No superstars in Finnish WJC lineup

By Eetu Huisman

Finns have had the pleasure of watching such highly touted
prospects as Tuomo Ruutu, Kari
and Joni Pitkänen lead the U-20
national team to a medal in each of the last three World Junior
Championships. This time the lineup doesn’t include as many potential

Of the twenty-two players of Finland’s 2002-03 WJC squad, five were selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft (2001 and 2002). Mikko Koivu, who was injured at the
time of the tournament, would have made a sixth. This year, only one
of those six will is still eligible to play. Sean Bergenheim surprised
everyone this fall by grabbing a spot in the New York Islanders
lineup. He returns to Finland for the WJC, and the Islanders have
hinted at the option of loaning him to Jokerit of the Finnish
SM-liiga for the rest of the season to get him more quality ice time.

Last year, one of the most
controversial decisions for Team Finland was to leave goalie Hannu Toivonen
–- another first round draft pick (Boston) –- off of the team. This
year, Toivonen is expected to be one of the most important factors in
Team Finland’s strive to maintain the medal run. His rookie season in
North America has been very promising, averaging 2.23 allowed goals
per game and posting a .925 save percentage while sharing time with
veteran Tim Thomas in goal for the AHL Providence Bruins.

The third player joining Team Finland
from overseas is Masi Marjamäki who plays for the Moose
Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. Marjamäki is one of
the very few young Finns to take the Canadian major junior route. He
left Finland to join the Red Deer Rebels for the 2002-03 season.
After a very promising start, his season turned out to be somewhat
disappointing. The beginning of this season wasn’t much better for
him or the team. After a trade to the Warriors, the second round
draft pick of the Boston Bruins from last summer has been able to
find his scoring touch again, scoring five goals in six games before
leaving to Finland to join the rest of Team Finland on a two-week
training camp.

One of the most interesting undrafted
prospects on the roster is defenseman Sami Lepistö of
Jokerit Helsinki. He stayed under the radar during last year’s
entry draft for which he was eligible. He got a regular spot in the
SM-liiga team of Jokerit partly because of an injury to a fellow
blueliner and WJC team member Mikko Kalteva just before the
beginning of the season. Since then, he has established himself as an
offensive defenseman with great puck skills and self confidence that
is rarely seen from a rookie on elite level. Reportedly he’s closely
watched by many NHL organizations and he made his debut in the top three Finnish players on the preliminary rankings of the NHL Central
Scouting Service on November.

Lauri Tukonen has been touted as
the next big thing in Finnish hockey for years. After scoring sixteen
points in twelve games for the Blues Espoo in the U-20 league, he was
called up to their SM-liiga team. He has played in every line from
first to fourth and while his point total, two goals and one assist in
21 games, isn’t exactly earthshaking, he has adjusted to the
higher tempo and level of SM-liiga very well considering his age.
Another 1986-born winger Petteri Nokelainen of SaiPa
Lappeenranta is the other player ranked above Lepistö by the
CSS. He has also spent majority of the season with the SM-liiga team
of SaiPa and is expected to be drafted early in the NHL entry draft
next June.

Of the prospects who have already been
drafted to the NHL, Valtteri Filppula of Jokerit has been
making the most noise in SM-liiga this year. He’s second among
rookies in scoring and has an amazing ten points in fifteen games
during the past month. Filppula is going to center the first line of
Team Finland in the WJC.

Team Finland is coached by Hannu
Aravirta, who lead the senior national team to medals in five
consecutive international tournaments in 1998–2001. While the team
clearly doesn’t have as much top end talent as last year’s, it should be able to battle for a medal with the support of
the home crowd.

Team Finland in the WJC
1Mikael VuorioG01/04/19846’0”180 lbs.Jukurit MikkeliFlorida Panthers (196th/6th 2002)
30Hannu ToivonenG05/18/19846’3”205 lbs.Providence BruinsBoston Bruins (29th/1st 2002)
3Sami LepistöD10/17/19846’0”175 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiUndrafted
4Janne JalasvaaraD04/25/19846’0”195 lbs.Blues EspooUndrafted
5Mikko KaltevaD05/25/19846’4”200 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiColorado Avalanche (107th/4th 2002)
7Anssi SalmelaD08/13/19846’0”185 lbs.Tappara TampereUndrafted
8Ville VarakasD02/13/19846’0”195 lbs.HIFK HelsinkiUndrafted
21Kevin KanteeD01/29/19846’2”190 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiChicago Blackhawks (188th/6th 2002)
24Oskari KorpikariD04/05/19846’2”200 lbs.Kärpät OuluMontreal Canadiens (217th/7th 2003)
10Sean BergenheimW02/08/19845’11”205 lbs.New York IslandersNew York Islanders (22nd/1st 2002)
12Valtteri FilppulaC03/20/19846’0”185 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiDetroit Red Wings (95th/3rd 2002)
13Arsi PiispanenC/W07/23/19856’4”170 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiColumbus Blue Jackets (138th/5th 2003)
15Tommi OksaW10/14/19845’11”185 lbs.Jokerit HelsinkiUndrafted
18Jyri JunnilaW04/07/19845’8”170 lbs.Kärpät OuluUndrafted
19Lennart PetrellW04/13/19846’4”200 lbs.HIFK HelsinkiUndrafted
20Joni TöykkäläW/C02/25/19846’0”170 lbs.Blues EspooUndrafted
22Teemu NurmiW/C02/24/19856’1”190 lbs.Tappara TampereUndrafted
23Jarkko A. ImmonenC01/18/19846’0”195 lbs.Blues EspooDallas Stars (110th/4th 2002)
25Lauri TukonenW09/01/19866’2”200 lbs.Blues EspooEligible 2004
26Petri KontiolaC01/04/19846’0”185 lbs.Tappara TampereUndrafted
27Petteri NokelainenW01/16/19866’1”185 lbs.SaiPa LappeenrantaEligible 2004
29Masi MarjamäkiW01/16/19856’2”200 lbs.Moose Jaw WarriorsBoston Bruins (66th/2nd 2003)

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