Over the many decades of the NHL, Finnish ice hockey players have always been able to stake a claim among the very best players in the league. The likes of Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen, and Mikko Koivu are often the first names to come to mind.
Now, there is a new batch of very young, very talented players who have evolved into star players of the NHL this season.
Mikko Rantanen breaks out
For one young Finn in particular, 2017/18 has been an incredible season. Mikko Rantanen, of the Colorado Avalanche, has suddenly blossomed into an NHL star.
Still only 21-years-old, the Nousiainen native collected 29 goals and 84 points through 81 games this season. That points tally sits him above the likes of the notoriously high-scoring Jamie Benn, Patrick Kane, and Vladimir Tarasenko.
His efforts seemed to have galvanised the formerly lowly Avalanche and pulled them into the playoffs, where he tallied four assists in six games. His efforts have made him one of the team’s star players, as well as the centrepiece of Finland’s top line at the 2018 IIHF World Championship.
Patrik Laine challenging for the crown
Despite only being 20-years-old, Patrik Laine has already muscled his way up the scoring table to stand among the NHL’s most premier goal scorers. Laine’s efforts, along with other young stars of the Winnipeg Jets finally developing into their potential, has earned the team their first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Hailing from Tampere, the 6’5’’ winger racked up an emphatic 44 goals – eight of which were game winners – and 26 assists. He fell just five goals short of the ever-dominant Alex Ovechkin in the hunt for the top goal scorer’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy – which the Russian has won seven times now.
Laine and the rest of the Jets face the pressures of playing deep in the NHL postseason. In their deepest ever playoff run, the Jets must face the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights, who boast fellow Finn Erik Haula in their lines. The Jets come in as 10/17 favourites over the 27/20 Golden Knights to win the series with redbet, with the two at 5/2 and 3/1 to win the Stanley Cup, respectively.
Hurricanes duo kicking up a storm
Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes missed out on the playoffs this season. But, luckily, the team has two Finnish reasons to be very optimistic for next season: Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.
Since moving from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Helsinki-born Teravainen has flourished, and this season he managed to post a career-best 23 goals and 64 points. The 20-year-old Aho – who is three years Teravainen’s junior – was also sensational for the Canes with 29 goals and 65 points.
These two Finnish wingers look to be the core of the team already and have been called up by Finland to perform in the 2018 World Championships in Denmark. Just five games into the tournament, Aho and Teravainen led the tournament in scoring with 12 and 11 points, respectively – exceeding the tally of Canadian wunderkind Connor McDavid.
One to watch
While there is still a plethora of Finnish skating talent that can be highlighted, the one to watch has to be goaltender Juuse Saros.
Now 23-years-old, Saros has grown into his role as Nashville’s backup goalie to the undeniably great Pekka Rinne. He is seen as Rinne’s heir-apparent and has certainly been putting in performances to earn him the net sometime soon.
During this regular season, Saros was given 23 starts and claimed 11 wins, boasting an impressive .925 save percentage and three shutouts. But, it was in the playoffs when Saros proved his mettle. He came in as relief for Rinne in four games and come out with 40 saves, a 1.05 goals against average, and an incredible .952 save percentage.
Finland continues to pump incredibly talented young skaters into North America’s top league of ice hockey. But, quite suddenly, a whole group of Finns have popped up to become stars of the league and team leaders. Watching these top talents push on from this season is going to be very exciting.
Colorado Avalanche, via Twitter
NHL Public Relations, via Twitter
The Hockey News, via Twitter