Written by Eric Duhachek, Chris Johnston, and Dom Luszczyn
The best of international hockey is back, even if it’s not exactly what many fans expected.
Nothing has been announced yet, but here’s what we’re hearing about the next tournament, which probably won’t be called the “World Cup of Hockey”: It will take place in February 2025 during the NHL season. It will feature four teams, Canada, the United States, Sweden and Finland, and will feature only NHL players.
The goal is to start a cycle of international hockey with regular participation in the Olympics, continuing in Italy in 2026, and the official World Cup begins in 2028.
The 2025 event will be a stripped-down version of past international hockey tournaments, but it’s still something to look forward to. So let’s play every hockey fan’s favorite game: projecting the national team roster.
The Athletic asked Chris Johnston, Eric Duhachek, and Dom Ruszyn to predict the members of four teams, starting with the U.S. on Wednesday, Canada on Thursday, Sweden on Friday, and now Finland. We note that from now on he is forecasting a little over a year ahead. This meant that current injury status was largely ignored, and we had to consider the player’s current form as well as predict how much of an impact he would have a year from now.
This is what we came up with. Feel free to agree with all the choices made here or leave your own roster predictions in the comments.
Last 3: Ukko-Pekka Lukonen, Erik Haula, Juuso Persinen
If possible, I think it is best to choose a youth for the position of the third goalkeeper, since it is unlikely that the player will appear in the match. There is value in giving the 24-year-old Luukkonen experience with this team that could pay off in future international tournaments. Haula is an ideal role player who can play on the wing or center if needed, giving the coaching staff another option for both specialized teams. Persinen was selected as the 14th forward due to his size and skating ability. He’s a candidate if you have to move your lineup up due to injury or lack of performance during an event.
Scorners: Ville Husso, Kaapo Kakko, Kasperi Kapanen
The most despised player here is Husso, who played more NHL time than both Kevin Lankinen and Luukkonen this season. I chose Lankinen as a backup candidate because of his stellar performance that won him a gold medal at the 2019 World Hockey Championship, as well as his familiarity with his No. 1 tandem mate Juuse Saros on the Nashville Predators. Because it is. Luukkonen’s roster spot is an investment in the program’s future. Kakko and Kapanen were also extradited for similar reasons. Both forwards have extensive experience representing their country, but their play has declined in recent months.
The Finns don’t have the best roster on paper. they never do. However, their ability to come together as a team and play a disciplined and structured game has seen them win more games in the men’s game than any other nation at various age groups in recent years. What they’ve actually done is turn a potential weakness into a strength by emphasizing the benefits of having a relatively small pool of players participating in elite competition. As a result, there is a high degree of familiarity between the players and, given the country’s success to date, a well-earned confidence.
My biggest concern with this roster is the lack of depth, especially on the blue line. It’s fair to wonder how this group will stack up against the competition that has future Hall of Famers available on the third and fourth lines in addition to Miro Heikkanen. It will be a difficult task, but that is why it is so important for the Finn to play the whole team game. Goal scoring could also be an issue for this group, especially with sniper Patrik Laine’s declining offensive ability. A lot will be asked of Aleksander Barkov and Mikko Rantanen, and newcomer Mattias Macelli could be an X-factor.
Last 3: Erik Haula, Kasperi Kapanen, Olli Maata
Since this is an NHL scrimmage rather than a true international tournament, it appears only NHL players will be on the roster, excluding potential players from the Finnish league. Only 35 Finnish-born players have played in a game in the NHL this season, which also means there won’t be too many players failing. In theory, when it comes to bubble players, the Finns could rely on some of their young players who are still regular NHL players. But most likely, since this is a match against a serious heavyweight opponent, they are more likely to choose a veteran player who is used to dealing with high-pressure situations. So the versatile Haula earns a spot alongside Kapanen and longtime stalwart Maata on the blue line.
