Team Sweden. You know who they are, they tend to do really well when hockey is involved. Known for their strong defense and their dynamite starting goaltender Henrik Lundqivst, the Tre Kronor is a favourite in every single international event at pretty much every level. Obviously, in a small international tournament like the World Cup, Sweden will be a contender, and after a bunch of medals at the Olympics and the World Championships over the past few seasons, it’s easy to predict them near the top.
For the first of a two part series, I’ll look at what Sweden’s roster could look like on the back end. Just think: the idea of Erik Karlsson and Oliver-Ekman Larsson defending Lundqvist is something you’d dream about. But it’s true, we’ll have a chance to see this once again after a succesful 2014 Olympic tournament. That alone makes them dangerous.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 10 candidates filling up the back end for a very solid Swedish roster. Click here for all my previous World Cup previews.
Henrik Lundqvist – Anders Nilsson – Jhonas Enroth
I have absolutely no idea how Lundqvist got chosen as the number one goalie on this list. Completely dumbfounded. Lundqvist is a very accomplished goaltender with a gold medal to his name, an award he won during his NHL rookie season in 2005-2006. While he hasn’t won a Stanley Cup just yet, he’s been one of the best goalies in the league ever since making the transition over and should undoubtedly get every single start in this tournament.
If he forgets to show up or injures himself or whatever, the team’s backup options are not exactly at the same level. Anders Nilsson likely won’t get used in a game, but if he does, he’s more than capable of getting the job done. In fact, during his one season with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan, Nilsson led the entire league in shutouts with 6 on the year. He’s been big for the team pretty much every time he’s played for them, grabbing a silver and a bronze in two of his past three World Championship events. Nilsson was traded by the Chicago Blackhawks to the Edmonton Oilers this past summer, and while Cam Talbot and Ben Scrivens will split the duties with the big club, Nilsson doesn’t plan to stay in the AHL for too long.
Jhonas Enroth will most likely find his way onto the roster in 2016 and if he can turn around his career in Los Angeles, you can expect to see more of him long term at the World Championships. The Top Goaltender at the 2013 World Championships while striking gold for his country, Enroth also was a member of the silver medal winning Olympic team in 2014, despite sitting on the bench for the entirety of the event. Enroth didn’t have a lot of success in his stints with the Buffalo Sabres or Dallas Stars, but the talented young goalie may be able to do something with the LA Kings this year. Could it reignite the power we expected from Enroth?
Erik Karlsson – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
You won’t find many defensive pairs as strong as these two here. Starting with Karlsson, the Ottawa Senators defenseman is easily one of the best blue liners in the NHL, proven by his two Norris Trophies at the young age of 25. A very dynamic defender who knows how to be effective in both the offensive zone and the defensive zone, Karlsson has a whopping 140 points in his past 164 games since a leg injury took him out of action back in 2012-2013. A champion at almost every level of international hockey, Karlsson led the entire Olympic tournament in points back in 2014 with eight, good enough to help his Swedish team win the silver medal. Look for the Senators captain to be a very big player for the Tre Kronor in Toronto next year, an event that Sweden will easily be a contender in.
Ekman-Larsson is as close to a copy of Karlsson as you’ll get on this team. A tremendous two-way talent from the Arizona Coyotes, OEL finished with 12 points at the 2015 World Championships, good enough to finish first in scoring for all defensemen. A leader with the Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson had 23 goals last season to give him more goals than assists during his 43 point campaign. OEL wasn’t needed to be a huge contributor at the Sochi Olympic games, but now that he’s 24 and proving himself to be a valuable asset, you can expect him to continue on from his tremendous World Championship performance and move towards being a long term Swedish defensive star.
Victor Hedman – Niklas Kronwall
So, yeah, remember when Hedman missed out on playing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics? Don’t expect that to happen again. He was chosen second overall behind John Tavares back in 2009, after all. Easily one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, Hedman was a favourite to battle for the Norris Trophy all year long and was easily a top candidate for the Conn Smythe award during the NHL playoffs. Hedman was huge (no pun intended) during Tampa Bay’s run at a cup in 2015, but fell a little short thanks to a rock-solid Chicago squad. There’s a good chance the Lightning will find themselves competing in the finals again in the near future, and Hedman is the man to lead the charge from the back end. Can he do something similar for Sweden?
Stralman is somewhat of a cool success story. After pretty much getting forgotten about during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stralman has turned out to be a very valuable player during his NHL career. Considered to be a favourite among stats geeks, Stralman has been a good addition to the Tampa Bay back end, joining forces with Hedman to help the Lightning reach the finals for the first time since 2004. His international experience is somewhat limited, with his last World Championship appearance back in 2009 being his most recent stint (he won his first and only medal, a bronze), but the 29-year-old is currently excelling in his prime. If you get him with Hedman, you could have a very sound defensive duo behind the two stars in front of them.
Anton Stralman – Niklas Hjalmarsson
While Hedman has his skyscraper frame to intimidate opponents, Kronwall may literally be the hardest hitting defenseman in the entire world. The oldest defenseman on this list at 34 years old, Kronwall is also the only defenseman on this team to be featured in the Triple Gold Club (World Championship, Olympic and NHL championships). In fact, the 2005-2006 season was a season to remember for Kronwall, who won gold at the World’s and Olympics just months apart. Kronwall will bring valuable veteran leadership to a team with many young defensemen, something that can be counted on down the stretch when the games start getting important.
Hjalmarsson is almost forgotten about every time you hear about Chicago’s strong blue line year after year, and when you play behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, it makes sense. But with three Stanley Cup titles and an Olympic bronze to his credit, don’t you think he’s doing something right? He’s often praised for his incredible shot blocking ability and he’s never afraid to get dirty and raise the pace of his game. He was a long time favourite under previous coach Par Marts’ regime, so it’ll be interesting if he can impress Rikard Gronborg. But heck, his defensive game is solid enough that you could pair him with Karlsson and it wouldn’t look out of place.
Klingberg is going to be a very good player for a very long time. A strong option on the power-play, Klingberg had 40 points in 65 games as a rookie last year. To put that into perspective, Karlsson had 26 points in 60 games during his freshman year back in 2009-2010. His six points at the World Championships in May was further proof that Klingberg’s offense is truly a weapon. He’ll make a case to get some power-play time during the tournament, and while he wont get a crazy amount of ice time, he’s a good bet at moving up the ranks before the tournament comes to a close.
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