Forty-eight. That’s the number of consecutive wins Sweden has in the preliminary round of the World Junior Championship, a streak that dates back to to 2006, and a meeting against Kazakhstan will set the stage for Sweden to win No. 50. To put that in perspective, a few of the team’s projected top players for the upcoming tournament were just four years old when the streak began. It’s one of most incredible streaks of all-time.
But it’s also one that means much less when you notice just the single gold medal beside Sweden’s name in the record books in that span.
Has anything changed?
It’s starting to look like the same-old, same-old: the team is loaded with impressive depth and has one of the best defense groups in the tournament. But for one reason or another, the pursuit of gold has backfired over the past decade. Sweden’s quarterfinal loss to Switzerland in January will go down as one of the team’s most embarrassing losses, and Sweden’s run in the World Junior Summer Showcase earlier this month didn’t give fans much to get excited about. The Tre Kronor won two of its five games and were blown out in two losses. The Swedes then went on to lose all three games at the Four Nations Tournament in late August, albeit with some key players absent.
If Sweden were to get the best possible roster together – minus defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, of course – there is no reason why a medal shouldn’t be in the cards. But what does Sweden’s projected roster look like ahead of the world juniors in the Czech Republic in December?
Filip Hallander – David Gustafsson – Samuel Fagemo
Jonatan Berggren – Jacob Olofsson – Nils Hoglander
Alexander Holtz – Karl Henriksson – Lucas Raymond
Albin Eriksson – Oskar Back – Simon Holmstrom
Sweden’s depth will win games. Fagemo’s 25 points in 42 games were the second-most among U-20 players in the Swedish League last season, and while he was quiet at last year’s tournament after getting chances early, his game has grown so much over the past 18 months that he’ll be relied on as a leader this winter. He seemed to click well with Gustafsson and Hallander in Plymouth, and the trio displayed chemistry after getting spending time together at the 2019 world juniors.
After two years of limited international experience, Berggren, a Detroit second-rounder in 2018 (33rd overall), will hope to recapture the magic that saw him score 23 points in 21 international contests as Sweden’s most dominant U-18 player two years ago. Having playmaking center Olofsson back at his natural position – he struggled on the wing last year – will help. Hoglander, though, might be the most interesting player on the line. He struggled to generate offense in Rogle last season but showed improvement as the season drew to a close.
The third line will be the one to keep an eye on. Holtz and Raymond are prime candidates to be selected in the top five of the 2020 draft and have ripped apart any tournament they’ve been apart of in their young careers. The Terror Twins have the best chemistry of any U-20s duo, and New York Rangers prospect Henriksson has done a nice job of gelling with them.
One of the more controversial omissions from the roster this summer was Gunler, who had 27 goals in 31 games in the Swedish U-20 league before starting off strong in the SHL with Lulea. Gunler, a top 2020 draft prospect, has a powerful shot and can score in bunches, but he can be inconsistent, which the Swedish coaching staff has noticed. If he makes the team as the 13th forward, it’ll allow him to move around the lineup as a utility player and special teams specialist. He’s talented enough to make the cut, but will the team elect to choose someone older and bigger?
Rasmus Sandin – Adam Boqvist
Philip Broberg – Victor Soderstrom
Filip Johansson– Nils Lundkvist
How do you say “wow” in Swedish? That’s the only way Sweden’s defense corps can be described. All seven defenders listed above were first-round picks.
This lineup assumes that Sandin (Toronto) and Boqvist (Chicago) won’t make their respective NHL teams, which is no guarantee. Sandin was one of Sweden’s top players at the 2019 tournament and should get a game or two in the NHL with Toronto. Like Sandin, Boqvist is a dynamic offensive defender who exudes confidence and can be play a shutdown role when asked. If these two are loaned out, we’re looking at the top defensive pairing in the tournament.
As for the second pairing, Broberg was one of the best players at the Summer Showcase and has seemed to calm his game down. He’s uber-talented with the puck, though prone to giveaways in his own zone. That wasn’t an issue in Plymouth, so perhaps we’re about to see an improved version of Broberg this season. Soderstrom, meanwhile, isn’t going to light the world on fire, but he’s perhaps the most competitive player on the roster. He’s responsible with the puck and can fill in the gaps when Broberg rushes up ice.
Sweden has been blessed with quality goaltending over the past few years and goaltending typically hasn’t been the biggest issue in the medal round. The wild card right now is Lindbom. The Rangers’ second-round pick in 2018 (39th overall) impressed last season at the U-20 level, albeit in limited action due to injuries, and he was supposed to get his first big shot with the Swedes this summer. However, he was taken out of action early after a blow to the head, a concern given his concussion history. If he can stay healthy, the top goaltender from the 2018 U-18 World Championship and Sweden’s starter at every event in which he’s played will get a shot at the top job. Eliasson was one of the best goaltenders in the Swedish U-20 league last season and can steal a few games along the way, too.
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