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World Junior Championship: Dallas Stars' Esa Lindell and Finland

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The World Junior Championships start on December 26. What can Esa Lindell and his Finnish team do?

Richard Wolowicz

When the Dallas Stars drafted defenseman Esa Lindell in the 3rd round, 74th overall, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, it was a move made with much intrigue.

There was a lot to like about Lindell. Playing for the Jokerit U20 team that season, Lindell put up 21 goals and 51 points in 48 games, which was best on the entire team. And while most offensively-capable European defencemen are on the smaller side and put up points thanks to their skating and puck control, Lindell, standing 6'3," got his points thanks to hard passes and a heavy shot from the point.

An interesting mix of size and offensive instincts, Lindell was seen as a long-term project, and has been developing his game in Finland's top league, the Finnish Elite League, ever since. He went pointless with a -9 rating in 19 games last year, but has stepped up to a +3 in 24 games so far this year, scoring his first professional goal along the way.

Thanks to his solid play this season, Lindell will now get to add another level to his development by representing his home country at the upcoming WJCs. After being one of the final cuts for Finland last year he wasn't to be denied again this year, making the final squad, as reported by his parent club, Jokerit:

The Finns will be looking for a big bounce back after a disappointing 7th place result last year. It's been a long series of struggles for Finland at this tournament lately, winning their last medal, a bronze, all the way back in 2006. They haven't won gold since 1998.

Despite some skilled forwards with Teuvo Teravainen, Artturi Lehkonen and Henri Ikonen, any success that Finland has will likely be carried out from the back end. Goaltending has been the country's strongest area over the last decade. Netminders Jusse Saros and Janne Juvonen, a pair of Nashville Predators draft picks, will be relied upon heavily. The blueline, led by high draft picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Ville Pokka, features a balanced mix of skill and size, and will also be a major source of strength. As one of the older players on the back end, Lindell will likely get a lot of ice time opportunities.

A tournament long shot, Finland has enough balance to succeed, but will need to play every game perfectly in order to do so.

Finland's games:

December 27th: Finland vs Norway 10:30 AM CT

December 28th: Sweden vs Finland 8:00 AM CT

December 30th: Russia vs Finland 8:00 AM CT

December 31st: Finland vs Switzerland 12:00 PM CT