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Islanders Matias Rajaniemi a trusted member of Team Finland

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 26: Feature of the gold medal on the neck of #82 Harri Pesonen of Finland after the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia final game between Canada and Finland at Ondrej Nepela Arena on May 26, 2019 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images)
BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - MAY 26: Feature of the gold medal on the neck of #82 Harri Pesonen of Finland after the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia final game between Canada and Finland at Ondrej Nepela Arena on May 26, 2019 in Bratislava, Slovakia. (Photo by RvS.Media/Monika Majer/Getty Images) /
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New York Islanders 2020 sixth-round pick Matias Rajaniemi didn’t suit up for Team Finland’s game against Switzerland, but he’s still a trusted member of their squad.

Team Finland is 2-0 through their first two games in Group A of the World Junior Championships. In the second game of the preliminary round, the Finns took down the Swiss by a score of 4-1, but New York Islanders prospect Matias Rajaniemi wasn’t on the ice. Finland made him a healthy scratch before the game.

Checking in with a Team Finland spokesman on the reason for Rajaniemi being scratch lead me to a chat with the team’s defensive coach Ville Manytmaa about Matias’s play, what Finland likes about him, and his role on the team.

Big Guy

Like I said, my initial reason for reaching out to Team Finland was to find out why Rajaniemi was a healthy scratch. To be fair, I probably should have seen the scratch coming, Rajaniemi only played 3:15 against Germany in Finland’s opening game of the prelims.

According to Mantymaa, the reason for Rajaniemi’s scratch was simply squad rotation.

"Mantymaa: Nothing big [for scratch], in our last game we wanted [Ruben] Rafkin to get some ice time."

Rafkin – plays for TPS alongside Islanders prospect Ruslan Iskhakov and is draft-eligible in 2021- finished with 1:58 as the team’s seventh defenseman in the Finns 4-1 win over Switzerland.

Mantymaa didn’t want to commit on whether or not Rajaniemi will play against Slovakia saying “maybe, maybe not” but a team spokesperson was much more certain telling me “Matias will be in the lineup for the next game.” If Matias is indeed in the lineup, I don’t expect him to put up big minutes as the team’s seventh D.

Giving Rajaniemi so little ice time doesn’t look like a ringing endorsement for the Islanders sixth-round pic, but Mantymaa assured me that Matias is a trusted member of the team and can be an asset when the Finns play against bigger opponents.

"He’s played good and we trust him. He’s a big guy, he skates well, he can hold the puck and passes the puck well. We like him and I think we can use him against big teams like Canada, Russia, US, Sweden, Czech. We need him."

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If Rajaniemi is someone the Finns want on the ice against the Canadians, Rajaniemi could be in line for back-to-back games. The Finns take on Slovakia on the 30th and then Canada the following night.

Playing on back-to-back nights fits with what Finland GM Kimmo Oikarinen told me before the tournament; Rajaniemi will see his role grow as the tournament progresses.

Finland is back on the ice Wednesday at 2 PM (ET) to face Slovakia and close out the preliminary round with a game against Canada on Thursday, December 31 at 6 PM (ET).

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