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.
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).