With the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Tournament underway, Team Sweden has had a decent start, beating its archrival, Team Finland, in overtime on Thursday.
Related: Takeaways from Sweden vs. Finland
In most tournaments over the last few years, Sweden has had one of the top teams on paper. However, winning gold is something that they’ve been unable to accomplish since 2012. The country’s frustration was perfectly represented by Lias Andersson throwing his silver medal over the glass when Sweden lost to Canada in 2018.
This year, Sweden will have something that they haven’t had since the 2018 tournament: two top-10 draft-eligible prospects. In that tournament, Andersson and Elias Pettersson played depth roles, thus they did not produce much offensively. This partly resulted in Sweden being unable to generate many goals in the semifinal and bronze medal game. Those were games where Sweden would have loved for its depth players to produce offence while its top players were limited.
Lucas Raymond & Alexander Holtz
In 2020, Sweden will count on the two top draft-eligible prospects, Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, to produce offensively to support the older core group of players. They could take inspiration from one of last year’s top picks in Kaapo Kakko of Team Finland in last year’s tournament. He didn’t dominate during the preliminary rounds, but he stepped up his game when it counted.
They could also take inspiration from 2016’s Team Finland, where Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi dominated the competition as top draft-eligible players to help their country win a gold medal.
With Sweden playing in a favourable group away from Canada, the USA and Russia, they will have every opportunity to dominate the preliminary rounds. However, elimination games are where they greatly underwhelmed by only winning a medal once over the past five tournaments. This year, the defensive core is once again one of the tournament’s best. The forward group is the bigger question mark that will decide how much offence Sweden can generate in the tournament’s more difficult game.
The two young players will likely play on the same line together, which is a good thing as they aren’t exactly the same type of player. Raymond has the characteristics of being more well-rounded in addition to his skilled hands. He is great at forcing turnovers and at starting counterattacks.
Holtz is more of a finisher who has great anticipation skills, meaning he could compliment Raymond nicely by joining him on counterattacks and finding open space to generate offence. Both players have strong playmaking and shooting skills, however, making it difficult for opposing players to foresee what play they may make while on the ice together. Thus, together they would be even more lethal as a duo that keeps defending opponents guessing.
International Experience With Sweden
They’ve proven this in the past, having won gold together at the 2019 World U18 Championships and finishing second and third in points with Team Sweden, respectively.
If Sweden wants to reverse its fate from the past few years, it will need players like Raymond and Holtz to contribute in all aspects of the game, particularly when they face off against other powerhouse countries such as Canada with its top draft-eligible prospects in Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield, or the USA with its roster full of NCAA-experienced players.
As two top draft-eligible prospects in perhaps the deepest class in recent memory, Raymond and Holtz have the potential to make a bigger impact than their predecessors in similar positions. Team Sweden’s group of forwards may need to score with a more collective mindset rather than rely on top-heavy talent. Therefore, Raymond and Holtz will be invaluable to Sweden’s gold medal hopes.