Sweden has not lost a round robin game in over ten years but their success in the playoffs hasn’t been as good – they’ve won gold only once during that time. This year, their strengths are in net and on the blue line but their problem area is down the middle. Let’s take a closer look at the players they’re bringing to the tournament this time around.
Sweden has a number of quality wingers. Their leading wingers are second round picks Samuel Fagemo (LAK), Nils Höglander (VAN) and Jonatan Berggren (DET) who are expected to play top-six roles with power play time. Fagemo and Höglander played together with good results in the U20 Four Nations tournament in Helsinki a little over a month ago, so they will likely stick together on the top line. Fagemo already played in the tournament last year.
Additionally, they have two projected top five picks in Lucas Raymond (2020) and Alexander Holtz (2020) who will likely play together on the third line but they will get lots of power play time as well. They might be only 17 years old but they’re so skilled offensively that it wouldn’t be shocking if they became offensive leaders on this team. They have also proven to be difference-makers even in high-stakes situations.
Nikola Pasic (NJD) is expected to fill the final top nine wing spot. He isn’t a well-known prospect – he
went undrafted in his first try and then only got drafted in the seventh round last summer (I thought he was draft-eligible already in 2018 but I was wrong about that) – but he has sleeper potential. He’s had a great season in Allsvenskan, and he’s skilled enough to play a big role in this event.
If there’s an injury or someone slumps badly, Albin Eriksson (DAL) is more than capable of playing a top nine wing role if needed. But until then, he’ll play a more defensive role on the fourth line. The former 44th overall selection may not have the same amount of natural offensive skill as the players ahead of him but he certainly isn’t a player without skill.
So Sweden is pretty set at wing but their problems are down the middle. David Gustafsson (WPG) is expected to be their number one center, and even though he has played in the NHL, he isn’t really known for his great offensive contributions at any level. He has some skill but he’s not really the type of player I would want on the top line. But he can be a good complementary player offensively, and with his strong defensive game, he can take care of defensive responsibilities while the more skilled players at wing take care of offensive contributions more. He also brings leadership abilities, and he’s a returning player from last year’s team.
Karl Henriksson (NYR) is Sweden’s second best center but he will likely play on the third line with Raymond and Holtz because he has a history of playing with the two of them in different tournaments, and he also played with Raymond on Frölunda’s junior team last season.
We are likely going to see Oskar Bäck (DAL) on the second line when in fact he should be used on the fourth line at this level. This is the biggest concern I have with this team. Bäck is a fine player but doesn’t really have the type of offensive skill to play a top six role. But he can be a good complementary player who plays a very reliable defensive game, so maybe that works in a short tournament like this. He also has experience from last year’s tournament.
This is clearly the strength of this team – their defense is arguably the best in the tournament. Rasmus Sandin (TOR) and Nils Lundkvist (NYR) are expected to lead by example and play a strong two-way game while also contributing a lot offensively, including on the power play. They were both used on Sweden’s top power play in their pre-tournament game against Czech Republic. Either one could end up being on the tournament’s All-Star Team. Both were part of the team already last year.
Adam Ginning (PHI) is the Captain and will play a big role for some reason but he won’t provide much offense. Instead, he will be used a lot on the penalty kill and will have good physical battles by the boards and in front of the net. He was also on the team already last year.
Tobias Björnfot (LAK), Victor Söderström (ARZ), Philip Broberg (EDM) and Mattias Norlinder (MTL) are all good puck-movers with pretty good all-around game. Björnfot and Söderström are excellent defensively but don’t lack offensive skill either. Broberg and Norlinder are more focused on the offensive side of things but they play pro hockey against men successfully, so they are not liabilities defensively either. Söderström was used on the second power play unit against the Czechs.
This group has six puck-movers, so that part of the game is definitely not a concern. Most of the players are also solid defensively, so this group doesn’t really have any weaknesses. Five first round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick – that’s the group of defensemen Sweden has. Norlinder was drafted 64th overall, and that’s the worst draft number any of them has.
All three goalies from last year’s team aged out but nonetheless, Sweden has three great options in net. Hugo Alnefelt (TBL), Erik Portillo (BUF) and Jesper Eliasson (DET) are all very good prospects with lots of potential. Any of them could end up being the number one goalie but my guess for that role is Alnefelt. He has been pushed to the SHL level because of injuries but he’s been better than expected there. Alnefelt was also amazing in the U20 Four Nations tournament in Helsinki a little over a month ago, so I think that was the final deciding factor.
Portillo is likely to be the number two but if Alnefelt shows any signs of weakness, Sweden should have no problems giving him a chance to steal the job. Eliasson is likely the number three but could surprise if given the chance.
My prediction is that Sweden wins their group in round robin. That should allow them to play against the Czechs in the quarterfinals which should be a winnable match-up for them. But after that, it’s difficult to see Sweden advancing to the final because of their lack of quality options down the middle. They will likely control the flow of the game because of their strong back-end, and strong goaltending gives them a chance to win any game. But it is a bit questionable if they can generate enough offense to beat a team like Canada, USA or Russia.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of IIHF.com