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Team Canada Preview: Canada kicks off WJC against Finland

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Photo credit:Hockey Canada
baggedmilk
2 months ago
It’s Boxing Day, and that can only mean one thing: It’s launch time for the 2024 World Juniors Championship. Are you excited? I’m excited.
If there’s one Christmas week tradition that I always love, it’s the Boxing Day start of the World Juniors Championship. Since I was a teenager, the WJC tourney has been a staple in my life and a two-week stretch that I always look forward to watching, and this year is no exception. Winners of the last two tournaments and three of the last four overall, Canada comes into this year’s WJC as a favourite even though there are teams like the USA and Sweden that will be doing everything to stand in their way. But before we look too far ahead at who stands in the way of another gold medal, the first order of business is getting through Team Finland in this first official game of the tournament.
What should we expect from Team Finland? I’m leaving it up to someone way smarter than me to set the table for today’s matchup.

LOOKING AT THE TEAM FINLAND

Over at Daily Faceoff, our prospect analyst, Steven Ellis, wrote a detailed breakdown of this year’s Finnish squad, and as you’ll see, this is a team with plenty to prove while still having more than enough skill to burn the boys if they’re not ready to play. 
There used to be a time when the only consistent thing about Finland was their inconsistency.
One year, they’d win gold. The next, they were fighting to avoid relegation. It’s a weird cycle for one of the top hockey countries in the world – one that continues to hit above their weight class.
But if we’re taking a wild guess now, this feels like a team on the backburner.
One of the biggest stories for this group, unfortunately, is who isn’t going to be there. Joakim Kemell, a Nashville Predators prospect, would have been one of the best players in the tournament, but he’s ripping up the AHL and it made sense to keep him home. And then there’s Calgary’s Topi Ronni, who is currentlyunder investigation for rape.
On the back end, Aron Kiviharju – one of the top prospects for 2024 – won’t participate due to an injury. The same goes for New York Islanders product Jesse Nurmi, who was set to play a big role after a great U-18 World Championship showing.
Still, you can’t ever count this group out.
Clearly, the Finns will be without some key pieces on their roster, but that doesn’t mean the kids they do have playing will be slouches by any stretch. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Finland over the years, it’s that their relentless work ethic can win them games even if they’re outmatched in the skill department and that’s something Canada will have to consider here in game one.
2024 NHL DRAFT
It’s rare to see a draft-eligible prospect take the reigns as a No. 1 center, but Helenius deserves it. He has stood out with the U-20 national ‘s the highest-scoring U-20 national team player in 2023 while also producing one of the best U-18 seasons in recent Liiga history. This tournament could be Helenius’ opportunity to establish himself as a top-five pick next June.
Further down the lineup, Emil Hemming has looked great against men in Liiga play. The 6-foot-2 winger is projected to go in the first round after showing a high level of competency with TPS. He was great against U-18 competition, but he was the best player behind Helenius at last month’s Five Nations tournament. That’s saying something given his age.
On the back end, watch for Veeti Väisänen, another potential first-round pick. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in Liiga this year, but he has dominated some of the U-20 league games he has played. I also think he looked comfortable in U-20 national team games, too. I didn’t love his U-18 World Championship work, but against his own age group, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.
PROJECTION
Undoubtedly, this is a Finnish team that isn’t at full strength. Not having Kemell is going to hurt offensively. Kiviharju would have been a huge boost for the team’s blueline. It’s a generally weaker year for the Finns, who saw their 2005-born team fall in the quarterfinals to Slovakia at the U-18s back in the spring. But if there’s anything we’ve learned about the Finns, it’s that they’re pesky and never give up, and that their robust defensive systems often come up key. They’ll need to in a different group against Canada and Sweden, but they’re definitely capable of it. A good on-paper projection will see them coming third in Group A, which might play into their favor if they’re matched up against Czechia or Slovakia. From there, anything can happen.
Even though we’re talking about a likely less skilled Finnish team than we’ve seen in the past, the last thing I’d expect is some kind of lopsided result for Canada. If anything, I’m expecting this first game to be a fight to the end, and I think it’ll take more than simply showing up for Canada to claim the victory.

