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Finland Opens World Cup Against North America

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

After everything was said to be known about Group A, and far less about Group B, the 2016 World Cup's so-called "group of death" begins play on Sunday, capped off by Finland playing Team North America (7 p.m. CT; ESPN2).

And of Group B, and all its unknowns, one of the biggest questions is how will Team North America, comprised of some of the youngest, brightest stars in the NHL, fare? 

It will be the first test for the Minnesota Wild's Finnish trio of Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, and Erik Haula. 

"We know that the young stars are a quality team," Finland Head Coach Lauri Marjamaki said. "How we want to play against them, we understand their strengths and what it means for our game plan."

Finland is very young in its own right, the second youngest roster in the tournament. Eight Finnish skaters would meet the criteria to play with North America's under-23s.

"The fact that we are young, and still have veteran guys, but it's a good mix (is a strength)," Koivu said. "For sure our goaltending is the top of the world, so that's a good way to build in for a game."

Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne will start; he edged out Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask at the top of the depth chart.

Koivu and Granlund, who began playing together on a line in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs with Granlund moving to the left wing, and remained together at the 2016 IIHF World Championship, are expected to stay together, along with San Jose Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi.

Haula, who has played with different wingers, is expected to begin the tournament centering Jori Lehtera and Lauri Korpikoski.

"It's just cool to see that we have so many good players representing our country from our team," Haula said. "It's just fun. We know each other so well, and being in a tournament like this is really fun."

Finland's Projected Lineup:

Mikael GranlundMikko Koivu – Joonas Donskoi

Patrik Laine – Aleksander Barkov – Sebastian Aho

Jussi Jokinen – Valtteri Filpulla – Leo Komarov

Jori Lehtera– Erik Haula – Lauri Korpikoski

Olli Matta – Sami Vatanen

Esa Lindell – Rasmus Ristolainen

Ville Polka – Sami Lepisto

Pekka Rinne

North America's Projected Lineup:

Mark Schiefele – Connor McDavid – Auston Matthews

Johnny Gaudreau – Jack Eichel – Dylan Larkin

Jonathan Drouin – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Nathan MacKinnon

Vincent Trochek – Logan Couture – Brandon Saad

Morgan Rielly – Aaron Ekblad

Shayn Gostisbehere – Colton Parayko

Ryan Murray – Seth Jones

Matt Murray

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