ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is quite familiar with Team Finland these days.
In preparation for the 2016 NHL draft, where the Jets will be selecting No. 2 overall, Cheveldayoff has been closely watching Finland and its young star, Patrik Laine, the past week as they compete at the World Championship in Russia. Before that, he spent time scouting Finland's young talent, including Jesse Puljujarvi, at the under-18 championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He also paid attention to the Finns at the World Junior Championship earlier in the year.
Cheveldayoff has noticed a common thread among each team.
"[Finland] plays really well as a team," Cheveldayoff said. "They won the World Junior Championship. They won the under-18 championship in Grand Forks. And they're playing really well here. The Finns are obviously doing something right.
"To see what a country that size has been doing and [how it's] producing players, it's a feather in their cap. But they play so well as a team. They compete very hard. They look like they have great chemistry out there."
Finland has been building a special calendar hockey year, and it could be capped off with even greater success at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September. Here are five reasons the Finns will be serious gold-medal contenders:
1. All Team Finland does is win. Because the Finns won the World Junior Championship in January and the under-18 championship in April, and after going unbeaten in pool play, they're now the favorites to win the World Championship. Other teams are certainly taking Finland seriously.
"I'm obviously not surprised by Finland," Sweden World Cup coach Rikard Gronborg said this week. "Look at the last few years, look at the players. The last three years they've won the World Juniors and under-18 championships. They're productive players. They're all well coached. I'm not surprised they're playing well in [the World Championship]. I think they'll be a potential gold-medal candidate at the World Cup."
2. What Finland lacks in star power, it makes up for with team play. From a roster standpoint, Finland isn't going to overwhelm anyone with big names and NHL scoring leaders. The only players on its World Cup roster who finished in the top 50 in points in the NHL this past season were Jussi Jokinen (tied for 41st with 60 points) and Aleksander Barkov (tied for 45th with 59 points).
So Finland obviously isn't going to match the star power scattered across much of the rest of the tournament field. Without that individual production, Finland instead relies on a team game to break down opponents. It showed off that team skill throughout pool play in the World Championship, when Finland outscored its opponents 29-6, including a 4-0 win over Canada, and went unbeaten in the first seven games. And those 29 goals were spread out among 13 different players.
"I think the biggest reason why we have success is we have great leaders, great young players," Barkov said. "We have been playing our own game. We have a pretty good system. We have great players in this team, great goalies, great defense, great offense, so we're scoring goals on the power play. We have a pretty good penalty kill. So, everything works for us."
3. Laine could be a game-changer for Finland. He isn't officially on the World Cup team yet, but it's pretty much guaranteed he will be in Toronto.
Laine, 18, entered the World Championship with hype, and that buzz has just gotten louder throughout the tournament. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound right-handed-shooting winger has led Finland with six goals and 10 points. He's behind only Russia's duo of Vadim Shipachyov and Artemi Panarin in total points for the tournament.
"I knew he was a great player," Barkov said. "Of course, he has a pretty good chance to score in every game every shift. He has a great shot. He's a pretty skilled player. Wasn't surprising for me."
4. It's already preparing for the World Cup. Finland brought the most World Cup roster players to the World Championship of any team. Its World Championship roster includes Barkov, Jokinen, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Leo Komarov and Esa Lindell. All six players will also be playing at the World Cup.
"They want to come here and play for our team," Finland general manager and former NHLer Jere Lehtinen said. "I think our NHL players like playing for the national team. They want to have the chance to win whenever they come over."
5. Finland always seems to finish on the podium in world competitions. Finland won bronze at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and earned silver in the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Finland ended up second to Canada the last time the World Cup of Hockey was held, in 2004.
"We are the underdogs for sure, but I like what I see in our players," Lehtinen said. "We have players who have been around a long time. We kind of have some young guys coming. It's a good mix. I'm confident in what we have going to the tournament."