Michael Finewax

Olympic Preview

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Olympic Preview: Pool B

Monday, February 10, 2014






Kari Lehtonen (New York Rangers – NHL) – Lehtonen has been one of the best goaltenders for years.  He’s also arguably one of the most underrated netminders going to the Olympics by virtue of the fact that he’s now 30 and has yet to play for a good NHL team.  The fact that the Stars even have a shot of making the playoffs this season is largely thanks to his efforts.  Despite that, Lehtonen is a distant third among Finland’s goaltenders, which just underscores how strong Finland is in that regard.


Antti Niemi (San Jose Sharks – NHL) – Niemi's NHL career was just getting started when the NHL broke for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  It wasn't until they came back that his career really started to take off.  He backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2010 while he was still a rookie.  When Chicago let him slip through their fingers that summer because of their cap problems, Niemi joined the San Jose Sharks and proved his 2009-10 career wasn't a fluke.  He’s been a workhorse in San Jose and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2013 with a 2.16 GAA and .924 save percentage in 43 games.  He’s having another strong season with a 2.39 GAA and .912 save percentage in 48 games.


Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins – NHL) – For years, Rask   was regarded as one of the best backup goaltenders in the league.  He led the league with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage in 45 games as a rookie, but his playing time declined in 2010-11 in part because Tim Thomas bounced back from an off-season to earn his second Vezina Trophy.  When Thomas left, Rask proved more than capable of filling the void.  He led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and posted a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage in 22 postseason contests.  He's been the best of Finland's goaltenders this season with a 2.11 GAA and .928 save percentage in 43 starts.




Lasse Kukkonen (Karpat – FIN) – Kukkonen had six goals, 22 points, and 90 penalty minutes in 159 games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, but he hasn't played in North America since the 2008-09 campaign.   Instead, he's been touring Europe, playing with four different teams across three leagues over the span of the last five seasons.  Just as he wasn't an offensive defenseman in the NHL, he typically hasn't put up many points in Europe.  This season has been an exception though as he has 11 goals and 23 points in 48 contests.  The 32-year-old is also no stranger to the international stage.  This will be his third Olympics and he has a gold medal from the 2011 World Championships.


Juuso Hietanen (Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo – KHL) – Although he started his career with Finland’s SM-liiga, it wasn’t long before he moved to the Swedish Elite League and eventually the KHL.  Hietanen's in his third season with the KH'’s Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo and has nine goals and 26 points in 50 contests.  This will be his first Winter Games, but he served Team Finland in the 2012 and 2013 World Championships.


Sami Lepisto (Yekaterinburg Automobilist – KHL) – The son of Jussi Lepisto, a former defenseman who had a 12 season career in SM-liiga and the Swedish Elite League, Sami started his career in his father's footsteps by playing for the team his Dad used to captain, Finland's Jokerit Helsinki.  The Washington Capitals claimed him with a third round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but the younger Lepisto ended up spending three more campaigns with Jokerit before heading to North America.  He went onto record six goals, 35 points, and 137 penalty minutes in 176 contests with the Capitals, Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Chicago Blackhawks before heading to the KHL.  He's with Russia's Yekaterinburg Automobilist now and has 23 points and 65 penalty minutes in 49 contest this season.


Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins – NHL) – Although he was born in Finland, Maatta chose to take his talents to the OHL London Knights after they took him with the top pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft.  In the process he turned down an opportunity to play in SKA St. Petersberg's organization.  The Pittsburgh Penguins took Maatta in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and after one more season with the Knights, he made his NHL debut.  He's been one of the NHL’s top rookies this season and that’s reflected in the fact that the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins have felt comfortable giving him a ton of playing time on both the power play and when the team’s shorthanded.  He’s also been solid offensively with six goals and 23 points in 57 contests.  Not bad for a 19-year-old.


Sami Salo (Tampa Bay Lightning – NHL) – One of the team’s veteran leaders, Salo is gearing up for his third Olympics.  He was a true diamond in the rough find when the Ottawa Senators took him with the third last pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.  That being said, his tenure with the Senators only lasted for four campaigns before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Peter Schaefer.  It was in Vancouver that his career really took off as he became a leader of the team’s defense while recording between 25 and 37 points for seven straight seasons from 2002-03 through 2009-10.  Now with the Tampa Bay Lightning and 39 years old, he’s slowed down with just 10 points in 49 contests.


Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia Flyers – NHL) – One of the best offensive defenseman that Finland has ever produced, the start of Timonen’s career was just as humble as Salo's.  He was taken by the Los Angeles Kings with the 250th pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft and is one of 15 players from that draft class to play in at least 1,000 NHL contests.  The fact that he reached that mark is far more impressive when you keep in mind that he was 23 when he made his NHL debut.  In fact, he spent five campaigns after he was drafted in the SM-liiga, but after he participated in Finland's bronze medal run in the 1998 Winter Games, the Kings traded his rights to the brand new Nashville Predators.  It wasn't long before he established himself as an elite defenseman with the new club and his success only continued when he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006-07.  In fact, from 2001-02 through the 2011-12 campaign, he never recorded less than 37 points or played in fewer than 76 contests in a single season.  This has been a bit of a rougher season for him as he has two goals and 19 points in 57 contests.  It’s worth adding that this will be his fifth and likely last trip to the Olympics.  He already has two bronze medals and a silver.