ROSTERS

Team Canada:

F Owen Allard (2024 draft-eligible)
F Denver Barkey (Flyers, 2023, 95th overall)
F Owen Beck (Canadiens, 2022, 33rd overall)
F Macklin Celebrini (2024 draft-eligible)
F Easton Cowan (Maple Leafs, 2023, 28th overall)
F Nate Danielson (Red Wings, 2023, 9th overall)
F Jordan Dumais (Blue Jackets, 2022, 96th overall)
F Jagger Firkus (Kraken, 2022, 35th overall)
F Conor Geekie (Coyotes, 2022, 11th overall)
F Paul Ludwinski (Blackhawks, 2022, 39th overall)
F Fraser Minten (Maple Leafs, 2022, 38th overall)
F Carson Rehkopf (Kraken, 2023, 50th overall)
F Matthew Savoie (Sabres, 2022, 9th overall)
F Markus Vidicek (2024 draft-eligible)
F Matthew Wood (Predators, 2023, 15th overall)
F Brayden Yager (Penguins, 2023, 14th overall)
D Oliver Bonk (Flyers, 2023, 22nd overall)
D Michael Buchinger (Blues, 2022, 88th overall)
D Jorian Donovan (Senators, 2022, 136th overall)
D Jake Furlong (Sharks, 2022, 140th overall)
D Maveric Lamoureux (Coyotes, 2022, 29th overall)
D Denton Mateychuk (Blue Jackets, 2022, 12th overall)
D Tanner Molendyk (Predators, 2023, 24th overall)
D Ty Nelson (Kraken, 2022, 68th overall)
D Noah Warren (Ducks, 2022, 42nd overall)
G Domenic DiVincentiis (Jets, 2022, 207th overall)
G Scott Ratzlaff (Sabres, 2023, 141st overall)
G Mathis Rousseau (2024 draft-eligible)
G Samuel St-Hilaire (2024 draft-eligible)

Team Finland:

F Rasmus Kumpulainen (Wild, 2023, 53rd overall)
F Konsta Helenius (2024 draft-eligible)
F Oiva Keskinen (Blue Jackets, 2023, 194th overall)
F Samu Bau (Coyotes, 2023, 162nd overall)
F Kasper Halttunen (Sharks, 2023, 36th overall)
F Jesse Kiiskinen (Predators, 2023, 68th overall)
F Aleksanteri Kaskimäki (Blues, 2022, 73rd overall)
F Max Koskipirtti (2024 draft-eligible)
F Jere Lassila (2024 draft-eligible)
F Lenni Hämeenaho (Devils, 2023, 58th overall)
F Emil Hemming (2024 draft-eligible))
F Jani Nyman (Kraken, 2022, 49th overall)
F Tommi Männistö (2024 draft-eligible)
F Janne Naukkarinen (2024 draft-eligible)
D Veeti Väisänen (2024 draft-eligible)
D Otto Salin (Kings, 2022, 148th overall)
D Arttu Kärki (Golden Knights, 2023, 96th overall)
D Kasper Kulonummi (Predators, 2022, 84th overall)
D Emil Pieniniemi (Penguins, 2023, 91st overall)
D Joona Väisänen (2024 draft-eligible)
D Kalle Kangas (Penguins, 2023, 223rd overall)
D Jesse Pulkkinen (2024 draft-eligible)
G Eemil Vinni (2024 draft-eligible)
G Niklas Kokko (Kraken, 2022, 58th overall)
G Noa Vali (2024 draft-eligible)

TONIGHT…

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GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canada starts the tournament with a decisive 4-2 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The early start of this game will inspire an entire nation to add a healthy portion of Baileys to their coffee.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: We will hear about exemplary past performances from the tournament during the game, including the time Jesse Puljujarvi put up 17 points in seven games at the 2016 tournament. Gord speed, Jesse.

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