Sweden's Jacob De La Rose (Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Underdog Denmark has some top-end talent, but Team Sweden captain Jacob De La Rose led his experience squad to a smothering of their plucky opponents in Toronto.
Make no mistake: Swedish goaltender Linus Soderstrom earned his keep against Denmark. Even though his squad eventually won easily with a final score of 5-1, the New York Islanders prospect actually faced more shots than his Danish counterpart in the first period - and some of those attempts were dazzling.
Denmark is no ordinary minnow: The Scandinavian nation came into the tournament fresh off a warm-up at the World Jr. A Challenge and boasts a top-10 NHL draft pick in Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers, plus dangerous Columbus prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand. Both play major junior hockey over here and both had excellent opportunities to score, but Soderstrom was there each time.
“He had a really good game," said Swedish defenseman William Lagesson. "We're comfortable with him. There's a good connection between him and all the D.”
Players such as Lagesson, an Edmonton pick, and Andreas Englund (Ottawa) made sure the Danes had a rough ride if they got near Soderstrom and despite some great chances, neither top-liner scored on the afternoon. With Denmark being top-heavy, Ehlers and Bjorkstrand received a lot of attention from the Swedes and Ehlers drew three penalties in the first period alone thanks to his speed and elusiveness.
“I knew it was coming," Ehlers said. "I just tried to play my game. They took penalties and that's good for us, we just didn't finish.”
And that was the key. Sweden buried its chances with an offensive attack led by captain and Montreal prospect Jacob De La Rose, who netted three points and was named player of the game. Toronto pick William Nylander and Carolina prospect Lucas Wallmark also had nice goals to pace the Swedes, though the team wasn't completely satisfied with their effort.
“It's always tough to play games like this because everybody expects us to win," De La Rose said. "Overall it was a good game. We just have to make fewer mistakes in our own zone – I think we created all the chances for them. We were too lazy on the power play and stuff, so we have to step up when we play better opponents.”
But this does look like a Swedish squad that will be trouble for other elite nations. The defense and forwards such as De La Rose and Detroit pick Axel Holmstrom demonstrated shutdown acumen, which bodes well for the medal round. As De La Rose noted, the power play was a mess and the 1-3-1 formation with one true point man is not a favorite of mine (Canada used it last year, much to its detriment).
For Denmark, the next two games will be interesting. The Danes scared the heck out of the Russians in their first game, so the Czechs and Swiss will have to be on guard, even if Sweden rolled them.
“I would have liked to have the first goal, I feel that would have helped us a lot," Bjorkstrand said. "We came out OK. We made some bad plays that cost us goals.”
Top NHL Prospects in the Game
1. Nikolaj Ehlers - The Danish winger was impossible to corral and had numerous chances. His speed and elusiveness is incredible, but Soderstrom was his kryptonite.
2. Jacob De La Rose - Sweden's captain played a muscular game that helped create offense, but he also made the responsible plays that kept his team out of trouble in the 'D' zone.
3. William Nylander - His goal was definite highlight-reel material and the vision and speed he brings to the ice is daunting.
4. Linus Soderstrom - The New York Islanders pick held the fort early, taking away the bottom of the net and staring down Denmark's most dangerous all night.
5. Oliver Bjorkstrand - Speed is the name of the game for him and he had some amazing chances because of it.