Defenceman Ville Pokka helped Finland come within a goal of winning a medal at the world junior championship (Getty Images)Ville Pokka has come very far very quickly in Finnish hockey — without forgetting his roots.
The 6-foot, 196-pounder, who likely projects as a second-round pick at this weekend's NHL draft, was one of three underaged defenders on a Team Finland which came within a goal of winning a medal at the world junior hockey championship in Alberta this winter. The native of Tornio, Finland was also a cornerstone of the under-18 iteration of Team Finland, notching six points in seven games at that world tournament in the spring. That was the culmination of a season where he also moved up to the Finnish Elite League, playing regularly with Kärpät.
When asked about what he's taken pride in from hockey, Pokka notes that he's become a prominent prospect after growing up in a small city. Tornio is a burg of about 22,000 people in the middle of the Lapland region, right on the border with Sweden.
"Just playing in the elite league and making the world junior team this season," he says. "I'm from a small town so there's not so many players up at this high a level.
"I liked playing in the world junior a lot this year, the atmosphere in Calgary was unbelievable, 16,000 people."
Pokka began the WJC on Finland's third pairing and responded well when an injury to the London Knights' Olli Määttä created a need for him to step up. Like Määttä, there are fewer questions about his poise and hockey IQ than there are about whether his skating is up to snuff for the NHL. Pokka could also be classified as a bit of an analog to Määttä's London teammate, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Scott Harrington. Harrington has also progressed quickly at the junior level despite concerns raised by having only average size for a defensive defenceman. That meant Harrington was still available for the Pens at 54th overall last year; he's gone on to earn a NHL contract, play in the world junior and nearly win a MasterCard Memorial Cup.Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Ville Pokka, Oulun Karpat