Young Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright of Team Canada is deservedly getting plenty of attention heading into the 2023 World Junior Championship that starts on December 26th, but local hockey fans should also be paying attention to a couple of other teenagers.
Winger Jani Nyman, the Kraken’s 2nd-round, 49th overall pick and goalie Niklas Kokko, one of their other 2nd-round picks at 58th-overall, will both be taking part as members of Team Finland. By the way, the Kraken had four selections in the 2nd-round this past summer.
All three of the aforementioned players are 18, picked for an Under-20 tournament that generally features the very best of the world’s 19-year-olds. Wright will actually turn 19 on the day of the WJC Gold Medal game on January 5th with a pretty strong likelihood of participating in it. Team Canada is the favorite.
Kokko’s birthday is in March and Nyman’s isn’t until July. Those two will try to help their small country leave yet another big impression. Finland last won the tournament in 2019 and has won Gold three times in the last nine years.
Nyman is playing for Ilves Tampere, very near his hometown, in Finland’s top professional league SM Liiga, where he has ten points in 21 games played. Seven of those points are goals for the left-shot right winger.
The sniper with a big reach who loves firing the puck was a goal-a-game player as a second-tier pro player in Finland last season.
Nyman led a five-team WJC preliminary tournament in scoring with seven points as Finland swept three games in the Czech Republic. The mini-round robin was played between November 9th and 13th.
Kokko had a brief taste of SM Liiga with Karpat over the past year, but he’s presently a regular starter with Hermes Kokkola in that 2nd tier Mestis league.
Still growing and already 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Kokko is considered highly mature and composed for his age. Also an athletic netminder, he previously led his team to junior titles, won season-long goaltending awards and helped win a bronze medal in the Under-18 Worlds.
Finland is playing in Group B in Moncton, New Brunswick along with Latvia, Slovakia, USA and Switzerland, the team they open against on the 26th. The Finns play the Americans in the round robin on New Year’s Eve.
Wright and Team Canada are playing in Group A in Halifax, Nova Scotia.