2016 World Hockey Championship: Team Norway preview
Without their biggest star, Norway faces a difficult task in achieving a quarter-final berth, but strengths at each position should help them compensate.
Norway has been in the IIHF's Top Division every year since 2006. Other than a close final standing of 14th in 2007, the country hasn't been close to being relegated in that time.
With a best finish of sixth, coming in 2011, the team hasn't been particularly close to winning the tournament, either.
|70||Steffen Søberg||G||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Vålerenga|
|4||Johannes Johannessen||D||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Stavanger|
|14||Dennis Sveum||D||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Stavanger|
|23||Mats Trygg||D||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Lørenskog|
|42||Henrik Ødegaard||D||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Lørenskog|
|21||Morten Ask||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Vålerenga|
|20||Anders Bastiansen||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Frisk Asker|
|29||Robin Dahlstrøm||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Lørenskog|
|26||Kristian Forsberg||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Stavanger|
|24||Andreas Martinsen||F||NHL||Colorado Avalanche|
|40||Ken André Olimb||F||DEL (Germany)||Düsseldorf|
|46||Mathis Olimb||F||Swiss NLA||Kloten|
|51||Mats Rosseli Olsen||F||SHL||Frölunda|
|93||Thomas Valkvæ Olsen||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Frisk Asker|
|28||Niklas Roest||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Sparta Sarpsborg|
|8||Mathias Trettenes||F||Get Ligaen (Norway)||Stavanger|
|36||Mats Zuccarello||F||NHL||New York Rangers|
Norway's best bet to take the next step and advance to the medal round lies in its experienced defence. Five of the seven defencemen on the preliminary roster are at least 28 years of age, with the 39-year-old Mats Trygg having seen plenty of action at the international level. The leader of the group will be Jonas Holøs, who has represented his country in the World Championship in each of the previous 10 years, and has been named one of the team's top players four times in the last six tournaments.
That steady veteran core affords Norway the opportunity to give some up-and-coming young blue-liners the chance to get some international experience. Mattias Nørstebø, a 20-year-old who has been signed by Frölunda for the 2016-17 SHL season, is one such player. The defender to keep your eye on will be Johannes Johannessen, age 19, who was recently named Norwegian Rookie of the Year, and is ranked 68th by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Up front, the depth takes a big hit this year, as star forward Patrick Thoresen, often regarded as the best player not in the NHL, has decided to skip the World Championship to recover from a groin injury that plagued him all through his SHL season. He put up six points in seven round-robin games last year, so his offence will be sorely missed.
Norway will rely on the play of New York Rangers' star Mats Zuccarello (who was quite firm in his desire to head to Russia for the event) to control the attack, but he won't have to do it alone.
Centring him on the top line will very likely be Anders Bastiansen, a multiple Norwegian Player of the Year award winner, and the 2011 Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy recipient as SHL playoff MVP. Bastiansen had one of the best years of his professional career this season, clocking in just shy of a point-per-game pace in the Norwegian league, and has scored three goals in five international games leading up to the World Championship. The competition for left winger on the top line should be battled out between Bastiansen's regular-season teammate Thomas Valkvæ Olsen and journeyman Mathis Olimb.
Backing up Norway's defence will be Lars Haugen, who was voted one of Norway's best players in last year's tournament (as well as in 2011 and 2012).
If he is not up to the task, the team can replace him with 22-year-old Steffen Søberg, who has put up even more impressive numbers over his young career.
With the short nature of an international tournament, one stolen victory, especially against one of the lower-seeded teams, can be the difference between a quarter-final berth and early exit.
Fortunately for Norway, its half of the draw is wide open. While Russia and Sweden should be locks to make it to the quarters, relatively weak rosters from Switzerland and the Czech Republic give every team in Group A a shot at qualifying for the playoff round.
Norway should comfortably hold onto its place in the Top Division, and there is a great opportunity for the team to continue playing beyond the group stage.