Team Sweden’s roster for the 2020 World Junior Championships will be a little different from what THW predicted earlier in the month. Adam Boqvist was not released from the Chicago Blackhawks and an injury to Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Jacob Olofsson also forced a tweak to the lineup. On the bright side, Rasmus Sandin (TOR) and David Gustafsson (WPG) were both released from their respective National Hockey League teams to participate in the tournament.
Regardless, Sweden should have an exciting blend of speed and skill on both offense and defense that will be capable of competing with the other giants in the tournament. The defensive core will surely be a strength boasting an array of mobile defencemen including many NHL draft picks. The forward group has at least two lines that can provide consistent offense, and the goaltending promises to be a positive factor as well.
Related: Gearing Up for the 2020 WJC
All in all, this team has a good chance of making some noise in this year’s WJC. X-factors and elite 2020 draft hopefuls Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz could be huge surprises for this team as well. So without further ado, here is how Sweden’s finalized 23-man roster plays out as THW goes in-depth:
Jesper Eliasson, Hugo Alnefelt, Erik Portillo
Judging by the exhibition games played so far including the latest one on Dec 22, it looks like the net belongs to Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Hugo Alnefelt, at least to start the tournament. The standout from the U18s and HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League should provide solid starting goaltending for this team.
After graduating from junior hockey and entering the big leagues, Alnefelt has been lights out for HV71. In eight games he has a sparkling 1.95 goals against average (GAA) to go along with an equally impressive .920 save percentage (SV%). At 18-years-old, he is already challenging the incumbent starter Jonas Gunnarsson and is looking like another solid goaltending prospect to come out of Sweden.
Erik Portillo and Jesper Eliasson will probably split duties as the backup to Alnefelt. The 6-foot-6 Portillo is having a monster season in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with the Dubuque Fighting Saints currently boasting a 2.05 GAA to go along with a .912 SV%. If Alnefelt falters, I don’t doubt that he will probably be the first choice to take the net.
Eliasson will also be a solid option for the Swedes as he also has SHL experience. Although, his last action in that league was back in 2018-19 when he played six games with the Växjö Lakers. He has spent his entire season so far in Sweden’s Swe-1 league with Almtuna IS recording a 2.42 GAA to go along with a .906 SV%. Based on statistics alone, Portillo should be the defacto backup, but I guess performance will dictate that.
Rasmus Sandin, Tobias Björnfot, Philip Broberg, Adam Ginning, Nils Lundkvist, Mattias Norlinder, Victor Söderström
Even without Boqvist Sweden has an elite group of young defencemen leading the charge. Sandin and Tobias Björnfot already have NHL experience with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings respectively and the rest have an elite pedigree with only two of them drafted after the first round. That’s a very royal defense core for the Tre Kronor.
This year’s defense will be led by Björnfot, Sandin and Philip Broberg. All of them are elite puck movers who never hesitate to jump up into the play.
With Boqvist not joining the team, a spot opened up for Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Victor Söderström. He was initially left off the preliminary roster but has now been given another lease on life. It will be up to the 2019 first-round pick to prove that he should have been on the roster from the beginning.
Before getting the call, Söderström was plying his trade in the SHL with Brynas accumulating nine points in 15 games so far this season. Judging by the final exhibition game lineup, he may actually usurp Mattias Norlinder and push him to the seven defenceman spot, as he was seen on the top pairing with Sandin in that game.
Complimenting them will be Norlinder, Adam Ginning, and Nils Lundkvist who are all great two-way defencemen capable of generating offence as well. Ginning will also supply physicality and a deterrent to teams like Canada who like to play a gritty, in-your-face type of game. Without a doubt, Sweden’s defense will be the envy of the tournament.
Lucas Raymond, Nils Höglander, Samuel Fagemo, Alexander Holtz, Jonatan Berggren, Oskar Bäck, Albin Eriksson, Nikola Pasic, Karl Henriksson, Linus Nässén, Linus Öberg, David Gustafsson, Hugo Gustafsson
Judging by the final tune-up game, Team Sweden’s offense will be led by a top line of Nils Höglander, David Gustafsson and Samuel Fagemo. Höglander, who was left off the roster last year, will be out to prove that was a mistake. He has been front and center in the highlight reels so far this season tantalizing fans with his unique combination of speed, creativity, and soft hands.
Joining Höglander will be Gustafsson and Fagemo who are also no strangers to the offensive zone. Gustafsson is the only forward on this team with NHL experience, with one goal in 22 games with the Jets. He hasn’t exactly lit it up on the scoreboard yet, but he can provide a very solid two-way game that compliments skilled forwards.
Fagemo is a scorer with a shoot-first mentality who is also fast and willing to go to the dirty areas. After being passed over in the 2018 Draft, the Kings took a flyer on him in the second round in 2019 after he turned heads in the SHL finishing the season with 14 goals and 25 points. He has started this season well too with 11 points in 20 games so far. This line could be a force boasting a good blend of grit, skill, and creativity.
As for the rest of the lineup, draft hopefuls Raymond and Holtz could provide some good depth if Raymond recovers quickly from the illness he currently is battling. Both of them will end up being high draft picks in the upcoming 2020 Draft. As such, it will be interesting to see if they can be a difference for Sweden this year.
The rest of the lineup contains a good mix of skill and offense, but not much elite proven talent. If they can band together and collectively provide offense, this team has enough to compete for a medal.
The Bottom Line
Make no mistake, Sweden’s success will run through their core of elite puck-moving defenders. Collectively they will be like another skilled forward drafted high in the first round. The forward group has scoring potential but is not a major strength of this team. If the defense can move the puck crisply out of the zone and onto the sticks of streaking forwards, this team will be hard to defend against.
The goaltending has depth with three goaltenders that have the potential to be starters in the NHL, so they could be a difference as well. The primary concern remains with Team Sweden’s head coach Tomas Montén and his tactics. If he can’t outcoach some of the stronger nations in the tournament, Sweden will once again be lamenting another WJC loss before the medal rounds begin. But if he can finally use the skill of this team to his advantage, Sweden could be wearing World Junior gold for the first time in eight years.
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Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.