And we’re off! We debuted the latest round of World Cup 23-man roster predictions Wednesday with Finland. Next up, we have Sweden. Boy, do the Tre Kronor look formidable on paper entering September’s tourney. For years, people have said “Canada’s B squad could win” at elite international events, but the Swedes are so stacked that their Bs would have a fighting chance, too.
It was painfully difficult to pare down the Swedish roster, but here it is, with a stamp of approval from my friend and THN correspondent Uffe Bodin, a.k.a. Sweden’s best hockey writer. A reminder: teams must name at least 16 players by March 1 and their full 23-man rosters by June 1.
The sample size is big enough for Lack now that he can be trusted if pressed into duty as a starter. He hasn’t excelled in Carolina, but he showed a lot last season in Vancouver. The popular pick to be The King’s primary backup is Jonas Gustavsson, but my money’s on Lack getting a shot this time.
There’s very little to say here. Gold medallist, elite, clear-cut starter, future Hall of Famer.
The towering Canucks netminder was still a Florida Panther commodity and merely trying to sort himself out when the 2014 Sochi Olympics game along. He’s matured into something much more in the Canucks system under the tutelage of Rollie Melanson, who told me last week that the key was getting Markstrom to trust his 6-foot-6 frame and stop overplaying the puck. Markstrom’s ceiling is higher than Lack’s. Markstrom could one day succeed Lundqvist as Sweden’s starter.
On the bubble: Jhonas Enroth, Jonas Gustavsson, Robin Lehner, Anders Nilsson, Linus Ullmark
Sweden is the one nation with blueline depth to rival Canada’s. Don’t believe me? Consider that Ekman-Larsson, a borderline top-10 defenseman in the sport, may not play on the Tre Kronor’s top pair. Left-shooting Victor Hedman and right-shooting Erik Karlsson make more sense together. A do-it-all talent like Ekman-Larsson on the No. 2 pair is terrifying.
Remember when the Swedes, uh, forgot to put Hedman on the 2014 Sochi Olympic squad? Don’t count on that happening again. Ever. Hedman can dominate a game all on his own. He’s the type of player who could bridge the gap from silver to gold.
Someone has to do the dirty work on this team, and Hjalmarsson, a three-time Stanley Cup champ with Chicago, is the perfect man to do it. He’s big, he’s strong, he blocks shots, he’s plenty mobile for his size, and he can play a shutdown role.
The millennium’s best offensive defenseman will play about half of every game at the World Cup and terrorize opponents in the process. For every giveaway he makes, he generates several major scoring chances the other way with his unrivalled quarterbacking ability. He’s worth his weight in gold, even if he’ll never be a dominant defensive player.
The best thing about having offensive dynamo Klingberg on the roster? He wouldn’t be asked to do too much, even if he’s capable. The Swedes can use him as a power play specialist. He has a knack for scoring clutch goals.
As if the Swedes needed another well-rounded force who can do a bit of everything on the ice. Wow. Lindholm, a first-round pick in 2012, is maturing into a horse for the Anaheim Ducks. I almost chose veteran Niklas Kronwall instead, but Kronwall is starting to break down physically in his mid-30s. It wouldn’t surprise me if he needed to sit out the World Cup to rest up for the 2016-17 season anyway.
Hopefully playing with Hedman in Tampa Bay will attract enough spotlight for Stralman to crack the World Cup squad, too. Stralman isn’t flashy, but he’s one of the premier defensive defensemen in the game, with a strong positive impact on possession.
On the bubble: Jonas Brodin, Alexander Edler, Mattias Ekholm, Jonathan Ericsson, Carl Gunnarsson, Oscar Klefbom, Niklas Kronwall, Adam Larsson, Johnny Oduya
I like Backlund as the 13th forward. He has excellent two-way ability up the middle and can be pressed into relief duty as a shutdown center. He still occasionally teases with some scoring ability, too. As an alternate captain for Sweden’s 2014 World Championship squad, he had five goals and eight points in 10 games.
If the underrated playmaking behemoth wasn’t ruled out of Sochi’s gold medal game because of sinus mediation that was deemed an illegal drug, would Sweden have defeated Canada? You never know. Only six players have more points than Backstrom since he joined the NHL nine seasons ago. He deserves to center his nation’s top line.
Eriksson has played well enough this season to make his first couple campaigns with Boston feel like they were just bad dreams. He’s rediscovered his scoring touch to accompany his responsible 200-foot game. He feels like a lock to make the team and should play on a scoring line.
Still cutting his teeth as an NHLer, Forsberg could slide anywhere up and down Sweden’s lineup. He could headline an exciting first line, showcasing his blossoming sniper skills. Or coach Rikard Gronborg could defer to his veterans and ease Forsberg in with limited minutes. Either way, he’s too good not to pencil into the lineup somewhere.
It’s not that Landeskog deserves only a checking role. He’s a high-end offensive player. Few of the Swedish forwards, however, are bruisers, so someone needs to throw his weight around and keep opposing defensemen honest. Landeskog can do that. He’s a brick house who throws punishing hits on the forecheck.
Here’s a wild-card pick. Lindholm, chosen fifth overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013, has an elite pedigree. He hasn’t wowed with his offensive numbers yet, but he’s still just 21. He’ll have better linemates with Team Sweden and can play right wing despite being a natural center. Color me intrigued.
It’s sometimes tempting to call Nyquist a “disappointment,” as he hasn’t duplicated the torrid pace he set in 2013-14, when he ripped off 28 goals in 57 games. Nyquist, though, is a legit top-six right winger despite being drafted 121st overall in 2008. That makes him a success story. He should find a home on the Swedish squad as a trigger man.
I can’t be a hypocrite. I was one of the people who wrote Daniel off when he declined a couple seasons ago. I figured he’d never be the same after the 2012 Duncan Keith hit. That chomping sound is me finishing my last few bites of crow. Daniel has plenty left to give and will be one of the team’s veteran leaders.
Henrik continues to chug along as one of the best two or three pure playmakers of his generation. He’ll join Backstrom as Sweden’s prime puck distributor up front.
He teases, then regresses, then teases, then regresses. It still feels like Silfverberg will be a 30-goal NHLer someday. He shoots plenty and does so with an excellent release. He played for Sweden in Sochi and should make the World Cup squad, though it’s tough to say how high he climbs on the depth chart.
As a big and rangy center, Soderberg brings something different to the table. He’s talented enough to play on a scoring line but would make a formidable fourth-line center.
Fun fact: Steen has the highest goals per game among all Swedish NHLers over the past four seasons. How’s that for underrated?
Zetterberg is the clear captain choice after wearing the ‘C’ in Sochi. His offense is declining in his mid-30s but he’s such a well-rounded player that he can still help the Swedes wherever he plays. Perhaps Gronborg plays ‘Z’ with his Detroit teammate Nyquist, though I don’t currently have them together.
On the bubble: Patrik Berglund, Andre Burakovsky, Jimmie Ericsson, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist, Marcus Johansson, Marcus Kruger, Oscar Lindberg, Joel Lundqvist, Rickard Rakell, Victor Rask, Mika Zibanejad
OTHER WORLD CUP ROSTER PROJECTIONS
Feb. 17: Team Finland: http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-finland/
Feb. 19: North America
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin