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FTB: first check in on our Finnish prospects at the World Juniors

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Topi Niemela was named player of the pre-tournament game for Finland.

USA v Finland: Gold Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship
Can we PLEASE get some new photos on our guys? Is it too much to ask for one each?
Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Topi Niemelä

Niemela started the game on the third pair with Eemil Viro, but was put on the first power play unit and was given spot shifts higher up the lineup with fellow Leaf Mikko Kokkonen and Ville Heinola. By the end of the game when Finland was trying to tie a 3-2 game, he was moved up permanently to the top pair to get maximum offense. Finland is basically using him as a Travis Dermott.

In terms of highlights, Niemela set up the first goal of the game on the power play.

He then showed off some great feet on his second 5v5 shift of the game. We didn’t see a play quite like this again from Niemela, but he was always pushing in transition. I think on the shift after this he jumped up into the rush and was near the front of the net for a chance that didn’t materialize.

Then in the second, Niemela feathered through his second shot on the power play and beat Spencer Knight for his second point of the game.

Mikko Kokkonen

Kokkonen looked sluggish in the first half of the game. He was a little slow and wasn’t getting involved with the puck at all. In the second half, he woke up a bit and was elevated his game as Finland found their feet after a first period nearly entirely shorthanded.

One of his two highlights of the night came as Finland was trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play for the USA (who arguably have the best power play the tournament has seen in years). Kokkonen was tasked with stopping Trevor Zegras’ shots that the USA set up for.

He disrupted two chances with some exceptional positioning and reflexes, on the third, he blocked the shot and got Finland through without a goal against. I was really impressed with this, this is a pro game right here. Whether Kokkonen has the potential to do more than this is still a question, but having a skill like zone defending tucked away is good to see.

Like I said earlier, Kokkonen did show his puck moving abilities with a good outlet pass at the end of the second. More of this would be nice.

Some minor things I noticed from Kokkonen: he was consistent in his ability to disrupt the puck carrier in the defensive zone, engage him, and give his team the chance to gain the puck and move it out of the zone. Really mature stuff from him that I think his coach loves. He did try and throw the puck out of the zone a few times — Nikita Zaitsev style — so his transition game leaves a lot to be desired.

Roni Hirvonen

Hirvonen was quiet in this game, but after starting out on the second line left wing, he moved up to the first line with Finland’s best players Anton Lundell and Brad Lambert. He obviously plays a complimentary style on a line with stars on it and it seems the coach really likes him when he does that. Zach Hyman 2.0 is at it again.

Overall

Other than Niemela who produced two goals on the power play for Finland, none of our guys were really primary actors in this game. Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Aatu Raty, Ville Heinola, Anton Lundell, those were the stars of the game.

Mikael Nahabedian has been tracking transitions for all the WJC games, so not only should you check out how our three Leafs prospects fared, but also give him a follow.

Here is what Kevin had to say about Niemela, Kokkonen, and Hirvonen.

And here are Katya’s thoughts after the game.

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