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Youth, potential are hallmarks of Team Finland

Barkov, Ristolainen likely key figures for World Cup entry

by Marko Leppanen / NHL.com Correspondent

Ristolainen's hat trick

BUF@CGY: Ristolainen records hat trick vs Flames

12/10/15: Rasmus Ristolainen records a hat trick against the Flames on December 10, 2015

  • 03:17 •

There was no shortage of buzz when Finland won the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki. About 2.5 million viewers in Finland watched their countrymen beat Russia in the championship game in which Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Kasperi Kapanen scored the overtime winner.

Finnish hockey fans were very excited about the rising stars on display at the Under-21 tournament, players including Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho. Puljujarvi and Laine are considered top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Laine and Aho made the senior national team for the Euro Hockey Tour tournament in Sweden and may be part of Team Finland at the 2016 World Championship in Russia this spring. 

The future looks very bright for Finnish hockey, but much of the focus now is on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto this fall and there are questions whether the young guns are ready for that step up in competition. 

Lauri Marjamaki, who is coaching Karpat in the Finnish Elite League, is taking over Team Finland after this season. He will make his national team coaching debut at the World Championship and then coach at the World Cup. 

Finland has limited star power at the moment, but strong team effort and consistency have been strengths of the Finns through the years. 

Here is what Team Finland's roster (alphabetically by position) could look like for the tournament, which will be held Sept. 17, 2016 to Oct. 1, 2016, in Toronto: 

FORWARDS 

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers, C -- Barkov, 20, has been a big part of the Panthers success this season. He makes playing hockey look like walking in the park at times. Barkov is part of a top line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr that is creating havoc night after night. Barkov sustained a concussion against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. Team Finland and the Panthers are hoping his absence is short-term. 

Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning, C -- Filppula's season with the Lightning has been a bit of a disappointment with his point production down compared to last season. He is still a reliable center who can play an efficient game at each end of the ice though. His mental toughness and experience in major international tournaments are important pieces of the puzzle. 

Joonas Kemppainen, Boston Bruins, C -- Kemppainen has endured a bit of a roller-coaster rookie season. He started well, then sustained an upper-body injury and eventually found himself in the American Hockey League. Despite the adversity, Kemppainen is an ideal fourth-line center for Team Finland. Marjamaki and Kemppainen had a common stint in Karpat, which is an advantage. 

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, C -- Koivu, the captain with the Wild, is still showing maturation in his game, playing what might be the most complete hockey of his career at 32. With the retirement of his older brother Saku in the rearview mirror, it is time for Mikko to take on a leading role in Team Finland's locker room. 

Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues, C -- This skilled center made a huge impact last season playing with Vladimir Tarasenko. This season, Lehtera has dipped on the Blues depth chart, playing a more defensive role, including a regular turn as a penalty killer. Versatility will be an appreciated quality during his tour with the national team. 

Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild, LW -- Granlund is originally a center but he's useful on the wing as well. He struggles during 5-on-5 play against bigger opponents, but his creativity on the power play is a big asset. 

Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers, LW -- Jokinen has enjoyed a strong season, providing a solid two-way game on a regular basis. He is not a glamorous star, but is well-respected among his peers in Finland. A good mentor for the younger players on the Panthers, he could serve a similar role for Team Finland. 

Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs, LW -- The Maple Leafs' representative at the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game, Komarov is the leading scorer for Toronto. He is not just a one-dimensional grinder, as has been the reputation in the past, but he can still get under the skin of opponents when necessary. 

Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks, LW -- After making a name for himself with his stellar play in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, culminating with a Stanley Cup triumph against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Teravainen, 21, is playing his first full season in the NHL. He has the offensive tools to dominate and will only get better as he adds more bulk to his frame to better compete in the more physical North American game.

Video: NSH@CHI: Teravainen flicks no-look shot top-shelf

Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks, RW -- A late bloomer, Donskoi, 23, is finding his stride as the NHL season progresses. He is a magical stickhandler with a great hockey IQ. Like Kemppainen, Donskoi played for Marjamaki with Karpat in the Finnish Elite League. 

Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers, RW -- His first season with the Oilers has been full of adversity as Korpikoski has endured a spate of injuries. His strength, powerful skating and penalty-killing ability are still there though.   

Teemu Pulkkinen, Detroit Red Wings, RW -- Playing in the final season of his entry-level contract, Pulkkinen is heading toward a defining point in his young career. A promising start to the 2015-16 season was derailed by a shoulder injury. His wicked one-timer is a big asset on the power play. 

Iiro Pakarinen, Edmonton Oilers, RW -- One of the positive surprises among Finnish NHL players this season, Pakarinen is a very versatile player who has seen time on the second, third and fourth lines with the Oilers. He also kills penalties and plays on the power play. Pakarinen won the Oilers' hardest shot competition with a 103.4 mph shot. 

DEFENSEMEN 

Juuso Hietanen, Dynamo Moscow (KHL) -- Hietanen, 30, can handle the role of a seventh defenseman. He never made it to the NHL, probably because of his lack of size (5-foot-11, 187 pounds), but he is a skilled defenseman that has proven his competitiveness is high enough for the international level.   

Jyrki Jokipakka, Dallas Stars -- Jokipakka is a perfect third-pairing defense candidate for Team Finland. An offensive side to his game has been more on display this season with the Stars, but Jokipakka projects more as a stay-at-home style of player. 

Petteri Lindbohm, Chicago Wolves (AHL) -- Lindbohm had high hopes of making the Blues out of training camp, but has spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League. Team Finland is lacking North American experience on the blue line, which favors Lindbohm's inclusion. 

Esa Lindell, Texas Stars (AHL) -- One of the rising young defensemen in Finnish hockey, Lindell had a cup of coffee with the Stars and played solidly in four games before he was returned to their AHL affiliate for more seasoning. 

Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Maatta was sidetracked substantially through injuries last season, but is playing back toward his potential in 2015-16. Maatta, 21, is in his third season in the NHL and after showing poise and maturity at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he should be an essential part of the Finnish defense at the World Cup. 

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres -- Ristolainen is battling Barkov for the crown as the best Finnish player in the NHL this season. The No. 1 defenseman for the Sabres, he is playing big minutes against high-quality opposition, showcasing a dramatic improvement in his defensive game. He is a game-changer on the offensive side of the puck. 

Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks -- Vatanen has one power-play goal this season, disappointing for a player capable of much more production, but the Ducks as a whole have struggled to score goals. He is skilled enough to be a dominant offensive defenseman in the NHL and will likely play that role with Finland.

Video: ANA@CAR: Vatanen fakes shot before beating Lack

GOALIES

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins -- Struggling at the start of the season, Rask has begun to unravel his issues and hit his stride. He was the No. 1 for Finland at Sochi and should remain so at the World Cup. 

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- Rinne is not happy about his performance this season as he struggles to find consistency. But the track record of dominant performances in the past remains and he will be included in the Team Finland setup. 

Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets -- Korpisalo is among the newest products of the Finnish goalie factory. Korpisalo seized his chance with the Blue Jackets after an injury to No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He has showed a skill set and maturity beyond his experience level. Experience with the senior national team in a high-profile tournament will be the next step in his development.

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