Thoughts on Team Finland from the World Juniors

Team Finland finished fourth at the 2020 World Juniors after losing the bronze medal game 3-2 to Sweden. The path to the medal round wasn’t the smoothest one, but the Finns did play their best game of the tournament in the quarterfinal against the USA. They played really well as a team and goalie Justus Annunen was the cornerstone in the win. Joonas Oden scored the lone goal of the game on the power play from a terrific no-look pass from Kristian Tanus. In the semi-final, Canada scored three quick goals in less than four minutes into the first period and eventually ran away with a 5-0 win.

One aspect that really hurt the team was Rasmus Kupari‘s injury in the first game which left Finland with only 11 forwards. In my opinion, it would have been wiser to register 13 forwards for the tournament instead of 12. In addition, some of the players did not live up to the expecations. I thought that the team’s performances were somewhat inconsistent. There were some moments when they played well, but those were few and far between. The USA game was a positive exception.

In this article, I will take a closer look at some of the individuals who I thought were among the top performers on the team.

  • The second line of Patrik Puistola, Kristian Tanus and Joonas Oden was very good throughout the tournament and certain times carried the team, scoring important and timely goals. Tanus and Oden are undrafted but there is no doubt that both improved their chances of getting picked next time around.
  • Tanus did a great job of running on the power play as his passing skills and offensive vision were on full display on the man advantage. An intelligent playmaker with quick hands and a soft first touch, he made good decisions with the puck and rarely forced the game. He constantly played with his head up to survey the ice. He showed strong commitment to the defensive game.
  • Oden was undoubtedly one of the better Finnish players. He is a hard-working, strong-skating winger with good offensive skills and hockey sense. A solid set-up guy with good precision in his passing, he can create room to shoot or make plays off the rush. He sees the ice well and he does not give “hope passes”. Oden can be a dangerous shooter from a distance and find the back of the net. He backchecks really well as he possesses the speed and footwork to catch opponents in a hurry. He has good endurance which enabled him to play a highly energetic game.
  • The fourth line, featuring Aatu Räty, Aku Räty and Sampo Ranta, was strong right from the start. They brought energy, played a responsible two-way game and they managed to have a good amount of offensive zone time. The Räty brothers combined for four goals and provided some scoring punch. Ranta is a very strong skater and used his speed to create problems for the defenders. I would have liked to see the trio have increased ice-time towards the end of the tournament.
  • I’ve said this before, but I think Aku Räty has the potential to exceed the expectations of his draft position. The intelligent winger thinks the game at a high level, is dependable without the puck and has the puck skills and vision to make plays in the final third. He shows good instincts and always knows where the play is headed. He can make tight turns and cuts and definitely has some nice deception in his game. A smart pick in the fifth round by the Arizona Coyotes.
  • Despite being the youngest player at the tournament, Aatu Räty showed that he can already more than hold his own. His high-level puck skills and smarts are obvious, but I was also very impressed with his work rate. He battled for his ice and he was willing to pay the price to win puck battles. He’s driven, wants to win and make a difference in every shift. He has the potential to become a very special player.
  • I thought Los Angeles Kings fourth rounder Kim Nousiainen was the top Finnish defenseman. He was reliable and consistent, managed to defend well and contain bigger forwards in his own end. He’s not big, but he skates well in all directions and he’s sturdy on his skates. He also managed the puck well and played a simple, effective game. He made a great play to set up the 1-0 goal in the bronze medal game against Sweden.
  • Goalie Justus Annunen played six of Finland’s seven games. He got off to an excellent start as he was outstanding in the opening game against Sweden. He was the main reason the Finns were able to get a point out of it. He was solid in the next game against Slovakia. As the tournament progressed, I was hoping to see more consistency from him. He allowed a few goals that were stoppable. However, overall I thought Annunen had a good tournament. Kari Piiroinen performed well in a 6-1 win over Kazakhstan. As a 2001, he’ll be available to play in next year’s tournament in Canada as well.

Cover photo: Matt Zambonin/HHOF/IIHF Images