Ossi Vaananen (Jokerit Helsinki – FIN) – Vaananen is technically a veteran of the Winter Olympics, but he’s never been a factor in them.  He played in only two games during the 2002 Games and won a silver medal in 2006 without ever playing in a contest.  He was taken in the second round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and went on to record 68 points and 482 penalty minutes in 479 games, but he hasn’t played in North America since the 2008-09 campaign.  Instead he's in his fourth straight season with the SM-liiga's Jokerit Helsinki and has four points and 22 penalty minutes in 38 contests.


Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks – NHL) – Vatanen was taken in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, but he didn’t immediately head to North America.  Instead Vatanen spent two seasons with JyP HT Jyvaskyla of SM-liiga after he was drafted and was named the league’s top defenseman in both of those campaigns.  His success continued in 2012-13 when he moved to the AHL Norfolk Admirals.  He was named to the AHL First All-Star Team with nine goals and 45 points in 62 contests.  He got a taste of the NHL in that campaign, but 2013-14 has been the season where he's firmly established himself with the Ducks by recording six goals and eight assists in 41 games.




Juhamatti Aaltonen (Karpat – FIN) – Another alumni from the Finnish team that won the gold medal in the 2011 World Championship, Aaltonen is participating in his first Olympics.  He got his start in the SM-liiga and was tied for seventh in scoring in 2009-10 with 49 points in 58 contests.  After that campaign, he spent two seasons in the KHL and one in the Swedish Elite League, before returning back to the Finnish league.  He has 23 goals and 31 points in 35 contests with Karpat this season.  Aaltonen was also selected by the St. Louis Blues in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but he never ended up playing professionally in North America.


Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers – NHL) – Some of the best forwards Finland has ever produced – Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Olli Jokinen – are in the twilight of their careers.  It’s a lot to ask of him, but Barkov has the potential to follow in their footsteps.  At the age of 17, he was one of the SM-liiga’s top players with 21 goals and 48 points in 53 games.  After the Florida Panthers surprised a lot of people by taking him ahead of Seth Jones in the stacked 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Barkov scored in his NHL debut on Oct. 3 to become the youngest player to collect his first goal since 1944.  Although Florida has been anemic offensively this season, Barkov has gone on to have a solid rookie campaign with eight goals and 24 points in 54 contests.


Mikael Granlund (Minnesota Wild – NHL) – Another member of Finland’s promising young guard, Granlund is primarily known as the Minnesota Wild prospect who's really started to break into his own this season with five goals and 28 points in 46 contests.  However, it’s worth highlighting the fact that he had some strong showings in international events.  He had six goals and 26 points in 12 contests between the 2009 and 2010 Under-18 World Championships and added another three goals and 10 points in 12 contests in two main World Junior Championships.  Granlund participated in his first adult World Championships in 2011 when he was still just 19 and recorded nine points in nine games in Finland’s gold medal run.  That put him on par with Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr, and ahead of guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Mikko Koivu.


Jussi Jokinen (Pittsburgh Penguins – NHL) – Jokinen has had an up-and-down career.  He certainly wasn’t highly regarded when he was young, as evidenced by the fact that the Dallas Stars took him in with the 192nd overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, but after a handful of strong seasons with SM-liiga, he finally came to North America in 2005-06 and ended up scoring 17 goals and 55 points in 81 games as a rookie.  That same season he helped lead Finland to a silver medal in the Winter Olympics and a bronze in the World Championship.  However, rather than building off that early success, his offensive numbers atrophied over the next few years as he was simultaneously passed from Dallas to Tampa Bay and then Carolina.  He broke out in his first full season with the Hurricanes in 2009-10, scoring 30 goals and 65 points, but once again he started to decline after that until Carolina placed him on waivers.  Now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has again bounced back with 16 goals and 42 points in 58 games in 2013-14.


Olli Jokinen (Winnipeg Jets – NHL) – First off, he’s not related to Jussi JokinenOlli Jokinen career has been somewhat similar in terms of its extreme ups and downs, but the difference is that Olli enjoyed far greater highs.  At his best he was one of the NHL's top players, scoring over 30 goals in three straight campaigns from 2005-06 to 2007-08.  During that period he also finished in the top-20 in scoring twice and had a combined 251 points in 246 games.  His career has waned significantly since, but he still is an offensive factor with 13 goals and 32 points in 60 contests.  He’s also participated in three previous Winter Games and has scored 11 goals and 15 points in 18 contests.


Leo Komarov (Moscow Dynamo – KHL) – The Toronto Maple Leafs took him in the sixth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, but Komarov played with the SM-liiga's Pelicans for three campaigns after that before heading to the KHL rather than North America.  He finally decided to give North America a chance in 2012-13 and ended up with four goals and nine points in 42 contests with the Maple Leafs in the shortened campaign.  He helped Toronto kill penalties and was willing to throw his body around, but he was serving as a bottom-six forward and felt a return to the KHL would provide him with a better opportunity to showcase his skills ahead of the Olympics.  He has certainly found success in the KHL with 12 goals and 31 points in 48 games this season.


