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WJC Preview: Sweden will lean on defenders in pursuit of podium

In the wake of a second-place finish with a veteran-laden team, a more youthful roster will be paced by its blueline as Sweden looks for consecutive finishes on the podium.

The Swedes went with an older group last year, and that helped them make it all the way to the final, where they lost in a controversial finish to Canada. The flip side is this year’s team won’t have much experience at this level, especially since No. 1 overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin is busy in the NHL.

Isac Lundestrom (Anaheim) is a perfect candidate to lead the team up front, but overall the forward group doesn’t have a lot of “wow” factor going for it. Emil Bemstrom (Columbus) has been hot, as has Filip Sveningsson (Calgary), but Lundestrom is the only first-rounder among the forwards. This group had trouble scoring at both the World Junior Summer Showcase and a Four Nations tune-up in November.

On defense, Sweden will rule. Erik Brannstrom (Vegas), Timothy Liljegren (Toronto) and Adam Boqvist (Chicago) lead the charge amongst the puck-movers, while Rasmus Sandin (Toronto) can also contribute in that capacity. Since the team has traditionally craved balance, expect long looks for Adam Ginning (Philadelphia) and Filip Johansson (Minnesota), both of whom excel defensively.

In goal, Sweden has Olle Eriksson Ek (Anaheim) as its presumptive starter, since he got the most work at the WJSS and was also the third-stringer on the team that won silver in Buffalo. He has the size but not the consistency just yet. Eriksson Ek is on loan to second-tier Karlskoga, so at least he’s playing against men and seeing plenty of action. If Eriksson Ek stumbles, the Swedes also have Samuel Ersson (Philadelphia), who is playing great in that same Allsvenskan circuit with Vasteras. Undrafted Adam Ahman is also having a splendid year, but he doesn’t have much size.

As always, this will be a competitive squad, and the blueline could be special. But we’ve seen great defenses fall flat when the goals aren’t going in at the other end (Finland, for example), and that, plus goaltending, will be a concern for Sweden in this tournament.

The Hockey News' Gold Odds: 10/1

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