The lead up to the World Juniors has begun with the announcements of evaluation camp rosters be released.
The United States and Canada are expected to announce their camp invites later today but some of the Scandinavian countries have already done so today and a Canucks prospect was among the players included for Finland:
2018 5th round pick Toni Utunen was expected to be an invite for Suomi after representing them throughout the last few years at the various international tournaments. But there is a higher chance of him making the final team simply because of the high-end defenceman available are plying their trade in the NHL:
FIN announces WJC camp roster. This group would look a lot different with Kotkaniemi (MTL), Heiskanen (DAL), Jokiharju (CHI) and Vaakanainen (BOS). https://t.co/tcqthUsrAq
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 3, 2018
If Miro Heiskanen, Henri Jokiharju, and Urho Vaakanainen were available, it’s unlikely that Utunen would make the final team but the expected absence of all three opens up a lot of spaces for players like Utunen. The Finnish team is relying heavily on their 18-year-old and 17-year-old players this year, and Utunen will be part of that.
Although Utunen has been limited to one assist this season with Tappara (Liiga), he has been able to get reasonable minutes in a professional men’s league and has held his own. Known primarily for his defensive abilities and leadership, Utunen will be looked upon to provide those elements at the World Juniors this year. It is worth noting that Utunen was named the Finnish team captain for the U20 Four Nations Cup this past month and played fairly well.
Even if Utunen doesn’t make the final cut, he is eligible for next year’s tournament as well.