Last year, Vancouver Canucks prospect Joni Jurmo wasn’t even invited to Finland’s 2022 World Junior evaluation camp.
Eight months and a rescheduled tournament later, Jurmo got his first-ever World Junior point for Finland, helping them to a win in a tightly-contested game against Czechia. It’s a testament to Jurmo’s recent development and a good sign for the Canucks, who need more signs of life from their prospect pool on defence.
Let’s break down how Jurmo performed.
Finland 4 - 3 Czechia
After a bit of a shaky performance against Latvia in Finland’s first game of the tournament, Jurmo was significantly better in all aspects on Thursday against Czechia.
Jurmo primarily played with Kasper Puutio, who was second in ice time on Finland. With eight defencemen dressed and with no time on special teams, however, Jurmo finished with only 13:34 in ice time, sixth among Finnish defencemen.
In those minutes, however, Jurmo was very effective. He was regularly put on the ice for defensive zone faceoffs, trusted to get a stop and transition the puck up ice. It was a smart move, as Jurmo’s ability to rush the puck up ice is one of his biggest strengths.
In this first period rush, Jurmo starts from behind his own net, picks up speed, and drives through the neutral zone to gain the Czechia blue line before stopping up and looking to dish the puck. Even if he fans on his first pass, the zone entry was still successful.
This second period rush is even better, as he takes advantage of the forechecker going for a line change to drive wide around one Czech skater, then steps inside on a flat-footed opponent in the neutral zone to gain the blue line. After gaining the zone, Jurmo doesn’t try to do too much, but quickly defers to his forward to get things set up.
Those two rushes show great confidence from Jurmo in his ability to skate with the puck and identify seams in the opposition defence to create a clean zone entry.
Jurmo is a surprisingly agile skater for a 6’4” defenceman and he used that agility well in the offensive zone to change angles along the blue line and open up passing and shooting lanes. This particular move in the second period caught the Czech skater completely off-guard opening up an opportunity for Jurmo to get a wrist shot through traffic.
In addition to his puck-rushing, Jurmo’s passing was improved from his first game of the tournament, seemingly confirming that it was nerves. His breakout passes were on the tape, he made good, simple passes to keep offensive zone possessions going, and knew when to relieve pressure in the defensive zone with a pass to his defence partner.
The one critique I would have of Jurmo’s game with the puck is a minor one: some of his passes were not as crisp as they needed to be. A couple of times in the offensive zone, Jurmo had the opportunity to set up a one-timer for his defence partner but his pass, instead of flat on the ice, was wobbling, negating the chance for a shot.
It’s a small detail, but it can make a big difference, particularly when you get to higher levels where crisp passing is expected as a rule.
Again, this is a minor critique. This was a strong game for Jurmo that earned him a lot of praise from the TSN broadcast from both colour commentator Craig Button and intermission panelist Cheryl Pounder.
Defensively, Jurmo had another solid game, using his long reach and mobility to play a tight gap and to close quickly on the puck-carrier. He was strong on the boards in puck battles and appeared to come up with the puck in every battle he engaged in.
While Jurmo was on the ice for Czechia’s opening goal, it was an ugly goal from an awful angle that came off a turnover by his defence partner. Jurmo did his job on the play, taking away the stick of his man in front to prevent a tip.
Czechia surprised Finland with a second goal in the first, taking a 2-0 lead on the power play. Finland responded with a power play goal of their own before the end of the first, but it was still some nervous times for the Finnish team.
Jurmo's first-ever World Junior point
Jurmo’s assist came on the tying goal in the second period. Off a Finnish faceoff win, Jurmo got the puck at the point and moved it down the boards to Kasper Simontaival. While his cross-ice pass was off the mark, Kasper Puutio took the carom off the boards and whipped the puck short side on Czech goaltender Jan Bednar.
Was it a highlight reel play? No. But it still counts for his first World Junior point.
Jurmo’s most crucial play came late in regulation. After Finland and Czechia traded third-period goals, Czechia got a great opportunity to score the winning goal after Jurmo’s defence partner, Puutio, was hammered into the Finnish bench.
The hit led to a 2-on-1 down low, with Jurmo the last man back. Jurmo timed his sprawl to the ice perfectly, blocking the pass across and preventing the scoring chance.
That kept the game tied, leading to a 3-on-3 overtime. Jurmo didn’t get a shift for Finland during overtime, which solved nothing, nor did he take a shot in the shootout. Roby Jarventie and Simontaival scored in the shootout to give Finland the 4-3 win.
Overall, it was an impressive game for Jurmo at both ends of the ice. He’ll next face Slovakia on Sunday.