Team Finland has named their 2021 World Junior Championship squad and a New York Islanders prospect drafted in 2020 was named to their roster.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL draft by the New York Islanders, 18-year-old Matias Rajaniemi is a young defenseman with a lot of promise. The product of Liiga side Pelicans just turned 18 on September 11 and is already in his second year with the team.
The 6’4″ 205lbs defender is averaging 13:36 minutes this season. That’s down from 22:11 he had last year. The 18-year-old is a steady blueliner who’s being sheltered by his team this year as they jump up the Liiga standings.
Now he’s heading to Edmonton as part of Team Finland’s 25 man roster.
Rajaniemi was a bit of a long shot to make the squad that included a number of defenders who are returning to the squad. Winnipeg Jets prospect Ville Heinola, San Jose prospect Santeri Hatakka, as well as Toronto prospects Mikko Kokkonnen and Topi Niemela.
Rajaniemi’s size was clearly a factor in his inclusion in the squad. He’s three inches taller than the next tallest player on the blueline and is the only player to hit 200 lbs or more for Team Finland’s defensive core.
The young man, one of the youngest on the squad, isn’t just a big body though. He’s played power-play time for Lahti and has a strong shot that could be a weapon in this short international tournament for Finland.
Finland have won the tournament three times over the last seven years, their program is one of the best in the world. This is a huge achievement for Rajaniemi.
Now the Islanders – and fans – get to see their young defender play in a prestigious international tournament where he’ll play against the best players in his age group just months after selecting deep in the entry draft.
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Team Finland is in Group A for the tournament alongside hosts Canada, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Germany. Their first game is on Christmas day against Germany.