Photo Credit: Leijonat / Twitter

Snap Shots: Canucks Draft Pick Toni Utunen at the World Junior Championships

In all my years, I have never seen as many Molson Canadians spilled as last year when Toni Utunen scored the overtime goal that eliminated Canada from the 2018 World Junior Championship. Obviously, that is because we have so many great breweries in the Vancouver area and we weren’t drinking Molsons. (What else could I have meant?)

While the outcome was obviously disappointed, it came with a silver lining, as Vancouver hockey fans kept hearing about this defenceman that the Canucks drafted in 2018 who was showing some amazing leadership qualities and getting minutes as an 18 year old in the Finnish Liiga.

Toni Utunen may have spilled some beers last tournament. This year he has earned a bigger spotlight from Canucks fans and we may be clinking glasses of craft beer when Finland scores a goal this year instead of spilling them.

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Remember how good Mikey DiPietro was in that game?

Good times.

Toni Utunen scored a huge goal that prevented Canada from getting to the medal round last year. He will be looked upon to bring that type of play this tournament. Team Finland has announced that Utunen will be an assistant captain this year. A couple years ago Utunen was the captain of the U18 Finland team.

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He will be one of the leaders on Finland’s team and will get a chance to show how much he has improved in the time that has past since then. He has been playing consistently in Finland’s top league this year. He has three assists in 16 games after playing 43 games last season as an 18-year-old.

He is a defensive-minded player, but will still likely get some power play time at this year’s tournament. Utunen doesn’t play a flashy game, but still looks like a relatively promising defensive defenceman. I feel like we’ve recently had this conversation about another Finnish prospect. 

Last year he wasn’t used in a top four role for most of the tournament but seemed to build up momentum as the tournament went on. There is no reason why that momentum shouldn’t continue into this year’s WJC. Utunen will be asked to play a lot of tough minutes including being on the penalty kill.

The Finnish team will have three returning defencemen from last year. Anttoni Honka and Viller Heinola will support the back end along with Utunen. These three defencemen will be a big reason for team Finland to have one of the stronger defence cores in the tournament. Heinola and Honka are both offensive defencemen, so Finland may decide to use the more defensive left shot Utunen with the right shot Honka and that pairing would likely log a lot of minutes. Utunen has seen some recent time with Mikko Kokkonen, and may end up with him to start the tournament.

Utunen plays a quiet game, but has proven that he can step up in clutch situations.

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Fans should enjoy the extended look at Utunen, who may transition over to North America and see some time with the Utica Comets in a couple years if he continues to progress overseas. This tournament is a tremendous opportunity for Utunen to make a big statement.