Capitals Lack Finnish: Do the Capitals Avoid Finns?

Photo: Washington Capitals

As most hockey fans know, the tiny nation of Finland, which has a smaller population than the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, regularly supplies the NHL and AHL with quality hockey players. In fact, 21 of 32 NHL teams currently have a Finn on their roster. But one team that hasn’t taken advantage of that Scandinavian country’s hockey talent is the Washington Capitals.

In the entire history of the team, only seven Finns have played an NHL game for Washington, totalling 329 regular season games. Defenseman Timo Blomqvist had the most significant career with the Capitals, playing 223 games in the early 1980s. (Most notable was possibly Esa Tikkanen, but he played just 20 games for the Capitals in the 1997-98 season).

By contrast, Dallas is a team that is clearly “Finnished”. They have five players on their current roster, and have had 23 total, since moving to Dallas in 1993. Part of the reason they’re so Finn heavy is undoubtedly that their Director of European Scouting is native Finn Karri Takko, who was involved in the best trade ever; dealt for Bruce Bell, it was the Takko-Bell trade.

But Dallas’ love affair with Finns goes back to before Takko’s employment. Long time Star Jere Lehtinen seemed to have begun this trend, when he won two Selke trophies, and in recent years they’ve added budding superstars Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen.

So are the Caps’ allergic to Finns? As the Stars had a positive experience with Finns, the Caps had a bad one, so perhaps this had something to do with it. The team used a first round pick on Miika Elomo in 1995, who showed up to camp in 1997 noticeably out of shape, and barely able to complete drills. He only played two games for the team during the 1999-2000 season.

Since then, the Caps have drafted two Finns in late rounds, none have played for the team since Oskar Osala in early 2008. The team does have one under contract though, but Henrik Borgstrom has been stuck in Hershey.

This situation may change soon, though. The team did hire Matty Lamberg, who is based in Helsinki, in 2020, as a European Scout. But why the Finnaphobia in the first place? That question is probably unanswerable.

If GM Brian MacLellan, or Assistant GM Ross Mahoney were asked about it, they’d probably give the company line: “There were no Finns ranked at the spot where we were drafting”. But hopefully this situation will be rectified, in short order. There’s a youngster named Aron Kiviharju who is tearing up the  senior Liiga as a 16 year old defenseman. If the Caps can get him, then they’ll truly be Finnished.

By Kimberly Brown

Related Reading:
A Closer Look At The Resurgence Of The (Mysterious) Washington Capitals Scouting Department

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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30 Responses to Capitals Lack Finnish: Do the Capitals Avoid Finns?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Definitely a sizable and noticeable void. Hopefully the signing of the new scout will fix that, because there is a ton of talent in Finland.

    • KimRB says:

      It’s really odd that they completely ignore a country that has historically been a rich source of talent. By contrast they drafted or traded for players from such hockey hotbeds (sarcasm) as Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, and even Australia. A guy born in Taiwan has played more games as a Capital than all the Finns combined. That was Rod Langway.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Finland is arguably the top country in junior hockey right now, at least at World Juniors (U20) and U18. I gotta think Capitals need to be tracking/scouting/recruiting from that region. They better be.

    • KimRB says:

      They got a guy in Helsinki. So they’re tracking these kids. I think the real issue is: are BMac and Ross Mahoney listening to him? The evidence suggests that, so far, the answer is no.

  3. hockeydruid says:

    Could the problem be that this organization has had a fascination with Russian players for so long that they often overlook others? Or is it that they just don’t have enough scouts to really cover because the don’t spend enough on scouting?

    • KimRB says:

      That’s true, but it doesn’t account for the fact that, in the last 15 years, the Caps have drafted players from countries that aren’t exactly hockey powerhouses, such as Germany, Belarus, Switzerland, Norway and even Australia, but 0 players from one of the major hockey powerhouses, Finland.

  4. Diane Doyle says:

    Some have argued that Caps have avoided Finns since Esa Tikkanen missed the empty net during the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. But holding a grudge against an entire nation for that would be really petty. Or for Miika Elomo reporting to camp out of shape as well. But Caps need to improve their scouting of Finns.

    • KimRB says:

      Not only would holding an entire talent pool of a nation responsible for Tikkanen’s gaffe be petty, it’d be incredibly stupid. That’d be like blaming Alexander Suzdalev or Ivan Miroshnichenko, or some as yet undrafted Russian for Kuzy circling the net, and constantly passing up shots, for the perfect pass.

    • Brianna says:

      If that is True holding a grudge against country sounds very dumb

      • hockeydruid says:

        However it sounds like Ted. He held grudges in his business before buying the Capitals so it only makes sense that it continues. Maybe Finland rebuked him at one time and he wont give up the ghost. Similar to how he is letting the team go to pot just to try and get one player a personal record and at the same time satisfy his ego! It is a vicious cycle when you think you or your ego are more important than the team; for other examples see Robert Irsay, George Steinbrenner (although he had the money to buy championships), Peter Angelos, Al Davis, Jerry jones and finally the illustrious Dan Snyder.

