Finland’s performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup was very much a mixed bag. At the tournament opener, they got steamrolled by Canada 0-6 and it looked like they hadn’t practiced at all. In the other group stage games, they did beat the Czech Republic and Switzerland pretty convincingly, but that was to be expected with this roster. The semifinal game against Russia was a rather disappointing effort by the top line (shot attempts at even-strength were 2-12) and Yaroslav Askarov was excellent in the net. Finland did control the bronze medal game for the most part, but the bounces did not go their way and Sweden was deadly-efficient with their chances.
Finland’s top line for a big part of the tournament consisted of Roni Hirvonen, Oliver Suni, and Roby Järventie, although they did shuffle their forward lines in few occasions. The three also played together at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last year.
Hirvonen was arguably the top forward on the team, finishing with team-leading six points in five games. At even-strength, he had the most primary shot contributions (shot attempts and primary shot assists per 60) out of any forward on the team and his zone entry numbers were good as well. Hirvonen isn’t very flashy, but effective nonetheless. His offensive skill set is rather well-rounded, but I’m not sure if he has a dynamic element to his game. Hirvonen is an agile skater, but his speed could be a bit better for his size. He should be considered a late first/early second-round pick at this point.
Suni, who’ll play for the Oshawa Generals next season, had an ok tournament. I liked how he set up plays for Hirvonen and Järventie in the offensive zone, showcasing good vision and stick-handling in tight areas. Suni has a good frame and he was able to power through on few zone entries nicely, although his acceleration could use work at this point.
Järventie didn’t have the best tournament, finishing dead last in shot contributions at even-strength. He does have an intriguing offensive skill set (and his measurements had increased pretty significantly from last year) and his numbers last season were really good but he left me wanting more here.
The second line, mostly featuring Aatu Räty, Brad Lambert and Jesse Seppälä, was Finland’s best combination at even-strength. The two under-agers, Räty (eligible in 2021) and Lambert (eligible in 2022), were Finland’s top forwards not named Roni Hirvonen. Räty was a monster in transition, creating by far the most zone entries on the team (his controlled entry percentage was also the highest). He also recorded a good mix of shots and shot assists. Räty’s speed and puck skills looked excellent, and his two-way play looked pretty solid to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up spending a big chunk of next season with Kärpät’s Liiga team (which would be impressive given how stacked team Kärpät is every year).
Lambert was the second youngest player in the tournament and showed exactly why he is a special prospect. His skating looked elite, particularly his ability to generate speed using crossovers stood out in this tournament. Lambert was second in shot contributions at even-strength, his shot share numbers were very good and he did generate zone entries at an above-average rate and high efficiency. Not eligible until the 2022 draft, Lambert will likely make his Liiga debut with HIFK this upcoming season. Matthew Savoie and Shane Wright are elite talents for the 2022 draft, but you could argue that at the moment, Lambert’s international resume gives him an edge over both of them.
Seppälä, the recent import draft pick of the Edmonton Oil Kings, was clearly a supportive player on this line and it shows in his more advanced metrics. He didn’t do much in terms of transporting the puck up the ice or shot contributions (although he did have the best CF% on the team), but his linemates probably had an impact in that. Seppälä is a pretty smart winger with and without the puck, but he is small and doesn’t skate very fast.
Juuso Mäenpää, who was centering the third line, was easily the biggest positive surprise of the tournament for me. He displayed very good skating ability throughout the tournament and was able to beat defenders with pure speed on many occasions. Mäenpää also showed good playmaking ability, setting up shots consistently and playing in a big role on the power play. At even-strength, he was Finland’s fourth most frequent shot contributor and had the third-most controlled zone entries per 60. At 5-foot7, Mäenpää is tiny, isn’t much of a shooting threat and needs to get better defensively, but this tournament got me excited about him going into this season.
Mäenpää’s most common wingers were Oskari Luoto and Veeti Korkalainen, who both had pretty mediocre tournaments. Luoto started the tournament as the 13th forward but quickly carved himself a spot on the lineup. He used his shot a lot, but most of his attempts came from low-danger areas. Korkalainen played with a lot of different linemates and looked ok in every role he was put in. I’ll expect that they both will put up decent numbers in the U20 league next season.
The most frequent fourth line consisted of Joel Määttä, Eetu Liukas, and Eero Niemi. Määttä was probably the most effective of three (and the oldest with Liukas and Niemi being not eligible until the 2021 draft), as he was able to create enter the offensive zone with possession consistently and create some chances for the other two. Valtteri Karnaranta, also not eligible until the 2021, ended up playing the least amount of minutes out of Finland’s forwards.
Unlike the forward lines, the defensive pairings stayed the same throughout the entire tournament. The top pairing consisted of Kasper Puutio and Eemil Viro.
Puutio, the recent top pick of the CHL import draft, had a bit of an inconsistent tournament for his standards. He had flashes of brilliance when breaking out the puck, but unusual amount of odd fails as well. Actually, only about 58 percent of his exit attempts ended up with the team retaining the possession. Overall, I’m still pretty high on Puutio as a modern puck-moving defenceman, and I think he’ll be an important part of the Swift Current Broncos next season. Viro was the more consistent of the two with the puck. I mostly liked his play away from the puck as well, as he was able to defend the blue line relatively effectively.
The second pairing featuring Topi Niemelä and Luka Nyman was Finland’s best at even-strength. Niemelä was the most frequent shooter of the team, had the most primary shot assists and created the most controlled exits. He keeps his game simple when needed, but is more than capable contributing offensively as well. Given that Nyman plays for the Red Bull Academy of the Czech U19 league, I have only seen him at international events. In this tournament, I really liked him. Nyman had the second-most controlled zone exits. He isn’t that explosive of a skater, but displays good mobility and lateral movement. I also liked his decision-making in the defensive zone (one example below).
Ruben Rafkin and Rami Määttä formed the third defensive pairing. I must say that Rafkin was a bit of a disappointment to me at this tournament. Alongside Puutio, he might have the explosiveness in his game and skating, but I was left off questioning his decision-making. He had the least amount of controlled exits per 60 out of all the top 6 defenders. Many times Rafkin ended up just dumping the puck out when there was no pressure to do so. In the offensive zone, he did record a ton of shot attempts, even too many for my liking (as they were very low-percentage shots for the most part). Rafkin does have the physical tools you want from a defenceman, so we’ll se how his decision-making improves in the future.
Määttä was clearly the more supportive player on the pairing, but I thought he managed to be very effective doing so. He had a very low amount of individual shots, but good amount of shot assists and a very good success percentage on his exits. Määttä showcased good mobility and instincts on both sides of the puck. He is only 5-foot-10 and not much of a treat in shooting or physical departments, but I’m pretty excited about him going into the season as a potential late round pick for 2020 draft.
Valtteri Koskela was the seventh defenceman for the entire tournament and got some shifts on most of the games. He did perform relatively well when he was on the ice, but the sample size is way too small to make any definitive statements.
Joel Blomqvist ended up playing in all five games, recording a .905 save percentage and allowing 2.21 goals per game. I thought that his tournament was alright, when you take into consideration that playing five games in six days is a very heavy work load for a goalie. Blomqvist has a good mix of athleticism, technique and size, and he is still one of the better European goalies eligible for the 2020 draft after Askarov.