Sweden has arguably the most consistent junior program in international hockey at the moment. This is confirmed by a striking run of success at the under-20 level since 2012. After losing to Team USA in the Bronze Medal game at the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, they bounced back mightily; claiming gold the following year. They built off the aforementioned performance with back-to-back silver medals in 2013 and 2014. In fact, they've medalled in six of the last seven tournaments. Only Russia has matched those totals. With promising stars like Robert Hägg, William Nylander and Habs prospect Jacob de la Rose, Sweden is primed for similar success this year.
|Player||Position||Draft Year*||League||Current Team|
|Samuel Ward||G||2013||SHL||Luleå HF|
|Linus Soderstrom||G||2014||SHL||Djurgårdens IF|
|Fredrik Bergvik||G||2013||SHL||Frölunda HC|
|Sebastian Aho||D||2014||SHL||Skellefteå AIK|
|William Lagesson||D||2014||USHL||Dubuque Fighting Saints|
|Oliver Kylington||D||2015||SHL||Färjestad BK|
|Robin Norell||D||2013||SHL||Djurgårdens IF|
|Andreas Englund||D||2014||SHL||Djurgårdens IF|
|Julius Bergman||D||2014||OHL||London Knights|
|Robert Hägg||D||2013||AHL||Lehigh Valley Phantoms|
|Jacob de la Rose||F||2013||AHL||Hamilton Bulldogs|
|Anton Blidh||F||2013||SHL||Frölunda HC|
|Victor Olofsson||F||2014||SHL||Modo Hockey|
|Rasmus Asplund||F||2015||SHL||Färjestad BK|
|Adam Brodecki||F||2014||SHL||Brynäs IF|
|William Nylander||F||2014||SHL||Modo Hockey|
|Oskar Lindblom||F||2014||SHL||Brynäs IF|
|Lucas Wallmark||F||2014||SHL||Luleå HF|
|Jens Looke||F||2015||SHL||Brynäs IF|
|Axel Holmstrom||F||2014||SHL||Skellefteå AIK|
|Christoffer Ehn||F||2014||SHL||Frölunda HC|
|Anton Karlsson||F||2014||SHL||Frölunda HC|
|Leon Bristedt||F||2013||NCAA||University of Minnesota|
|Adrian Kempe||F||2014||SHL||Modo Hockey|
*grey text for undrafted players
Much of Sweden's success is due to a consistently prevailing power play. Over a combined 13 games at the previous two tournaments, Sweden has scored an astonishing 26 power play goals and they have a totally insane 36.1 power play percentage over that span. Putting together similar numbers this time around is a dubious proposition at best. However, providing them any opportunity to do so is strongly advised against.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander will play a critical role in Sweden’s success. The eighth overall pick in last year’s NHL draft is highly skilled and very poised. He should quarterback the power play, particularly from the left side of the ice where he tends to hangout before starting the play from the top of the faceoff circle.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Lucas Wallmark returns to the team after an impressive 2014 tournament. Wallmark had 3 goals, 5 assists for 8 points in 7 games last year, and was extremely efficient on the power play. He tends to quarterback from the top of the right faceoff circle; a perfect complement to Nylander.
Vancouver Canucks defensive prospect Gustav Forsling should also play a big role on the power play, leading all defenseman at last year’s under-18 tournament with 4 goals.
One of the biggest players on the team is highly skilled Habs prospect Jacob de la Rose. He’ll certainly get looks on the power play as well, and is expected to form a strong leadership duo with Philadelphia Flyers prospect Robert Hägg, each returning for their third World Junior Championship. The duo account for 53 of the team’s 67 total American Hockey League games played; more than Canada, USA, Russia and Finland combined.
What separates Sweden from any other international team is their ability to adapt to the North American style of play. They have great depth and use their speed and skill to avoid contact. With a dangerous power play, physical teams like Canada and the United States might feel forced to step away from their usual hard-hitting style; something that will only benefit the Swedes in the end.
Sweden was dealt a huge blow when the Washington Capitals announced that they would not allow 2013 first round pick Andre Burakovsky to play at the World Juniors this year. Adding insult to injury, the Capitals decided to send Burakovsky down to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League just days after the decision. In his first NHL season, Burakovsky has 4 goals, 9 assists for 13 points in 26 games. His 6-foot-3, 198 pound frame will be greatly missed for a team that is definitely lacking in size.
A lack of experience may also be a factor. With just five returning players from last year’s squad, Sweden is the youngest team in the tournament with an average age of 18.32. These numbers are slightly exaggerated with three 17-year-old players on the team (Rasmus Asplund, Jens Looke and Oliver Kylington). 14 players are eligible to return to next year’s team, which is pretty substantial. It's a safe assumption that Sweden should be better at the 2016 tournament in Helsinki, Finland, than they are this time around.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Sweden is in goal. The goaltending battle is between Samuel Ward, Linus Soderstrom and Jonas Johansson. The trio lacks experiences as they have never played at the under-20 tournament. Even more concerning is that they have all struggled in the Swedish Hockey League this season, combining for a 0.884 save percentage.
Update: Since this was published, Sweden has confirmed that Buffalo Sabres goaltending prospect Jonas Johansson will be out of the tournament due to illness. He will be replaced by San Jose Sharks prospect Fredrik Bergvik.
It's pretty simple: Sweden is only as good as its power play. With a lack of experience and many question marks in goal, the team will rely greatly on the likes of Nylander, de la Rose, Kempe, Hägg and Wallmark to lead them to victory. If Sweden can continue producing with the man advantage, while adjusting to the North American style of play, they will remain a serious threat to contend for another gold medal.