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World Juniors 2016: Sweden team preview

With the World Junior Hockey Championship on at prime time in Sweden, the pressure from the home media and the average Svensson will be enormous. The question is: will the team thrive on the pressure, or bend and break under it?

Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

There is one word to describe this year's Sweden squad: REVENGE!

After last year's disappointment of failing to win a medal (losing the bronze medal game to Martin Réway's Slovakia) every player is determined to show that last year was an anomaly. There is the obvious feeling that they want to turn the tables on host Finland, who beat Sweden in the championship game two years ago in Malmö.

Gold is the expectation for the Swedish players, pundits, and general population, and with the roster that will take to the ice in Helsinki, expectations should be nothing less. Ten players will be participating in at least their second tournament, spearheaded by generational talent William Nylander and Axel Holmström.

Roster

Name Position Club Drafted by
Felix Sandström Goalkeeper Brynäs IF Philadelpia Flyers
Linus Söderström Goalkeeper Djurgårdens IF / Vita Hästen New York Islanders
Erik Källgren Goalkeeper Lindköping HC Arizona Coyotes
Sebastian Aho Defender Skellefteå AIK
William Lagesson Defender Umass (Amherst) Edmonton Oilers
Jacob Larsson Defender Frölunda HC Anaheim Ducks
Adam Ollas Mattson Defender Djurgårdens IF Calgary Flames
Andreas Englund Defender Djurgårdens IF Ottawa Senators
Marcus Pettersson Defender Skellefteå AIK Anaheim Ducks
Gustav Forsling Defender Lindköping HC Vancouver Cannucs/Traded to Chicago Blackhawks
Gabriel Carlsson Defender Lindköping HC Columbus Blue Jackets
Lukas Vejdemo C / W Djurgårdens IF Montreal Canadiens
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson C Boston University Boston Bruins
Fredrik Olofsson LW University of Nebraska-Omaha Chicago Blackhawks
Carl Grundström LW MoDo
Dmytro Timashov LW / RW Quebec Remparts Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Asplund C / LW Färjestad BK
Alexander Nylander LW / RW Mississauga Steelheads
Joel Eriksson Ek C / W Färjestad BK Minesota Wild
William Nylander C / W Toronto Marlies Toronto Maple Leafs
Oskar Lindblom LW / RW Brynäs IF Philadelpia Flyers
Jens Lööke LW /RW Brynäs IF Arizona Coyotes
Axel Holmström C Skellefteå AIK Detroit RedWings
Christoffer Ehn C Frölunda HC Detroit RedWings
Anton Karlsson LW / RW Frölunda HC / Leksands IF Arizona Coyotes
Adrian Kempe LW / RW Ontario Reign Los Angeles Kings

For the fans of Montreal Canadiens, the last player with a shot at playing in the tournament is Lukas Vejdemo. The MVP of last year's Junior Playoffs in Sweden, Vejdemo has had a breakout year in SHL. His shot is a major hurdle to overcome, but he's one of the tallest and heaviest forwards Sweden has available, and he combines those attributes with his tenacity to be a relentless forechecker and cycle player. Two forwards need to be cut from the team, and one of them could easily be Vejdemo, leaving the Canadiens without a prospect in the tournament for the first time in over 20 years.

Strengths

With the level of talent available, special teams will be an obvious strength, with two lines that look scary for a junior tournament, to say the least. When a player like Jacob Larsson, who plays on the second power-play unit for the SHL-leading Frölunda HC, can't get a place in the top two man advantage units, you can understand how good the lines are.

All of these players have played professional hockey at some level, training with, learning from, and competing against men who play hockey for a living. That will benefit the team enormously with physical endurance and open-ice one-on-one battles on the big rinks of Europe.

Many of the defensive duos feature players who have been paired together all season for their respective pro clubs — a philosophy introduced by national team coach Per Mårds — so the tendencies and limits of each player on the back end are well understood before the tournament even begins; something other team's blue-liners may not achieve at all in such a short tournament.

Weaknesses

Despite the success of Swedish goalkeepers in various leagues around the world, goaltending will be Sweden's biggest weakness. It's not necessarily that their goaltenders are poor, it's more the fact that groupmates Finland (with both Kaapo Kähkönen and Veini Vehviläinen) and Russia (backed by Ilya Samsonov) have much better netminders who are more capable of stealing the show in a one-game playoff. While Linus Söderström had a record of 5-2 last year, he hasn't been outstanding in the Allsvenskan this season, so Felix Sandström, who has a .905 SV% in the SHL, may be the one to get the start in crucial games.

X-Factors

William Nylander will not just be the player to watch for Sweden, but likely the top offensive talent in the tournament. He had 20 points (8+12) in 21 games for Modo — one of the weakest teams in the SHL — last season. After being called to join the Toronto Marlies mid-season, that offensive tear continued, scoring 32 points (14+18) in 37 games, with 34 points in 27 games in the 2015-16 campaign.

While his offensive talent and puck-moving abilities are off the chart, there are some questions about his defensive game. With the depth and talent of the skating corps of this Swedish team, they should have little problem dealing with any flaws in their star forward's game.

The other top forward talent to keep an eye on is Detroit Red Wings prospect Axel Holmström. With two SHL titles and the record for points by a junior-aged player in last year's SHL playoffs (beating the Sedin twins' performances from 1999-2000). He is mostly known for his goal-scoring, but recently has been on the penalty kill for SAIK, so playing in all situations at the WJC should be expected.