Petri Kontiola (Chelyabinsk Traktor – KHL) – Kontiola came to North America in 2007-08 in an attempt to establish himself with the Chicago Blackhawks.  He had already been an offensive leader with Tappara Tampere of the SM-liiga and he was similarly effective in the AHL with 68 points in 66 contests as a rookie.  He ended up playing in 12 games with Chicago that season and collected five assists, but he never made it to the NHL again and in 2009-10, he decided to head to the KHL.  In that league, he's once again been an offensive force and is perhaps most noteworthy for leading the league with 19 points in 25 playoff games in 2013.  This season he has 14 goals and 35 points in 50 matches.


Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix Coyotes – NHL) – Korpikoski was taken with the 19th overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers in 2004.  He made his NHL debut with them in 2008-09 and went on to record six goals and 14 points in 68 games.  As it turned out that campaign would mark the end of his tenure with the Rangers as they traded him to the Phoenix Coyotes in the summer of 2009 in exchange for Enver Lisin.  He’s been a solid, but not remarkable forward with the Coyotes ever since and has seven goals and 20 points in 42 contests in 2013-14.


Jori Lehtera (Novosibirsk Sibir – KHL) – The St. Louis Blues claimed Lehtera in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, but the 26-year-old only ended up spending seven games with the AHL Peoria Rivermen in 2008-09.  Other than that he's spent his entire career in the SM-liiga and the KHL.  He’s been a dominant force in those leagues though.  In his final SM-liiga campaign in 2009-10, he led the league with 69 points – a good 15 points ahead of the field.  In the KHL, he has reached the 40-point mark in back-to-back campaigns.


Antti Pihlstrom (Ufa Salavat Yulayev – KHL) – After firmly establishing himself in the SM-liiga, Pihlstrom decided to head to North America in 2007-08 before his 23rd birthday.  He hadn't been drafted, but he had scored 27 goals and 45 points in 78 games as a rookie with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.  He also appeared in his first AHL game that season.  He went on to score two goals and seven points in 53 contests with the Nashville Predators in 2008-09, but he returned to Europe the following season.  He has recorded 22 and 24 points in his last two campaigns with Ufa Salavat Yulayev.


Tuomo Ruutu (Carolina Hurricanes – NHL) – Ruutu is known for bringing a nice blend of grit and skill to the table.  At his height in 2010-11, he had 57 points while ranking second in the league with 309 hits in 82 games with the Carolina Hurricanes.  He took a step back in 2011-12 though with 34 points and 151 hits in 72 contests and missed most of the shortened campaign due to a hip injury.  He’s struggled this season too with just five goals and 16 points in 52 contests.  It’s worth adding that Ruutu has also frequently served his country on the international stage and has accumulated 10 medals (an Olympic bronze, a World Cup silver, four World Championship medals including a gold, three World Juniors, and a bronze in the World Under-18 Championships).


Teemu Selanne (Anaheim Ducks – NHL) – Selanne isn’t just the best player to ever come out of Finland, he’s one of the best players period.  Only 10 players in the history of the NHL have ever scored more goals and only 14 are ahead of him in points.  Although he’s toyed with retirement several times before and seems committed to calling it quits after the 2013-14 campaign, Selanne managed to perform at an elite through his late 30s and into his early 40s.  At the age of 43, he’s clearly slowed down, but he still has seven goals and 20 points in 47 games this season.  This will be his fifth trip to the Olympics and one last chance to collect one of the few awards that has eluded him: an Olympic gold medal.


Jarkko Immonen (Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo – KHL) – Immonen was a member of Finland's bronze medal winning team in 2010, but he didn’t make the country’s initial cut this time around.  It wasn’t until the Finnish needed a pair of injury replacements for Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula that Immonen was named to the squad.  Immonen hasn’t played in the NHL since 2006-07 and his career only lasted 20 contests.  That being said, he’s found success both on the European and international stage.  He has 13 goals and 36 points in 50 KHL contests this season and those aren’t unusual numbers for him.  He’s also been a regular on Finland’s World Championships squad and led them to a gold medal in 2011 with nine goals and 12 points in nine contests.


Sakari Salminen (Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo – KHL) – Like Immonen, Salminen was a last minute injury replacement.  The two are in their first campaign as KHL teammates and between them, Salminen has been the bigger threat offensively with 18 goals and 46 points in 50 KHL contests.  That put him in sixth place in the KHL’s scoring race.  This will be the 25-year-old’s first Olympics and he’s a little light on international experience in general.  After participating in the World Junior Championships in 2008, he didn’t take part in his first adult Championships until 2013.

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Michael Finewax is entering his 10th season as the Senior Hockey Writer and Editor for Rotoworld. You can follow him on Twitter @mfinewaxhockey.
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