Skip to main content

Why Sweden is the favorite to win this year's World Junior Championship

Our prospect expert believes the Tre Kronor will triumph in Finland. Can a veteran squad led by Toronto Maple Leafs pick William Nylander and Chicago prospect Gustav Forsling bring the Swedes their first gold medal since 2012?
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The reason the World Junior Championship is so fun is that in the past five years, five different countries have won the gold medal. That parity is a blessing to the tournament, but it also makes it difficult to handicap a showdown in which two teams with championship aspirations often meet in the quarterfinal, as Russia and the United States have done in the past two years.

But if we're talking favorites for the 2016 installment, which kicks off in Helsinki on Boxing Day, I will take Sweden. And here's my logic:

In a tournament filled with precocious teenagers, the Swedes will have a surprisingly veteran lineup. Top guns William Nylander (Toronto), Axel Holmstrom (Detroit), Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles) and Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia) were all on the team last year and will return with a year's worth of strength, growth and experience.

On the back end, offensive defenseman Gustav Forsling (Chicago) will once again take the point on the power play, where he was devastatingly effective in Toronto at the 2015 world juniors. Sweden with the man advantage is going to be a sight to see, trust me. Other returning blueliners include William Lagesson (Edmonton), Andreas Englund (Ottawa) and Sebastian Aho.

And in net, the squad can choose between the experience of Linus Soderstrom (NY Islanders) or the upstart Felix Sandstrom (Philadelphia).

But I'm not here to simply list off all of Sweden's good players – and there are more, trust me. The main thrust of my argument here is that Sweden's squad will be deep, talented and battle-tested. They almost all play against men, whether in Sweden or the AHL, and the returning players have extra motivation thanks to last year's swoon.

In Toronto, Sweden looked great until the semifinal, when the Russians knocked them out of gold-medal contention with a 4-1 thrashing. Then, the Swedes put in a less-than-stellar effort to cede the bronze medal to Cinderella Slovakia, helping goalie Denis Godla further cement his cult hero status.

So this squad has something to prove. There is venom to draw from, blood to be wiped off their lips. The fact the Tre Kronor can win gold on Finnish ice after their arch-rivals took the trophy on Swedish ice two years ago can only motivate them even more.

As a bonus, here are my "All-WJC" pre-tournament teams. I have not included David Pastrnak of the Czech Republic, since the Boston Bruins haven't made a final decision on sending him yet, but if he goes, he would definitely be on the first team. And yes, Finland's Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi will also be ones to watch, but I couldn't find a spot for them in what promises to be a very competitive tournament field.

First Team

Forwards: William Nylander (SWE), Auston Matthews (USA), Jake Virtanen (CAN)

Defense: Gustav Forsling (SWE), Zach Werenski (USA)

Goalie: Ilya Samsonov (RUS)

Second Team

Forwards: Mikko Rantanen (FIN), Dylan Strome (CAN), Mitch Marner (CAN)

Defense: Ivan Provorov (RUS), Jakub Zboril (CZE)

Goalie: Vitek Vanecek (CZE)


Nazem Kadri

Nazem Kadri Still Talking To Teams

Nazem Kadri remains the biggest name available among this summer's unrestricted free agents. Rumors continue to link him to the New York Islanders, but the center's representatives are reportedly still talking with other clubs.


World Junior Championship Roundup: Canada, Sweden, Germany Snag First Wins

Canada and Sweden both won their first games of the World Junior Championship, while Germany bounced back with an important win over Austria on the second day of action in Edmonton.


Oilers Superfan Ben Stelter Passes Away

Edmonton Oilers superfan Ben Stelter has passed away at the age of six after a battle with cancer, his father announced on Twitter.