The Finnish Ice Hockey Federation on Monday announced the selection camp roster of players hoping to represent their country at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Finland, which placed fourth at last year's WJC after losing 4-0 to Canada in the bronze medal game, is seeking its first medal since 2006 when it earned bronze. The camp features 29 players, including eight who participated last year. The returnees include defensemen Olli Maatta of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, Ville Pokka of Karpat and Rasmus Ristolainen of TPS, and forwards Aleksander Barkov of Tappara, Joel Armia of Assat, Markus Granlund of HIFK, Markus Hannikainen of Kiekko-Vantaa and Miikka Salomaki of Karpat.
Finland must pare its roster to 23 players, including three goalies, by Dec. 25.
The 2013 WJC will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2012. Finland, which opens preliminary-round play against Latvia on Dec. 26, will compete in Group A with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.
In addition to being a key returnee for the Finns, Barkov is currently regarded as the top 2013 draft-eligible prospect in Europe. The 6-foot-2, 209-pound center was rated No. 1 among skaters in Finland on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings last month.
Barkov was named the best player at the Under-20 4-Nation Tournament in Sundsvall, Sweden, in November as Finland won the silver medal. He had three assists in three games, finished with a plus-2 rating and won 59 percent of his faceoffs. He was on the ice for eight of his country's nine goals in the tournament.
"He's big, strong and a hard worker in all areas of the ice," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He's a sniper who can also set up scoring chances for teammates. He's a two-way center with a good understanding of his defensive duties, stickhandles well in tight situations, and always seems to come out as a winner. He'll probably go among the top three at the draft."
As a 16-year-old, Barkov had one goal and four points in seven games for Finland at last year's tournament. At 16 years and four months, he became the youngest Finnish player to ever score a goal at the WJC on Jan. 2, 2012, in an 8-5 quarterfinal-round triumph over Slovakia.
For the record, Sidney Crosby was 21 days older when he scored his first goal during the 2004 WJC for Canada. The all-time youngest player is Kazakhstan forward Viktor Alexandrov, who scored a goal at the 2001 WJC when he was 15.
Barkov's father, Alexander Barkov, is an assistant coach in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan. The younger Barkov, born and raised in Tampere, Finland, is proficient in Finnish, Russian and English.
Ristolainen of TPS is rated second among Finnish skaters, according to Central Scouting. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound defenseman had three assists and a plus-1 rating in seven games for Finland at the 2012 WJC.
"He's a very mature young defenseman playing big minutes," Stubb said. "He can carry or pass the puck out of danger, is a good, solid skater and uses his size and physical strength well in the defensive zone. Rasmus will be a key D-man for Finland at World Juniors. He can play physical, but does not take unnecessary penalties."
Markus Granlund was drafted in the second round (No. 45) by the Calgary Flames in 2011, the same year Armia was selected No. 16 overall by the Buffalo Sabres. Teravainen was plucked No. 18 overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012, as was Maatta (No. 22) by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pokka (No. 34) by the New York Islanders.
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Defense: Henri Auvinen, JYP (2013 draft eligible); Petteri Lindbohm, Jokerit (St. Louis Blues); Esa Lindell, Jokerit (Dallas Stars); Olli Maatta, London Knights, OHL (Pittsburgh Penguins); Ville Pokka, Karpat (New York Islanders); Juuso Riikola, KalPa (2013 eligible); Rasmus Ristolainen, TPS (2013 eligible); Juuso Vainio, HPK (2013 eligible); Mikko Vainonen, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL (Nashville Predators); Joonas Valkonen, Blues (2013 eligible).
Forwards: Miro Aaltonen, Blues (2013 eligible); Joel Armia, Assat (Buffalo Sabres); Aleksander Barkov, Tappara (2013 eligible); Markus Granlund, HIFK (Calgary Flames); Henrik Haapala, Tappara (2013 eligible); Markus Hannikainen, Kiekko-Vantaa (2013 eligible); Juuso Ikonen, Blues (2013 eligible); Henri Ikonen, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL (2013 eligible); Ville Jarvelainen, Peliitat (2013 eligible); Matti Lamberg, Jokerit (2013 eligible); Artturi Lehkonen, KalPa (2014 eligible); Robert Leino, HPK (2013 eligible); Thomas Nykopp, HCK (2013 eligible); Saku Salminen, Jokerit (2013 eligible); Miikka Salomaki, Karpat (Nashville Predators); Teuvo Teravainen, Jokerit (Chicago Blackhawks).
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