Sweden arrives to this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship not only with a completely new team, but also with a new coach in Tomas Montén. After the success of 2012 with winning gold and following it up with two silvers, Sweden has faltered in the semi-finals, and put up their worst game of the tournament in the bronze-medal game in each of the last two years.
Montén is a virtual unknown for many, even in Sweden. He has been largely in the background, coaching in U20s and being an assistant coach for Djurgården, before taking charge of the team for a season in 2008-09 before going back to an assistant role.
The Swedish team he has selected has some outstanding talent, but the talk of the town has been the meteoric rise of Rasmus Dahlin from Frölunda this season. Dahlin will become the youngest player to have ever suited up for Sweden’s U20 team if he gets selected for the final tournament roster. While not being available for the 2017 draft, he will be one of the players to go in the top three in the 2018 draft.
On the other hand, one of the top draft picks in the upcoming 2017 draft has been left out of the tournament: Timothy Liljegren. Coach Montén defended the decision to leave him at home
"We’ve got the eight best defenders at this moment. We have followed Timothy for a long time and he isn’t among the top eight U20 defenders in Sweden at this moment. Thats not a slight on Timothy’s behalf; we have amazing defenders in Sweden right now."
|Player||Position||League||Current team||Drafted by|
|Player||Position||League||Current team||Drafted by|
|Filip Gustavsson||G||SHL||Luleå||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Felix Sandström||G||SHL||Brynäs||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Adam Werner||G||Allsvenskan||Björklöven||Colorado Avalanche|
|Gabriel Carlsson||D||SHL||Linköping HC||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Lucas Carlsson||D||SHL||Brynäs||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Rasmus Dahlin||D||SHL||Frölunda HC||Draft 2018|
|Kristoffer Gunnarsson||D||Allsvenskan||IK Oskarshamn||Undrafted|
|Oliver Kyllington||D||AHL||Stockton Heat||Calgary Flames|
|Jacob Larsson||D||NHL/SHL||Anaheim Ducks /Frölunda HC||Anaheim Ducks|
|Jacob Moverare||D||OHL||Mississauga Steelheads||Los Angeles Kings|
|Filip Ahl||F||WHL||Regina Pats||Ottawa Senators|
|Lias Andersson||F||SHL||HV71||2017 Draft|
|Rasmus Asplund||F||SHL||Färjestad||Bufflo Sabers|
|Jonathan Dahlen||F||Allsvenskan||Timrå||Ottawa Senators|
|Joel Eriksson-Ek||F||NHL/SHL||Minnesota Wild/Färjestad BK||Minnesota Wild|
|Carl Grundström||F||SHL||Frölunda HC||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Fredrik Karlström||F||Allsvenskan||AIK||Dallas Stars|
|Jens Lööke||F||Allsvenskan||Timrå||Arizona Coyotes|
|Alexander Nylander||F||AHL||Rochester Americans||Bufflo Sabers|
|Sebastian Ohlsson||F||SHL||Skellefteå AIK||Undrafted|
|Elias Pettersson||F||Allsvenskan||Timrå||2017 Draft|
|Tim Söderlund||F||SHL||Skellefteå AIK||Undrafted|
|Andreas Wingerli||F||SHL||Skellefteå AIK||Undrafted|
The preliminary roster will be reduced by one defender and two forwards before the tournament begins.
Sweden is a complete team in many ways, The Skellefteå line with Ohlsson, Wingerli, and Söderlund is full of speed, and during a U20 tournament in Gothenburg earlier this fall there was an excitement among the scouts when Söderlund got hold of the puck.
The GAP line (Grundström-Andersson-Pettersson) was also a standout, but in a different way. With size and skill, Lias Andersson will provide the vision and playmaking ability whereas the big wingers will provide the net presence. Grundström has been on fire in Frölunda this season and as one Frölunda player said, "it’s like trying to move a brick wall from in front of the net."
On top of this there is a huge North American component to the Swedish team, with Eriksson-Ek, Kylington, Larsson, Moverare, and Nylander all joining the team.
Coach Montén told EOTP that he will go for the "hot" players, and that’s one of the reasons that ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ form the 2015 draft, John Dahlström, is on the preliminary roster.
I asked if Dahlström would be ‘Mr. Relevant” after the tournament. "I hope so!” Montén stated. “He was with us for two tournaments before he went to Medicine Hat, and I have only seen him on video lately. I am excited to see him in action. He has played very well in Medicine Hat. He has taken some big steps over there, and I am looking forward to see if we can translate that success into the Swedish team, too."
Another strength is that most Swedish players play against men in either the AHL, SHL or Allsvenskan. They are used to a high-tempo fighting experienced professionals for the puck, and those things can be a deciding factor when the medal games come around.
Mr. Montén mentioned that he likes working with and developing young players, but there will be some question marks surrounding his name in regards to coaching as there isn’t much to go on yet. He also pointed out that Sweden doesn’t even come close to the number of first-rounders in the draft as some other countries.
"Canada has 14 first-rounders, even without McDavid and company," he said, eager to put the pressure on some of the other teams.
An issue that always comes up before tournaments across the Atlantic is the rink size and the adjustment that might be needed. Can Sweden adjust in time for the tournament?
"The team wouldn’t have been any different if the WJC had been held in Europe — a small change somewhere, maybe. But the fact that it is held in Canada frees up maybe one or two players that might not have made it over to Europe."
A lot has been said about Rasmus Dahlin, and he will be a player that every NHL team would want in the 2018 draft. Dahlin has an offensive upside that few Swedish defencemen have, even in NHL.
After Larsson returned from the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, Dahlin has still been the better player. While being small and younger than everyone else, his hockey sense and skill is out of this world. He draws comparisons to a certain Erik Karlsson with his skating and offensive skill, and for once these comparisons aren’t just empty words, they are absolutely spot on.
Then there is Alexander Nylander, but not having been exposed to the broader hockey public in North America there are a few names that stand out on the Swedish roster, starting with the Captain Joel Eriksson-Ek and followed by Lias Andersson.
Coach Montén says he is happy with the players on his team, but also points out that Sweden “didn’t stand a chance against the best Russian team in August, nor the US team in July.... Our goal is to be in the medal games, and when we are there anything can happen!"
Still, the team is raised to the roof in Sweden, as most of the requested players from the AHL were made available. In Sweden, it’s medal or bust, especially after the last two tournaments from which Sweden has left empty0-handed.
It remains to be seen what the new organization surrounding the Swedish team can accomplish.