Most hockey fans applaud the diversity that exists in the NHL. It’s a melting pot. As I’ve seen the influx of fantastic European players in the past two decades one thing that has hit me in the face in the past two years; Finland is now a world power in hockey like never before and now the Finnish hockey leagues are churning out great hockey prospects.
“I think so. I preferred to stay in the Finnish league to develop. Maybe some players felt like it was better to come over earlier but for me to stay,” said San Jose Sharks right wing, Joonas Donskoi.
In the World Junior Championships Finland has 4 gold medals all-time. They won two of them recently, in 2014 and 2016.
“Of course we have a lot of great individual players but its great to have a great system,” Donskoi added. “There’s been some good development.”
In the U18s they just struck gold in Grand Forks a few months ago. Before that their last gold in this tournament was in 2000. They’ve won 3 all-time.
Canada won the World Championships. Finland last took gold in 2011 but lost in the finals this season and in 2014. Finland has two gold medals all-time in this tournament nabbing one in 1995. Only 3% of the NHL is Finnish, this season that will change but that explains the results.
Aside from the Olympics, because that landscape has changed drastically, why has Finland shot to the top of the charts? Are we just not paying enough attention to the program?
“I don’t know? Donskoi chuckled. “I still think one strength is being humble. Our goalies and defenseman are still our biggest strengths.”
Jesse Puljujärvi, drafted third overall by the Edmonton Oilers is just the third player to play for an U18 and U20 gold medal teams in the same season. Patrik Laine, who was drafted 2nd overall this past June just signed his entry level contract with the Winnipeg Jets. He had an MVP performance in the World Championships at the tender age of 18.
When Olli Juolevi was selected 5th overall by the Vancouver Canucks that signaled three Finnish players going in the Top 5 of the NHL Entry Draft. That’s never happened before.
“It’s nice to see skilled players coming up like the players who will be in the top 5 picks this summer,” Donskoi predicted just before the Stanley Cup began.
Kari Lehtonen was the first Finnish player to be drafted as high as second in the NHL Entry Draft. Laine tied that record. Someday there will be a Finn who goes first overall. When that happens will Canadiens and Americans cheer or jeer that result?