Introducing Team Finland for the U18 World Championships in Slovakia
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was the cornerstone of last year’s gold-winning team. He’s a calm, positionally sound goalie with very good rebound control and solid net coverage. His technique is really polished. He performs well under pressure. If anything, he could improve his puck handling skills when leaving the crease.
Lassi Lehtinen doesn’t have similar size to Luukkonen, but his quickness is impressive. Lateral quickness, post-to-post movement and reactions all are strong parts of his game. He was named the U20 league’s top goalie after capturing a bronze medal with Lukko U20. He often carried heavy workload and also played a few games with KeuPa in Mestis. The team’s third goalie, Oskar Autio, impressed for Blues U20 this season with his consistency, positioning and reading of the play.
On defense, there are currently five players: Aleksi Anttalainen, Bernard Isiguzo, Otto Latvala, Eero Teräväinen and Toni Utunen. However, Miro Heiskanen will likely join the team soon after HIFK was eliminated in the Liiga playoffs yesterday. He would undoubtedly be the team’s top defenseman, one who can play in all situations and boost the offensive game from the backend. Latvala is somewhat raw, but he has emerged as one of the top Finnish defensemen for this year’s draft. His strong defensive game will be crucial to the team’s success. Teräväinen is an offensively gifted, smooth skating defenseman with good long-term upside. He missed the USHL Top Prospects Game in January due to injury, so this will be an important tournament for him to conclude the season.
It is noteworthy that defenseman Eemeli Räsänen could also join the team if Kingston’s season ends in the second round of the OHL playoffs.
Two of the key forwards are Joni Ikonen and Kristian Vesalainen, both of whom finished their second seasons at Frölunda. Ikonen is a highly skilled prospect with great puck skills and offensive imagination. Vesalainen hasn’t had the greatest season prior to the NHL Draft, however, he still remains a potential first-round pick.
There are three 2018 draft eligible forwards in Jesse Ylönen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Kupari. Ylönen’s game is highlighted by great hands, creativity and quickness which makes him an offensive threat any time he has the puck. Kupari plays an excellent two-way game for his age and wins face-offs at a high rate. His offensive game is coming along nicely, too.
Santeri Virtanen (TPS) and Aarne Talvitie (Blues) are centers who had good moments in U20 and U18 playoff games. Talvitie has always been solid defensively, along with good quickness and physical attributes, but the improvements in the offensive game have been evident lately. Kärpät center Jesse Koskenkorva is another interesting player to keep an eye on. He has smarts, speed and playmaking skill. Skilled Teemu Engberg, defensively strong Olli Maansaari and Tappara center Santeri Aalto are likely to play in a bottom-six role.