Early Look at Top Candidates for Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics
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The Finnish hockey team should be in prime position to win a medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
When fans speak of the "Big Six" in international hockey, they are speaking of Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
While the Finnish team is often overlooked, it has fared quite well in the Olympics. They have medaled in four of the last five Winter Olympic competitions.
Overall, Finland has won two silver and three bronze Olympic Mens' Ice Hockey medals.
Assuming that NHL players are competing in the Olympics, Finland should be in a position to compete for a medal again.
Here's an early look at eight of the prime candidates to make the Finnish Olympic ice hockey team.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
Mikko Koivu was the captain of the Finnish national team in the 2012 World Championships.
Koivu, 30, will undoubtedly play a huge role for Finland in 2014.
He has scored 23 points in 28 games with the Wild this year. He has a solid passer with good skating ability and he can also play well in the defensive zone.
Koivu played on the Finnish Olympic team in 2006 and 2010.
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings
Vatteri Filppula is another versatile forward who can attack on offense with speed and quickness without sacrificing any of his defensive skill.
He plays hard in all three zones. Filppula has many of the skills Detroit Red Wings teammate Pavel Datsyuk has, although he is not as accomplished or as developed.
Filppula had his best season in 2011-12 when he scored 23 goals and 43 assists for the Red Wings.
He scored three goals for Finland in the 2010 Olympics.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks
There are no guarantees that this future Hall of Famer will want to play Olympic hockey or in the NHL next year.
Teemu Selanne, 42, could decide to hang up his skates after the season.
The Ducks are having a stellar year and if they happen to win the Stanley Cup, Selanne could decide that 2013 would be the perfect time to say goodbye.
However, he has not said that he will retire. He may be inspired to play one more year and give it one more go in the Olympics.
Selanne has participated in five previous Olympic competitions and he has scored 20 goals for his homeland.
Don't write him off just yet.
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers
Kimmo Timonen will undoubtedly play a key role for Finland in the 2014 Olympics.
Timonen, 38, is a solid defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers who can do it on both ends of the ice. He has scored 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 30 games for the Flyers.
He is known for keeping himself in remarkable condition.
Timonen has participated in three previous Olympics for Finland.
Sami Salo, Tampa Bay Lightning
Sami Salo got off to a stellar start with the Tampa Bay Lightning early in the year, but he has slowed down a bit since then.
However, he is a solid player and will undoubtedly play a vital role with the Finnish Olympic team. Salo, 38, has played on three previous Olympic teams.
He has the ability to get off quick shots from the blue line and that could make him a valuable member of the team's power play unit.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne is one of the elite goalies in the NHL.
He has been the backbone of the Nashville Predators' defense since he became the team's primary starter in 2008-09.
Rinne has a 10-10-5 record this season, with a 2.31 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
The Finns have a slew of talent at the goaltending position. It seems clear that Tuukka Rask will get prominent consideration for one of their goaltending spots.
Rask has been sensational for the Boston Bruins this season. Rask, 26, has a 14-4-3 record with a 1.92 GAA and a .928 save percentage. He has two shutouts this season.
Rask has never played on Finland's Olympic team.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
With so many veteran players on the Finnish Olympic team, it seems appropriate that they might want to add some much-needed youth.
Mikael Granlund, 19, is one of the most talented rookies in the NHL, although he has yet to turn his potential into production. Granlund has scored one goal and five assists this season, and that's below expectations.
However, Granlund sees the ice well and knows how to wait an extra split second to pass the puck. That factor could make him a valuable performer when playing with the talented veterans who are likely to be named to Finland's Olympic team.