The Swedish World Cup team is getting an upgrade on the blueline, though it will come at the cost of one of their veteran leaders being forced out of the tournament due to injury.
It was announced Wednesday that Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, 35, will be unable to compete at the tournament and 22-year-old Anaheim Ducks rearguard Hampus Lindholm has been named to the team in Kronwall’s place. The announcement is somewhat surprising after Red Wings GM Ken Holland said Kronwall was feeling better heading into the season.
“He’s had much better training sessions this summer than he had last summer,” Holland told NHL.com. “He feels his leg is stronger and he’s done some things to be more prepared physically for the upcoming season.”
There was no indication from Sweden what exactly is ailing Kronwall, though there’s reason to believe he could still be dealing with the after effects of a knee injury that required surgery this past season.
Kronwall’s knee injury forced him to miss 18 games this past season, and he had surgery in mid-January to repair the ailment. However, only eight games after his late-February return, Kronwall was again forced onto the sidelines and missed three games due to a knee sprain. Once he returned, he played the remainder of the season, and Holland said following the campaign that Kronwall would not be going under the knife to repair his knee.
Regardless having to miss the World Cup, though, Kronwall has already been showing signs of slowing. His per-game production has dropped steadily over the past three seasons and at times he looked out of sorts on the Red Wings blueline. Some of the downturn in ability likely has to do with the knee injury, but Kronwall, who captained the 2014 Swedish Olympic team, probably wasn’t going to be the impact player for the national team that he had been in the past.
In fact, considering Kronwall’s play this past season, his selection as part of the originally announced 16-player Swedish roster was somewhat surprising. There could have been any number of younger, faster, arguably more talented options for the Swedish blueline, but the club chose instead to go with Kronwall. In that sense, there’s a silver lining to Kronwall’s inability to head to the tournament.
In Lindholm, Sweden adds a burgeoning top-pairing defender who posted 10 goals and 28 points this past season on a talented Ducks team. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he offers size, speed and shutdown ability, which makes him the perfect replacement for someone like Kronwall.
Realistically, it’s the latter — Lindholm’s defensive acumen — that makes him the choice for replacement. There were other options to replace Kronwall, including high-scoring rearguard John Klingberg and experienced veteran Johnny Oduya, but in replacing Kronwall the Swedish team likely wanted someone who could be relied upon in the defensive zone. Lindholm fits the bill perfectly.
Lindholm joining the Swedish team for the World Cup adds another name to the list of restricted free agent players yet to sign new deals who will compete at the tournament. As of Lindholm’s appointment to the Swedish roster, Russia’s Nikita Kucherov and North America’s Jacob Trouba and Johnny Gaudreau are also RFAs set to play at the World Cup without contracts for the coming campaign.
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