WJHC Top 10: Finland in the spotlight

Finland's Rasmus Ristolainen checks Sweden's Erik Karlsson into the boardsduring gold medal game action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

The Finns captured their third gold medal in World Junior Hockey Championship history on the heels of great goaltending and crafty playmaking.

Juuse Saros and Teuvo Teravainen gave the opposition a nightmarish duo that was just too good for the host Swedes, who were largely considered the favourites. If this tournament is any indication, the futures of the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres are in good hands with several prospects cracking our Top 10 from the 2014 under-20 tournament.

10. Martin Reway, David Griger and Milan Kolena, Slovakia
The Slovaks’ top line was one of the most dangerous all tournament. Reway and Griger each finished with 10 points in five games, while Kolena had eight. The trio was so effective — providing a little bit of everything — that separating them in this countdown and choosing only one wouldn’t do the other two justice. They provided their country with plenty of fireworks in the round robin but couldn’t find similar success in the quarterfinals, a 6-0 loss to eventual runners up from Sweden.

9. Saku Maenalanen, Finland
The Nashville Predators’ fifth round pick emerged on the scene as the tournament’s most dangerous shooter with seven goals in seven games. Maenalanen had tremendous chemistry with linemate Teuvo Teravainen, and became Tervainen’s favourite target as the tournament progressed. Maenalanen saved his best performance for last, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the gold-medal game.

8. Anthony Mantha, Canada
Mantha was believed to be one of the final entries on the Canadian team, yet led Canada in scoring and was named to the tournament’s all-star team. A gifted goal scorer, Mantha was always well-positioned to accept passes and fire the puck just as quickly as it touched his stick. He was one of Canada’s lone offensive threats and few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing showing from Team Canada.

7. Nikita Zadorov, Russia
Most teams probably wished the Buffalo Sabres held onto Zadorov instead of sending him back to junior recently. The big, burly Russian defender showed why he was such a hard player for the Sabres to release with a dominant performance. Zadorov stepped up when it mattered most, scoring twice on the power play to tie and put his team in the lead against the Americans in the quarterfinals. His point shot was a constant threat for the opposition, while his defensive play helped keep his team in front. Zadorov’s four goals were most amongst defencemen in the tournament.

6. Oscar Dansk, Sweden
The Swedish goaltending factory appears to have churned out another star in the making. Dansk was at his best when the games mattered most, and was likely a consideration for Most Valuable Player. The Erie Otters’ goaltender was named the tournament’s best goalie with a stellar .928 save percentage. He picked up a shutout over Slovakia in the quarterfinals, held the door shut in a 2-1 semifinal win over the Russians and was solid in a losing effort in the final.

5. Rasmus Ristolainen, Finland
Yet another Sabres prospect, Ristolainen shone when the stage was greatest. He appeared every bit as good as one would expect from a player who played 19 NHL games earlier this season. Ristolainen was the tower of power on the Finn defence, and made his impact at both ends of the ice. He was a man among boys at times, using his size to shield defenders from the puck and exert his will to succeed.

He scored three goals: one in round robin, the back-breaking third goal in Finland’s 5-1 semifinal win over Canada and the golden goal in overtime over the host Swedes in the gold-medal game. Ristolainen was named to the tournament’s all-star team and best defenceman.

4. Filip Forsberg, Sweden
Although in a silver-medal winning effort, Forsberg was named to the tournament all-star team along with accepting Most Valuable Player honours. Forsberg was the host nation’s top offensive threat all tournament, finishing second in points with four goals and eight assists for 12 points.

Forsberg carried the weight of his country on his shoulders and shone throughout. The pressure he had on his shoulders after winning gold in Alberta two years ago certainly added to the expectations this time around and he didn’t disappoint. The Washington Capitals would likely take a mulligan in trading this budding superstar to the Predators last season.

3. Andrei Vasilevski, Russia
For three years now, Vasilevski’s star grew bigger in the annual world junior tournament. The Russians generally enjoy their greatest finishes when backed by a solid goaltender, and Vasilevski may be the best their country has produced in the last decade.

Vasilevski gave his team a chance to win every time he was on the ice. He’s a big goalie who uses his size well for positioning while having the lightning-quick reflexes to stretch across to make the big save. Without him, the Russians may not be leaving Sweden with another bronze.

2. Teuvo Teravainen, Finland
It’s fitting his last name can produce a nickname like “terror,” because that’s what he was for every opposing defence every time he stepped on the ice. The Chicago Blackhawks, who are seemingly never short on high-end prospects, have yet another superstar coming in the Finnish sensation.

Teravainen may have only found the back of the net twice – both against Canada on a penalty shot and empty net goal – but his playmaking made his teammates better and created offensive opportunities. His vision and creativity are big reasons why the Finns walked away with the top prize for only the third time in tournament history. Teravainen finished first in scoring with two goals and 13 assists in seven games, including assists on all three Finland goals in the gold-medal game.

1. Juuse Saros, Finland
What Saros loses in size, he more than makes up for in positioning, determination and gamesmanship. The Finnish goaltender stole the show in his team’s final two games, shutting the door against the Canadians and Swedes and making each wonder how they would find a way to beat him.

Saros, another Predators prospect, was the backbone to the gold medal winners. His confident, poised demeanor permeated throughout his teammates, who knew they could rely on him to make the big save. It became apparent the only way to beat him was to prevent him from seeing the puck. Saros, who didn’t receive the directorate award as best goalie, was named to the tournament all-star team. His performance could have also netted him MVP. His 1.57 goals against average and .943 save percentage were tops in both categories.

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