Scorners: Kaapo Kakko, Eli Tolvanen, Jusso Palsinen
Considering his draft pedigree, Kakko may be the most notable dropout. That hasn’t happened yet, but if he shows significant improvement over the next 15 months, he could trickle into the conversation. Former Predator Tolvanen and current Predator Parsinen would also be bubble players in this conversation, but they’re currently on the outside looking in.
Finland has an enviable midfield with a top three of Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho and Roupe Hintz. Perhaps the biggest question is who will play center between the Avalanche’s two forwards, Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen. Ideally, Rantanen would want someone to emulate the skillset of Avs regular center Nathan MacKinnon. Is that Barkov? Or Hintz? That could be an idiot, but the temptation in a short tournament is to simply have all three Hurricanes forwards play together, which would force Jesperi Kotkaniemi to be moved to the wing. This would allow two-thirds of an intact Florida line, Etu Luostarinen and Anton Randle, to play together, with support from Mikael Granlund, who is having a resurgent season in San Jose.
Finland’s goaltending depth took a hit after Pekka Rinne retired, but Juuse Saros remains elite. So while they don’t have the depth they once had, they’re solid as long as Saros is healthy. After Miro Heiskanen, most of the rest of Finland’s defense falls into the solid defensive contributor category, so scoring from the blue line could be an issue. Perhaps the biggest question is what role and impact Patrik Laine will have. He’s been one of the NHL’s underachievers over the past season, but a motivated and productive Laine would round out a top-nine that lacks wing depth.
Last three: Kaapo Kakko, Anton Lundell, Urho Vaakanainen
Kakko hasn’t blossomed as much as expected for a No. 2 pick, but the tools are there and he’s young enough that he can still make an impact. It’s not hard to imagine him getting fired given his current ability, but it feels like he’ll be right where he needs to be a year from now. Finland also doesn’t have many strong options on the wing. Lundell is a bit more refined, but I’m also hopeful that it will improve next year. Defensively, Vaakanainen looked underwhelming in a limited role in his first two seasons, but has shown improvement this season. Continued growth could go a long way in solidifying your case for recruitment next year.
Scorners: Erik Haula, Olli Maata, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
It’s a little hard to disrespect Finland. If you’re a Finnish player in the NHL, you’re probably going to get picked by the team because there aren’t that many options. The most notable players I left out were Haula, Maata, and Luukkonen. Haura is a little redundant on the team, so I preferred Randel and his cool side. The same applies to Mata. He has had enough trouble against weaker NHL competition. As for Luukkonen, he’s gotten even stronger this year, but many online still feel he’s too much of a wildcard. He is difficult to trust.
Between Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho, and Roupe Hintz, Finland has the center depth needed to go toe-to-toe with the two powerhouses of Canada and the United States.The team also has Mikko Rantanen up front. A point where there is another elite option and where Miro Heiskanen is also placed. This is far more star power for the Finn than usual. On the net, the country has a very good relationship with Juuse Saros, one of the best goalkeepers in the league. With some up-and-coming talent, Finland looks even deeper than in years past.
depth. Concise and simple. Compared to Canada and the United States, Finland falls far short. Those countries have superstars in the fourth row. Finland has Kakko. Sweden have more promising players up front for their bottom six teams, which could be a problem for Finland. The star power here is great, but then there’s a huge drop-off. Patrik Laine’s game in particular was a mess. The bigger problem is in the backend. After Heiskanen, the situation becomes very tough. Rasmus Ristolainen’s value has returned under coach John Tortorella, but he has fallen behind as a second option. It’s even worse news that a country’s second pairing will be anchored by two people on an NHL team whose biggest problem right now is a lack of defensive depth. If Esa Lindell and Jani Hakanpaa aren’t good enough to be the best players in the NHL, they’re also not good enough to be the best-on-best players internationally. Finland will probably be able to get away with their front group compared to the other three countries, but their defensive depth lags far behind the other countries. Canada, the United States, and Sweden have a wealth of blueline talent.Finland has one or two elite players. perhaps A top-four defenseman and some third-pairing options. ah.
(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic(Photo by Mikko Rantanen and Miro Heiskanen, Matthew Stockman and Glen James/Getty Images)