Goalies: This was a tricky area for the Tre Kronor a year ago, but this time, even with some familiar faces, it’s safe to say that the goaltending won’t be the reason they struggle if they end up doing so. New York Islanders prospect Linus Soderstrom, the 2012-2013 top goaltender from the J18 Allsvenskan league, will be the starter once again after playing in seven games at the 2015 World Juniors. Soderstrom has never won a medal in any international competition for the Swedes and was actually quite impressive at the 2014 Under-18’s, but he’s definitely starting to improve his stock. He’s already got experience in the pro ranks over the past two years, and he proved himself to be quite solid in net for HC Vita Hästen in Allsvenskan this year. Felix Sandström is a highly capable goaltender who should shine for the team when the tournament heads back to Canada in 2017, but, for now, he’ll ply his craft as a backup to Soderstrom. Sandström could have been a top 60 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft if it wasn’t for early season injuries, but it looks like the Philadelphia Flyers have a potential gem hiding in Sweden. Could he end up taking over as the starting goalie before the tournament is over?
Defensemen: If you’re looking to find one of the best offensive defensemen in the World Juniors, Gustav Forsling is your guy. The 19-year-old, who doubled his point total from his first professional campaign with Linköping HC in the Swedish Hockey League last year, had a whopping eight points in seven games after helping set up five goals during the event. Forsling, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect, is a very reliable puck-moving defenseman that should be given a chance to lead the Swedish defense core to a chance at success. 18-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets first rounder Gabriel Carlsson will likely skate with Forsling on the top defensive pairing after seeing some action together in some pre-tournament action. More of a stay-at-home guy than a goal scorer, Carlsson is a tremendous shutdown defenseman that has been impressive in 24 games while playing with Forsling in Linköping. A member of Sweden at the 16, U17 and U18 levels already, this will be Carlsson’s first chance at playing for the World Junior team after seven games with the squad in various exhibition games already this year. A good performance should be expected out of Carlsson, who’ll likely return to the team for one more shot at a championship next year. Team captain Sebastian Aho will return to the team after putting on a strong effort in 2015, recording four points while playing in a second-line role for the Tre Kronor. Undrafted in the NHL, Aho will likely get picked up by somebody in a year or two if he has another decent showing for the boys in yellow and blue. William Lagesson had a chance to skate with Aho before the tournament began, with the Edmonton Oilers draft pick likely getting counted on a bit more than he was a year ago. And don’t forget about Jacob Larsson, an Anaheim Ducks first-rounder who’ll be making his World Junior debut this year after looking good at the Under 18’s back in April.
Forwards: When you have one of the best prospects in the entire world skating on your first line, you know you’ve got something special. That’s what Sweden has with William Nylander, a former first-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs that has absolutely dominated the AHL this season. A top scorer for a good chunk of the season, Nylander has the tools to become an elite scoring threat on the big ice and should lead the Tre Kronor to a good result in Finland. His younger brother, Alex Nylander, is also having himself quite the season, crushing all rookie competition in the OHL during his debut season with the Mississauga Steelheads. While the 2016 NHL Draft star likely won’t be counted on as much as his older brother, Alex has the chance to become as good, if not better, than William in the next couple years, so a chance to prove himself at the international stage could be big for the budding goal scorer. Another big-name player hoping for a good tournament is Oskar Lindblom, whose returning for a chance to help his country improve on their fourth place finish in Toronto. A good skater with many offensive options at his disposal, Lindblom finished with four goals at 2015 tournament while putting up a point-per-game. Another prospect within the Philadelphia Flyers system, Lindblom is always a big time player for the Swedes internationally, and as a 19-year-old currently in his final year of junior eligibility, he’ll be counted on to be a leader. Detroit Red Wings seventh rounder Axel Holmström could likely fill the number one centre role, seeing as the two-way forward with no relation to Thomas Holmstrom has looked good both internationally and with the Skellefteå AIK men’s club in the Swedish Hockey League. Holmstrom had one goal and six assists in seven games last year for the World Junior squad while playing on the first line with Nylander and Lindblom. Getting Adrian Kempe from the Ontario Reign of the AHL was a big addition to the already strong Swedish roster, especially after putting up eight points as an 18-year-old last year. This year, with Kempe batting near a point-per-game average with the Reign, he’s more than capable of putting on another huge performance. Joel Eriksson Ek, Dmytro Timashov, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jens Lööke are all capable of putting up points for the Tre Kronor, who easily have the offense to be a title contender on January 5th.
Projection: Last year’s loss to the Slovaks in the bronze medal game may be one of their most embarrassing losses at the international stage (nobody will ever forget Tommy Salo’s gaffe against Belarus at the 2002 Olympics). This time, it won’t happen again. With some of the best players in the entire tournament, Sweden is going to be a tough one to tackle, especially with the added pressure of wanting to beat their hated rivals from Finland on home ice. Sweden should be able to grab a medal, and don’t be surprised if it’s the shiny gold one.
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