Team Sweden goes into the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship as one of the favourites. Had the tournament been in Europe, they would probably have been the top favourite.
Since the loss to Finland at home in 2014, Sweden has disappointed, usually having a strong showing in the group stage to then fall in the semifinal and then not show up in the Bronze Medal Game. It is up to coach Tomas Montén to change that.
The Swedish goalkeeper, Filip Gustavsson, is playing in Luleå of the SHL and puts up decent numbers, but what Mr Montén has is a team with a defence that could be one of, if not the best ever, to wear the three crowns on their chest at the WJC.
While expectations are high on Rasmus Dahlin, the projected number-one pick in the 2018 draft, who has been discussed a few times on EOTP, the defence corps also features first-round picks Timothy Liljegren (Toronto Maple Leafs), Erik Brändström (HV71 and Vegas Golden Knights). Add Jacob Moverare (Los Angeles Kings) and Gustav Lindström (Almtuna and Detroit Redwings) to that line and you have quite a defence.
One of the better defenders on a stacked Växjö Lakers team is Linus Högberg (Philadelphia Flyers), taken in the 2016 draft, and he might be a player that not many North American hockey fans know about, and that could be a standout defender on the Swedish blue line this tournament. Högberg plays almost 15 minutes a night in a pro league against men in arguably the best team in Sweden at the moment. His skating and vision are things that stand out and he is stable in both ends of the rink. It seems that Philadelphia hit a home run with their fifth-round pick in 2016.
While the defence is great, one of the best offensive talents in the tournament will suit up for the Swedish team as well: Elias Pettersson. The Vancouver Canucks first-round pick in the 2017 draft has put SHL goalkeepers to shame, leading the league in scoring before he left for the WJC tournament.
That’s quite a feat for a young player like Pettersson. He has a fantastic overall game, but my guess is that Pettersson will terrorise goalkeepers with his lethal shot.
The offence is quarterbacked by Frölunda and New York Rangers prospect Lias Andersson and Buffalo Sabres property Alexander Nylander. Jesper Boqvist (New Jersey Devils) has just returned to the ice, but should be able help out in an offensive minded Tre Kronor. Djurgården’s Marcus Davidsson and Axel Jonsson Fjällby will rely on Skellefteå’s Tim Söderlund, and not the Montreal Canadiens Lukas Vejdemo as do in SHL play, for setup passes, but it will be a line that can pitch in.
Team Sweden final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|35||Olle Eriksson-Ek||G||SHL||Färjestad (ANA)|
|30||Filip Gustavsson||G||SHL||Luleå (PIT)|
|1||Filip Larsson||G||USHL||University of Denver (DET)|
|26||Erik Brännström||D||SHL||HV71 (VGK)|
|6||Linus Högberg||D||SHL||Växjö Lakers (PHI)|
|7||Timothy Liljegren||D||AHL||Toronto Marlies (TOR)|
|5||Gustav Lindström||D||Allsvenskan||Almtuna (DET)|
|27||Jacob Moverare||D||OHL||Mississauga Steelheads (LAK)|
|24||Lias Andersson||F||SHL||Frölunda (NYR)|
|21||Jesper Boqvist||F||SHL||Brynäs (NJD)|
|10||Marcus Davidsson||F||SHL||Djurgården (BUF)|
|22||Axel Jonsson-Fjällby||F||SHL||Djurgården (WSH)|
|17||Frederik Karlström||F||SHL||Linköping (DAL)|
|16||Linus Lindström||F||SHL||Skellefteå AIK (CGY)|
|19||Alexander Nylander||F||AHL||Rochester Americans (BUF)|
|14||Elias Pettersson||F||SHL||Växjö Lakers (VAN)|
|29||Oscar Steen||F||SHL||Färjestad (BOS)|
|9||Tim Söderlund||F||SHL||Skellefteå AIK (CHI)|
|28||Fabian Zetterlund||F||SHL||Färjestad (NJD)|
A defence that is built from the foundation of Lidström, Karlsson, and Ekman-Larsson is something to behold. The best of Swedish hockey for a while has been the defence, and it will be the same way here. The puck-moving, free-flowing swashbuckling defenders are backed up with skillful, positionally sound defenders, and it should be the foundation of the Swedish team.
Added to this is a forward unit where every line can produce, though a lot will be needed from the first line. The forwards fly under the radar thanks to the defence, but there are players who can score from every angle here.
You have to put the mentality of the Swedish team up as a weakness. When you lose medal games in so many World Junior Championships in a row, there is the all-or-nothing approach that can backfire.
The goalkeepers are good, but Filip Gustavsson needs to step up his game from his SHL performance in order for Sweden to challenge the North American teams that will play in front of big home crowds, and this is a small question mark that will have to be straightened out to an exclamation point.
There is no doubt that the X-Factor in the Swedish team will be the Lakers’ and Canucks’ top prospect, Elias Pettersson. He has deft hands and a lethal shot, and his teammates can’t even try to hide their excitement when speaking about him.
He is easy to forget with all eyes locked onto the other x-factor, Rasmus Dahlin, but leading the SHL in scoring at 19 is a feat that has only happened once before, and that person was Peter Forsberg.
The real truth is that the individual talent of the Swedish team is off the charts as players such as Andersson, Nylander, and Boqvist aren’t even considered among the top difference-makers
In Sweden there is a causal optimism to challenge for a gold medal. It comes down to Mr. Montén’s coaching and the weight of the high expectations of the Swedish media and fans. But I think Sweden will be in the most important game of the championship come January 5, and then we’ll see what this team really can handle when the pressure is at its highest.