When Kimmo Oikarinen, the GM of Finland’s Under-20 World Junior team, announced on Tuesday the 25 players competing for a spot on the team’s 23-man roster for the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals forward prospect Joakim Kemell was not one of them.
One of the country’s top U20 players, Kemell’s omission came as a bit of a surprise, but a source expressed to Nashville Hockey Now on Tuesday morning that the Finnish U20 staff actually wanted Kemell to be a part of the group and that the Finns by no means left the 19-year-old forward off the roster.
I expressed my personal thoughts on the matter via X, where I explained it was likely that the Predators were, in fact, the ones keeping Kemell in North America.
Super interesting no Kemell. I’m curious if it was a Finnish decision or if the #Preds wanted to keep him in Milwaukee to not disrupt his progress. I’d have to imagine it’s the latter. He needs pro hockey exposure as much as possible. He’s done all he can at the Jr. level. https://t.co/nNCxxTMR17— Clay Brewer (@ClayBrewer10) December 12, 2023
By Tuesday afternoon, Finnish publication MTV confirmed the initial belief after an interview with Oikarinen who stated, “The last message I got from Nashville over the weekend was that [they] were not going to let [Kemell] join us at this point. … We’ll see what we can do, but at this point Nashville’s position is ‘no.'” (translated from the original Finnish article via Google Translate).
While Kemell may still be loaned to Finland with a guarantee of frequent playing time and a top position on the team, keeping him in the AHL with his Admirals’ teammates is understandably the best thing for his development. Perhaps a bit of a cliche, but the phrase “it takes a lot to learn to be a professional” rings true in this situation.
Though he’s still young, Kemell has quite a bit of international experience under his belt (64 games) having played in the World Junior Championship each of the last three years along with several other international junior tournaments.
At this stage of his career, the Predators presumably believe that Kemell will benefit more from an uninterrupted season of professional hockey than playing in an international tournament against other under-20-age players.
The Predators want to see Kemell in Nashville sooner rather than later — not to prove what scouts and coaches already know (and knew when they convinced David Poile to draft him 17th overall in 2022), but because it’s clear he’s a budding star. While it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Kemell is loaned to the Young Lions later this month, his not being on Finland’s roster right now is certainly not an indictment against him.
Kemell is one of the Predators top young stars that many in and outside the organization think very highly of. Given Kemell’s 2004 birth year, he certainly would be permitted to be loaned from the Admirals to the Finnish junior team with permission from the Predators — a practice that has become increasingly common.
A similar situation occurred with the Predators and Eeli Tolvanen around this time in 2018. Nashville loaned Tolvanen to Finland for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. He scored four points in seven games as Finland topped the United States 3-2 in the gold-medal game. Prior to the WJC, Tolvanen had played in four games with the Predators, amassing one goal and one assist as well as four goals and 12 points in 24 games with the Admirals.
Through 21 games with the Admirals this season, Kemell has five goals and 14 points, including one power-play goal and one game-winning goal along with 53 shots. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring.
While it may seem unfair to compare one Finnish sniper to another simply due to their country of origin, the similarities between the two situations and their respective expectations match up. Kemell encompasses what the Predators front office believed Tolvanen also did at the time. It may seem like apples and oranges here, but it’s an interesting comparison, nonetheless.
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10