Projected World Cup Roster: Finland

Sean Reynolds reports from Dallas where players comment on the dream of representing their country in hockey. will be projecting rosters for September’s World Cup of Hockey between now and when teams announce their first 16 selections beginning March 2. Today: Finland.

The Finns are coming — and they’re after more than just bronze this time.

They won’t be the favourite at the upcoming World Cup, of course, but it’s hard to ignore the plucky country’s success at the world junior level in recent years and not expect it to carry over.

Watch: World Cup of Hockey Roster Announcement | March 2 at 4 p.m. ET on Sportsnet

Wingers Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are projected top-three NHL draft picks this spring and — along with linemate Sebastian Aho, a Carolina Hurricanes second-rounder last year — took the most recent world junior tournament by storm.

What’s telling is that none of those three players appear on my projected World Cup roster. I don’t see room for them yet.

Instead, this tournament will give 20-year-old centre Aleksander Barkov the time to shine. He’s the biggest reason why the Florida Panthers are in the midst of a resurgence and he’s displaced Mikko Koivu as the top Finnish centre for best-on-best competition.

The Finns face a similar roster composition issue to Team Canada in that so many of their top players are centremen. I’ve chosen to move Mikael Granlund and Valtteri Filppula to the wings – putting one alongside Barkov and the other with Koivu – while placing Leo Komarov, another centre/wing hybrid, on the third line.

There isn’t a Finnish defenceman in the NHL born before 1991. This is a position of great promise for the country, but it will mean giving big minutes to young players in this tournament.

Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres), Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks) are already impact players in the NHL, and Jyrki Jokipakka – acquired by the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline – is a sturdy No. 4 option.

Each of them should be among the initial 16 players named to the roster early Wednesday.

The only non-NHL players I’ve selected are defencemen Juuso Hietanen (KHL Dynamo Moscow) and Topi Jaakola (KHL Jokerit), who both have plenty of national team experience. Hietanen was part of the team that won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, while Jaakola captured world championship gold in 2011.

Goaltending has long been considered Finland’s biggest strength, but other countries have caught up in recent years. Still, a crease that features Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne and Antti Niemi should give the Finns a legitimate chance at becoming the surprise team at September’s World Cup.

Head Coach: Lauri Marjamäki

GM/Executive Committee Members: Jere Lehtinen (GM), Jarmo Kekalainen (assistant GM).

Line 1: *Mikael Granlund *Aleksander Barkov *Jussi Jokinen

Line 2: *Teuvo Teravainen *Mikko Koivu *Valtteri Filppula

Line 3: *Leo Komarov *Jori Lehtera Joonas Donskoi

Line 4: Erik Haula Joonas Kemppainen Lauri Korpikoski

Extra: Miikka Salomaki

1st Pair: *Olli Maatta *Rasmus Ristolainen

2nd Pair: *Jyrki Jokipakka *Sami Vatanen

3rd Pair: Esa Lindell Juuso Hietanen

Extra: Topi Jaakola

Starter: *Tuukka Rask

Backup: *Pekka Rinne

Reserve: Antti Niemi

* Denotes prediction for Group of 16 named on March 2.

Notable exclusions: Teemu Pulkkinen, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, Iiro Pakarinen, Petteri Lindbohm, Kari Lehtonen, Joonas Korpisalo, Karri Ramo.

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