  5. Diane Doyle says:

    It now turns out that Miika Elomo, the guy who reportedly reported to camp out of shape, co-wrote a college paper on analyzing the reason behind goal scoring. (Haaga Helia University of Applied Sciences.)

    • KimRB says:

      He was definitely out of shape. I was sitting within earshot of George McPhee, at Piney Orchard, and he remarked on it. Elomo was literally stumbling at the end of skating drills.

      Just because the guy is smart, doesn’t mean he kept himself in shape. A Finn that I was talking to at the time theorized that Elomo may have been tired, since he had just completed compulsory military service. I dunno, maybe that was it.

  6. Lance says:

    David Poile had a done deal for Teemu Selanne but Abe Pollin wouldn’t pay Selanne’s salary so Winnipeg traded him to Anaheim instead. It was something like Jason Allison, Nolan Baumgartner and a 1st for Selanne.

    • KimRB says:

      Where did you hear that? The Caps were linked to Selanne for many years, but I haven’t heard of a specific package that was offered, till now.

  7. Brianna says:

    Finland is Nordic country not Scandinavian that title falls to three kingdoms country Denmark Norway and Swey

    • KimRB says:

      I stand by what I wrote. From Wikipedia:

      Scandinavia most commonly refers to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In English usage, it can sometimes also refer more narrowly to the Scandinavian Peninsula (which excludes Denmark but includes part of Finland), or more broadly to all of the Nordic countries, also including Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.

      • Brianna says:

        Thank Kim

        • Anonymous says:

          The Finnish Embassy is one of the most beautiful in the city!

          Carolina deserves mention as the real Finn hotspot. Aho has long been one of the most underrated players in the league, Teuvo is a Cup winner and phenomenal two-way player, KK is also a great two-way player, Raanta was on the Cup team with Teuvo but didn’t play, and Puljujarvi should pull it together someday (look up his WJC line).

          Having a culture of acquiring high-end Finnish talent is probably a draw for other Finns, who can expect to fit in right away.

  8. Scottlew73 says:

    It kind of self-answering question the topic of this article,if head scout & GM are both ignoring “a specific country”,considering Rod Langway,Olaf kolzig,etc.we’re all born in non-traditional hockey countries should be significantly clue that they don’t have good prospect awareness!
    Considering this team is @ start of potential rebuild you need to look @ picks that may not be on traditional team’s radar.
    Think of different sport,Kurt Warner was d2 ncaa quarterback,& end up in hof as well as mvp and champion. You can find good player if you “look where the rest ain’t “!

  9. GRin430 says:

    I don’t have the data in front of me, but it seems that over the past few decades the Caps have focused much of their scouting and drafting in western Canada — i.e., the WHL. Since Ovechkin was selected, they’ve picked several Russians at the top of the draft, in part because other teams wouldn’t take them (e.g., Kuznetsov, Miroschnichenko), so those kids were considered bargains where they were selected near the bottom of the first round where the Caps usually pick. They’ve also taken a few Swedes, a few central/eastern Europeans, and several Americans, including using quite a few lower-round picks on Americans. But they’ve taken far fewer players from the OHL than most teams, and even fewer from the Quebec league. And of course no Finns. Because, well… just because?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      You are on it. There has been a sizable imbalance in draft picks coming from WHL/British Columbia. Part of it may be the fact Mahoney hails from the region.

    • KimRB says:

      I’d like to do an article on the Caps draft tendencies. What countries and leagues they draft from.

      Just from a cursory look, I’d say the WHL will lead the list. That league is the most NHL like. But it figures. Ross Mahoney, Assistant GM, and the guy who pretty much does the actual drafting, is from Saskatoon. But I believe the Caps were leaning on the WHL even before Mahoney moved into that position.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I dont see the caps organization having a “Finn” problem or lack of finns. Each organization has their own strengths and weaknesses. As pointed out Dallas Stars have key scouts in that area which go way back and help them do better then most organizations. No different then the caps with Russians or Swedes which are their 2 areas of specialties. Honestly I’d rather have thar because There’s more great Russians, deeper pull to find the next OVI, Kucherov, Kirill the thrill etc as the caps have with OVI and Kuzy etc and changed the fortune of this franchise. Hopefully Miroschnichenko and Suzdalev (Russian &Swede).
    Then Swedes- Backy obviously etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      Unfortunately Finland is the hotbed for hockey talent right now. Why turn your back on any region if they are producing high-caliber players?

    • KimRB says:

      Suzdalev was born in Khavaborsk, Russia. He has dual Russian/Swedish citizenship.

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