The line of Alexander Nylander, Rasmus Asplund and Maple Leafs pick Dmytro Timashov has led the veteran Tre Kronor squad in scoring and they’re doing it with speed and flash.
HELSINKI, FINLAND – Conventional wisdom dictated that Sweden’s offensive charge at the 2016 world juniors would be led by the veterans. William Nylander, Axel Holmstrom, Oskar Lindblom and Adrian Kempe all came in with great resumes and experience. But wouldn’t you know it? The Tre Kronor has actually been paced by three youngsters who are absolutely flying out there.
The line of 2016 draft prospects Alexander Nylander and Rasmus Asplund with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov has been lightning at the tournament, ranking 1-2-3 in team scoring. Nylander’s eight points through four games has him tied for third overall with American phenom Auston Matthews and Finnish star prospect Patrik Laine.
Against Canada on New Year’s Eve, the three youngsters caused havoc with their speed and penchant for finding secret spots in the offensive zone, perfect for backdoor passes.
“They move the puck real well; it’s hard to defend against them,” said coach Rikard Gronborg. “And they challenge the play, so it’s hard to defend them 1-on-1. They’ve been really effective.”
The chemistry on the line is interesting since Sweden started the tourney with William Nylander playing with his younger brother and Timashov, while Asplund was on the fourth unit. But William’s concussion against the Swiss shook things up and the new trio has been quite good. Strangely enough, you can’t point to an obvious link between the three. Nylander plays in the OHL and Timashov in the Quebec League, while Asplund is with Farjestad back home in the SHL – so they haven’t even all been playing on the same-sized ice surface this year (and Timashov has been in the ‘Q’ for two seasons now). Nevertheless, the chemistry is obvious.
“It’s going to be better and better each game we play; we have a good feeling on the line,” Asplund said. “We keep passing the puck and creating chances.”
Already looking like a first-rounder for this summer’s draft, Asplund is making a case to move up from the No. 25-30 range.
“Very smart player,” Gronborg said. “You can put him in any situation and he excels. Defensively, our centers are really the glue between the defensemen and the forwards, so he has a big role there. At the same, in the offensive zone he moves the puck real well and thinks the game real well.”
As for Nylander, he has pretty much cemented his status as a top-ten pick and could threaten for top-five, depending on how his season in Mississauga shakes out.
Timashov is the oldest player on the line and brings nice experience with pressure thanks to his role on last year’s Quebec Remparts, the Memorial Cup hosts and QMJHL playoff finalists. A points machine taken in the fifth round by Toronto in 2015, he is averaging nearly two points per game for Quebec this season, though he may get traded to powerhouse Shawinigan after the world juniors is over. Playing on a hot line in Helsinki only furthers his momentum.
“I’m working pretty hard and doing the simple things well, so it’s working out,” he said. “And we all play well together.”
The key now is to cash in. Sweden’s unblemished preliminary round landed them Slovakia in the quarterfinal – the easiest of the Pool B draws, but no pushover. It’s hard to believe the Swedes have only one world junior title in the past 30 years and two in total, but 1981 and 2012 are indeed the flagstones. And while the road won’t be easy, it’s hard to bet against a team strong in all three zones right now.
“Of course we have a lot of confidence,” Timashov said. “But we have to keep working.”