Ivan Hlinka Gretzky Preview: Finland

A team who hasn’t medaled since 2013, Finland hasn’t found as much success at the Ivan Hlinka’s then they have at the U18’s in the Spring. Never leaving the tournament with gold and only medalling three times in the past twelve years. The past few years have been really tough on the Fin’s though, finishing in the placement game four out of the past five years and only managing six wins in the past five years. Despite this however, Finland has still brought and produced top NHL talent through this tournament. With several NHL players suiting up the Finland jersey at the Ivan Hlinka Gretzky tournament. Last year’s team should have probably fared better, they had two first round picks in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Kupari. They also were loaded with 2019 NHL prospects like Anttoni Honka and Leevi Altonen who produced above their age at this tournament. This year’s team is one that looks strong on paper, they have loads of skill upfront, and a dynamic core group of guys who will be relied upon to produce offense. Three players are also returning from last year’s team in Aaltonen, Kokkonen and Rasanen. I think the talking point of this team and where the success will really lie will be on the goaltending. Both goalies are fairly small in stature at 6’0 (Taponen) and 6’0 (Piirooinen), both aren’t exactly ideal in size. Finland is also bringing top prospects for the 2020 draft in Kasper Simontaival, a forward who is expected to suit up in some Liiga games this upcoming season, look for him to make an immediate impact against older talent.

Previous Years Results:

2018: Loss in Placement Game

2017: Loss in Placement Game

2016: Loss in Secondary Finals

2015: Win in Placement Game

Notable Alumni’s:

Sebastian Aho (2014)

Alexander Barkov (2011)

Rasumus Kupari (2017)

Jesse Puljujarvi (2014)

Ville Pokka (2011)

Artturi Lehkonen (2011)

Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2017)

Kasperi Kapanen (2012)

Eeli Tolvanen (2015)

Juuso Valimaki (2015)

Patrik Laine (2014)

Urho Vaakanainen (2016)

Forwards:

Leevi Aaltonen

Henri Nikkanen

Antti Saarela

Mikko Petman

Veeti Miettinen

Anton Lundell

Aku Raty

Kasper Simontaival

Arttu Tuomaala

Rasmus Lahnaviik

Aarne Intonen

Patrik Puistola

Juust Parssinen

Defense:

Mikko Kokkonen

Kalle Loponen

Iivari Rasanen

Aapo Holtinkoski

Samu Koskenkorva

Ville Heinola

Christoffer Sedoff

Goalie:

Roope Taponen

Kari Piiroinen

Players to Watch:

Mikko Kokkonen – The most experiences player on this year, Kokkanen has already played in 29 U18 games… 29!! and he is likely to captain this young group of men. Not only has he already had time at the U18 international levels, but he also spent most of last year playing Pro with Jukuruit of Liiga or Kettera of Mestic. Oh and he has a U18 gold medal to his name. Kokkanen is a stay at home two-way defender who excels in the transitional game and can defend the rush with a tight cap and good body positioning. Kokkanen excels in his own zone, he reads the play well and always has his head up. Expected to be Finland’s most crucial payer at the tournament because when he is going … the whole team is going.

Leevi Aaltonen – My favorite forward on this team, Aaltonen already has 17 U18 games under his belt including four games at last year’s Ivan Hlinka (five point). Aaltonen is an electrifying forward who sets the tone when he is on the ice. He plays with hard to contain energy and is constantly force his way without the puck to scoring areas. Sneaky behind defenders and can grab pucks in the slot without anyone noticing him. If he isn’t in your first round now he will be by the end of this tournament.

Henri Nikkanen – Currently ranked in DraftGeek’s first round, Nikkonen is one of three players on this year’s Finnish team who are currently in first round conversation talks. He was excellent at last year’s U17 camp and brought that play back to JYP where he scores 20 goals. Nikkonen has a spectacular release on a deceptive shot and knows how to get it off without time and space.

Anton Lundell – Having already played at last year’s Spring U18’s, where he scored six points in seven games, Lundell should have a good expectation of what he needs to do to succeed at this tournament. A late ’01 birthdays, Lundell isn’t eligible until the 2020 NHL draft, making him one of the youngest players at this year’s tournament. Lundell has found success at all levels recently, he was dynamic at the U17’s last year and is expected to earn time with the HIFK men’s team at some point this year.

Kasper Simontaival – Finland’s top 2002 born player, Simontaival will get him first opportunity to prove himself at the U18 levels. He spent this past season in the Finnish U18 league where he was score 37 points in 28 games with Tappara. A diminutive forward who skilled with the puck on his stick and has a lethal right handed shot. Works hard to retrieve pucks, constantly moving his feet. Expected to get Liiga time this upcoming season.