Sweden is set to hit 10 years since their last World Juniors win if they don’t take gold this year. On top of having their absurd 54 game round-robin win streak snapped by the Russians last year, they also have only medaled just four times since their 2012 win. Not to mention losing to their Scandinavian rivals in Finland in tournament play a year ago as well. Safe to say the ‘Junior Crowns’ have seen better days.
Despite Head Coach Tomas Monten not having the services of Detroit Red Wings star Lucas Raymond this year, the Swedish team still is formidable. Six total NHL first-round picks are set to lead the yellow and blue in the coming weeks. New additions to the team are William Eklund of the San Jose Sharks (currently not with the team), and Simon Edvinsson. The key returns from a year ago is Minnesota Wild prospect Jesper Wallstedt and New Jersey Devils prospect Alexander Holtz. With Group A in this year’s World Juniors being headlined by the United States and Russia, how can the Swedes fare?
Make sure to check out all of our other IIHF World Juniors Previews.
Holtz, one-half of the terror twins with Raymond a year ago, should likely be the big name to watch for Sweden. Although he has six NHL starts this year, the bulk of his time has been with Utica Comets in the AHL. Along with his point per game pace there, last year in the World Juniors, he also put up one goal and two assists in five outings. His centerman will most likely be Oskar Olausson, top pick of the Colorado Avalanche this year. He has been laying waste to the OHL this year. 12 goals and 13 assists in 20 games. The highly touted Eklund most likely fits in at left-wing here. All things considered, that would be a stout top line.
Downwards, Sweden has some other skilled forwards on this year’s squad. Boston Bruins’ prospect Fabian Lysell is one that comes to mind outside of those top three. Currently, in the WHL, he is over a point per game player, averaging just under an assist per game as well. The winger’s tournament debut is worth keeping an eye on. Buffalo Sabres prospect Isak Rosén is another name worth keeping tabs on. As are the returning Red Wings prospect Theodor Niederbach, along with Zion Nybeck.
Just two forwards on the final roster are eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft. Those being Ake Stakkestad and Elias Stenman, who currently reside in the Swedish secondary and junior leagues respectively. Stenman had a great year going before he moved up to the SHL, recording 15 points in 13 games. He did however enter the 2021 draft and was not picked. Perhaps a good tournament this year could turn some heads.
If you’re looking for the next great Swedish defenseman, you won’t have to look too far. Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick by Detroit this year, has the potential to be big time. Central Scouting had him as the No. 2 international skater in his class, in addition to drawing comps to countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. By far he is averaging the most minutes a game by a rookie in the SHL with nearly 20.5 a game. In addition to leading all rookie defensemen in points with 12, featuring 11 assists. Safe to say Steve Yzerman is a fan.
If the 18-year-old Edvinsson is the top left shot for Sweden, the top right shot is another rookie in the SHL. Joel Nyström, a seventh-round pick by Carolina this year, only trails Edvinsson in most rookie defenseman statistics. He is however a net -4 to Edvinsson’s +6 but the point production is impressive all the same. Look for Nyström to be in play as Edvinsson’s running mate on one of the top two pairs.
Moving onto the remaining six defenders, starting with Los Angeles Kings prospect Helge Grans. He never made the trip last year despite being selected, but he is good for this year. Next is Anton Olsson, another resident in the SHL and a prospect of the Nashville Predators. Next are a pair of draft-eligible players in Victor Sjoholm and Måns Forsfjäll. Finally, there is Leo Lööf of the St Louis Blues, currently playing in Finland. In addition to Emil Andrae of the Philidelphia Flyers system. Of these eight he is the only returnee in this group. A fair assumption is that Sjoholm and Forsfjäll will serve as the reserves this year.
Back from the 2021 roster is Wallstedt, the 20th overall pick for Minnesota in 2020. In last year’s World Juniors, he played in two of Sweden’s eight outings. In those, he put up 2.4 goals-against average, along with a .924 save percentage. Currently, with Luleå Hockey in the SHL, he ranks second in the entire league with a 1.88 goals-against average and sixth-best save percentage at 91. With a strong year in league play and prior World Juniors experience, it feels sure that he is getting more than two starts this year.
As will be the case for just about every other squad, Sweden has a pair of extra netminders for the trip to Canada. Firstly is Jesper Vikman, a fifth-round selection by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020. The good news for him is that he is already in Canada. Vikman is currently with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, having a good but not great year. The third man in this unit, unfortunately, does not have the first name, Jesper to complete the trifecta. Calle Clang, a Penguins prospect, is likey the No. 3 man here, as he is not having the best year of the three by any stretch.
Player to Keep an Eye On
Fabian Lysell, 18, Right Wing, Vancouver Giants (WHL)/Boston Bruins
The expected top line for Sweden of Holtz, Olausson, and Eklund will obviously be the focal point of the squad. The real question is who will step up on those other three lines and be a playmaker. Lysell feels like the prime candidate to do just that. The 2021 Bruins’ first-rounder is in the middle of a tremendous first year in the WHL. Having shown a clear ability in Vancouver to put the puck in the back of the net and find teammates that can as well, Lysell should be a key contributor outside of those top three players. He probably won’t be headed to Boston this year, but a good tournament could go a long way in the eyes of Don Sweeney and Co. Look for Lysell to have a big tournament, even if it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.
Being in a group with the United States and Russia isn’t exactly ideal for Sweden. Then again, the gap between their last two round-robin losses is close enough to drive by now. Safe to say they should be fine in round-robin action. Sweden will open things up against Russia, followed up by Slovakia, the United States, and Switzerland. Barring absolute catastrophe, there should be no reason why Sweden isn’t in the tournament portion of the World Juniors.
From the Tournament onwards things get more interesting. With Canada, Finland, and Germany in Group A, Finland could potentially match up with any of those three in round one. Given that, this team could just as easily finish in a medal spot as they could go one and done. Regardless, this feels like a very solid squad this year, and Sweden should be competitive this year among some stiff competition.
Prediction for Sweden: Non medal placement
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