While Sweden usually goes into the World Junior Hockey Championship as one of the medal favourites, this year will be an exception. The squad that coach Tomas Montén has assembled looks weaker than in previous years. The addition of Isac Lundeström from the Anaheim Ducks will negate some of this, but it is still a weaker Team Sweden than what the hockey world is used to.
However, the last time experts looked at a Swedish squad like this was in 2012, and we all know what happened then. Coach Montén is aware of the situation, and when he speaks in an exclusive for Eyes on the Prize, he says straight out, “We don’t have the first line forwards as we used to have, and I think that makes for a little bit different team.” Montén points to the depth of the team instead, having not picked 26 of the top players but rather having picked a team that complements each other instead.
This year’s team has three goalies in the preliminary squad and none of them really stand out as the clear number one. Olle Eriksson-Ek was in the squad last year but has really failed to impress in league play this season. It will be up to the goalies to fight it out to be the number-one in the tournament.
Sweden is built on what we have come to expect in recent years — a defence that can go toe-to-toe with any defence in the tournament and probably come out on top. The problem is that this time they might be relied upon to score as well.
Team Sweden final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|1||Adam Åhman||G||SHL||University of Denver (DET)|
|35||Olle Eriksson-Ek||G||SHL||Färjestad BK (ANA)|
|30||Samuel Ersson||G||HockeyAllsvenskan||Västerås (PHI)|
|3||Adam Boqvist||D||OHL||London Knights (CHI)|
|12||Erik Brännström||D||SHL||HV71 (VGK)|
|5||Adam Ginning||D||SHL||Linköping HC (PHI)|
|9||Nils Lundqvist||D||SHL||Luleå (NYR)|
|8||Rasmus Sandin||D||AHL||Toronto Marlies (TOR)|
|16||Filip Westerlund||D||SHL||Frölunda HC (ARI)|
|15||Oskar Bäck||F||HockeyAllsvenskan||Bofors IK Karlskoga|
|10||Emil Bemström||F||SHL||Djurgårdens IF (CBJ)|
|23||Lucas Elvenes||F||SHL||Rögle BK (VGK)|
|11||Samuel Fagemo||F||SHL||Frölunda HC|
|27||David Gustafsson||F||SHL||HV71 (WIN)|
|19||Filip Hållander||F||SHL||Timrå IK (PIT)|
|29||Pontus Holmberg||F||SHL||Växjö Lakers (TOR)|
|26||Rickard Hugg||F||OHL||Kitchner Rangers|
|22||Isac Lundeström||F||NHL||Anaheim Ducks|
|18||Jacob Olofsson||F||SHL||Timrå IK (MTL)|
|13||Johan Södergran||F||SHL||Linköping HC (LAK)|
|17||Filip Sveningsson||F||HockeyAllsvenskan||IK Oskarshamn|
|28||Fabian Zetterlund||F||SHL||Färjestad BK (NJD)|
An injury to Timothy Liljegren has changed the dynamic a little bit and Montén has called up Philip Broberg (2019 NHL Draft) as a potential replacement. Even though Broberg is strong and plays professionally with AIK, it will be a weaker team without Liljegren. The defence is a who’s who of recent first-round draft picks from Sweden; Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Sandin, Nils Lundqvist, Erik Brännström, and an injured Timothy Liljegren. That’s a strong defensive line up — quite possibly the strongest in the tournament — and that’s without last year’s star of the tournament Rasmus Dahlin. Broberg is a projected first-rounder as well, and is someone Montreal fans should keep an eye on as he is expected to be within reach come June. The three outsiders are Filip Westerlund (second round in 2017), Adam Ginning and Jacob Ragnarsson, who were taken outside the first round last year.
The forward line lacks a certain star quality. For obvious reasons, Jacob Olofsson will have all eyes on him by Canadiens’ fans. Montén looks to use Olofsson in any way possible, even highlighting the fact that Olofsson can play on the wing if necessary. Bemström, Södergran and Hålander have all impressed in SHL but have seen limited play. Two of the players to really keep an eye on are Samuel Fagemo and Nils Höglander. Fagemo went undrafted in the 2018 draft, was invited to Arizona training camp, and has played on Frölundas first line in the SHL in recent games. Höglander, who has adjusted to pro hockey in a nice way, is quick and short but built like a tank.
Rögles Coach Cam Abbott told Eyes on the Prize that Höglander can be a huge revelation in the tournament “if he plays to his strengths” and in the last game before training camp, Höglander opened the scoring for Rögle and was chosen as player of the game. I think he might be a revelation, if he makes the team, and someone that could rise in the draft rankings.
It will be a skilled team with a lot of pro experience, especially on the defence. It is a mobile puck-controlling defence that will form the foundation of the Swedish team. Built for forcing turnovers and using skating and vision to pounce on the opposition with deadly speedy counterattacks. Players such as Holmberg, Höglander, and Hållander had great potential during the start of the SHL season and have grown in to bigger roles with their team. Now, the question is if they can bring it to the international level, or will the defence have to be counted on for goals as well? Sweden will stand or fall with its defence, it is as simple as that.
The goalies are not the same strengths as what we have come to expect from the Swedish team. They have been playing in Swedish second division (HockeyAllsvenskan) and are relatively equal, which is the cause for some concern. Since there is no first goalie from the start, the goalkeepers will have to fight it out for the starting position. The result can be that a hot goalie emerges, but what if neither of them breaks out?
When it comes to the forward group, they are relatively fast and quite a few of them can finish with skill. Fagemo has been named, but the junior scoring leader in SHL is Djurgårdens Erik Bemström. It was important to get Lundeström to a relatively anonymous forward group, not only for his playmaking skills but he will also be relied upon to carry the team with his leadership. For Montreal fans, it will be interesting to follow Olofsson, who is a jack of all trades according to the Swedish head coach. Olofsson was close to making the team last year and has centered the first line in the European U20 tournaments. He will most likely centre the second line but can even be used as a winger if Sweden ends up having to chase the game.
It would be easy to point to Lundeström, but I’ll go with a personal favourite of mine — Nils Höglander. Off ice he is shy, almost timid, but on ice he battles hard and has a knack for scoring the breakaway goals. I know for a fact that more than one team has had scouts in Ängelholm. At least two teams scouted him multiple times and conducted interviews with the forward.
Sandin is also a player that can have a breakout, being a smooth skater with good vision. He impressed a lot during the preseason and he was certain to have been a lock in the first defensive pairing in SHL for Rögle, but Toronto used their rights for a first-rounder and brought him over immediately for this season to play with the Toronto Marlies.
The expectations in Sweden should be to make the playoffs. When you are in the playoffs, anything can happen. The team hasn’t really preformed in the tournament games during the autumn with Sweden finishing last in the Czech Republic in November — albeit without any players from the North American leagues. The addition of these players make the team unknown and the injury to Liljegren makes for even more uncertainty. But Sweden should, without a doubt, avoid a similar experience as Finland had in last year’s tournament.
It is somewhat of a weird situation to predict where Sweden ends up this time around. There are no budding superstars on the team, but rather a team that might be greater than the sum of its parts. Last time Sweden had a team like that, things went very well in Canada. The question is, can Tomas Montén break out as a coach and lead Sweden to a successful tournament much in the same way as Roger Rönnberg did?