Rickard Rakell was named to Sweden as an injury replacement, but he might lose his spot due to an illness. Gustav Nyquist and Mika Zibanejad could be two potential replacements.
Rickard Rakell was chosen by the Swedish team to replace the injured Alexander Steen for the World Cup, but it appears Sweden could be in need of a replacement for Rakell, too, as he’s questionable to suit up when the tournament opens later this week.
The Swedish World Cup squad announced ahead of Saturday’s game against Finland that Rakell would be sidelined with an illness, but the immediate belief was the 23-year-old center would be healthy enough to make the trip back to North America to play in the tournament. As it turns out, though, Rakell has been left behind in Sweden.
NHL.com's Katie Brown reported Sunday that Swedish coach Rikard Gronborg said Rakell, who is still battling his ailment, has undergone tests at Swedish hospital. However, because of the unknown nature of the illness, the team decided not to bring him along on their trip to Washington, where they’re set to play Team Europe on Wednesday in the final pre-tournament contest for both teams.
The good news for the Swedish side is that there’s still nearly one week before they play their tournament-opening game against Russia. That gives ample time for Rakell to potentially beat whatever illness he’s fighting right now and return to action ahead in time for the tournament. However, there’s little doubt the Swedish team has already considered who they’ll bring along if Rakell is ruled out of the World Cup.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Sweden can name a replacement up to 24 hours before the first tournament game, which means the deadline would be Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET. If Rakell can’t go, there are a number of players who could take his spot, including Gustav Nyquist and Mika Zibanejad.
When Steen was injured, Nyquist and Zibanejad were considered two of the frontrunners to take his spot, along with Mikael Backlund, who has since been named to the team as a replacement for original Swedish captain Henrik Zetterberg. If Rakell needs to be replaced, the more likely of the two to get the nod is probably Zibanejad, though, given that he’s a natural center and offers more versatility than Nyquist.
Sweden can’t really go wrong with either player as the replacement, though. This past season was a breakout year for Rakell, but Nyquist and Zibanejad have had two consistently strong years over the past two campaigns. Nyquist has scored 44 goals and 97 points in 164 games since the start of 2014-15, and Zibanejad has chipped in 41 goals and 97 points in 161 games over the same span.
UPDATE: Sweden has announced that Rakell is out of the World Cup, and NHL.com's Tom Gulitti reported that Rakell is dealing with a possible stomach virus. Patrik Berglund, 28, has been selected to replace him at the tournament. This past season, Berglund scored 10 goals and 15 points, and added another four goals and nine points in 20 post-season games. By passing over Nyquist and Zibanejad in favor of Berglund, Sweden has again opted to go with a sturdy two-way player over a more pure offensive talent. Rakell, who replaced Steen, brought similar two-way acumen.
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