protect the puck and has the balance and power in his skating stride to fight through checks and get to the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent wrist shot and release. He can do it all, also playing the role of playmaker off the wing. He may not get a lot of ice time this tournament, but keep your eye on him if he does play, as he is a possible lottery pick in the 2016 NHL draft.
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