Next up is the WJC preview is Team Sweden. Sweden has been absolutely dominant in round-robin play for years, and have had mixed results in the medal round. Sweden won Gold in 2011-2012 and followed that up with back-to-back Silver Medals. Since then, however, the Swedes have lost the Bronze Medal game three straight years with a Silver and Quarterfinal loss last year. Sweden has perhaps the best defense in the tournament but may be challenged to score based on the depth at forward.
In goal, Sweden will likely look to Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Hugo Alnefelt. The 18-year-old was drafted in the third round this past draft in Vancouver by the Bolts and is the only goalie on the roster playing in the SHL. While he has only seen eight starts in the SHL his 1.95 GAA is very impressive. Other options for Sweden in goal will include Erik Portillo, a Buffalo Sabres prospect coming from the USHL. The third goalie is a Detroit Red Wings prospect Jesper Eliasson, playing in Allsvenskan.
As mentioned, the strength of Team Sweden lies in their defensive depth. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin looks to be the top option. Sandin has been playing extremely well for the Toronto Marlies for two seasons already and in his sophomore season looks very close to being NHL ready. Sandin can play big minutes in all situations for Sweden and should be a prominent player as he is an alternate captain. Sharing the top pairing role with Sandin should be New York Rangers prospect, 19-year-old Nils Lundkvist – not related to Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers 2018 first-round pick is already in his third season of pro hockey in the SHL with Lulea and is having a career year with 17 points after only 24 games. He is another prospect knocking on the door of a top-six NHL job.
Backing up their two top horses will be a trio of 18-year-olds in Tobias Bjornfort (LA Kings), Philip Broberg (Edmonton Oilers), and Victor Soderstrom (Arizona Coyotes). Bjornfort started the season in the NHL with the Kings playing in three games before being sent down for more seasoning in the AHL where he has nine points through 23 games with the Ontario Reign. Both Broberg and Soderstrom are playing in the SHL as pro players and are NHL bound with a year or two more of seasoning. This young trio are all excellent skaters, puck movers, and reliable defensively. Not sure if this is a result of a Niklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson influence, but Sweden has been producing elite defensemen for several years.
Rounding out Sweden on defense are 19-year-olds Mattias Nordlinger (Montreal Canadiens), and captain Adam Ginning (Philadelphia Flyers). Ginning is a 6-4, 205 pound physical and defensive defenseman that should see a lot of shut down minutes.
Where Sweden is a little thin is up front, specifically down the middle. Look for their top offensive threats to be a pair of 17-year-old draft eligible prospects. Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz are both expected to be picked as early as the top five picks in this June’s draft in Montreal and will be counted on for offensive production for Sweden in this WJC. Both players are already playing in the SHL for the majority of the season this year and producing respectable points.
Perhaps the default number one center will be Winnipeg Jets prospect David Gustafsson, who has made the NHL with the Jets playing the full season in the NHL. He has only one goal through 22 games played, so don’t expect an offensive outburst from the two-way 19-year-old.
Samuel Fagemo will be a returning player for Sweden and in last year’s WJC he only managed one assist in five games. However, Fagemo has been a prospect on the rise and is a bit of a late bloomer. He was drafted by the LA Kings in the second round in 2019 as an overage player. After a breakout season in the SHL with Frolunda last year and is back on loan this year. Through 20 games he has six goals and 11 points. Fagemo should be one of the Swede’s top offensive players.
Another player Sweden will look to for offense is another winger in Vancouver Canucks prospect Nils Hoglander. Hoglander may be small in stature but he has a motor and plays a physical game at times. He is a highly-skilled offensive winger and excellent puck skills. Yet another winger that is an offensive weapon for Sweden would be Detroit Red Wings prospect Jonatan Berggren. The 19-year-old is also in the SHL producing at a respectable clip and should be one of Sweden’s top scorers.
Karl Henriksson is a New York Rangers prospect and plays center. While not playing in the SHL he is producing points in the SuperElit and will compete for the first-line center position.
A sleeper player to watch will be New Jersey Devils 2019 seventh-round pick Nikola Pasic. The 19-year-old has 24 points through 28 games in Allsvenskan and is listed as a center and winger. There is a bit of buzz surrounding this player heading into the tournament and he may have a breakout performance.
Sweden will compete in Group A, so winning their fair share of round-robin games should not be too difficult, but like in years past, the real challenge will be in the Medal round where they likely will see one of Canada, USA or Russia in the first game.