2022 World Junior Championship Team Sweden Preview

Lately, the World Junior Championship has become synonymous with disappointment for Sweden. Despite owning the longest undefeated streak in tournament history at 54 round-robin games — which was snapped by Russia last year — and being the third-winningest nation in tournament history, they haven’t won a gold medal since 2012. They haven’t been completely shut out, winning three silvers and two bronzes, but they’ve gone medal-less five times in 10 years. For one of the world’s premier hockey nations, that’s an upsetting record.

Will this year be different? Major pieces of last year’s roster are ineligible to return, including leading scorer Noel Gunler and captain Philip Broberg, but they’ll be replaced by an incredibly strong crop of first-timers. The Swedes also possess arguably one of the best goalie prospects in the world in Jesper Wallstedt, who’s returning for his second tournament. Better yet, this year’s Group B is on the weaker side, as the Americans and Russians both look less intimidating. Slovakia and Switzerland look stronger than before but still don’t have the talent to overtake Sweden.

The World Junior Championship is always an unpredictable tournament and anything can happen, but Sweden will look to re-establish dominance this year after their streak was broken and will also want to prevent their gold drought from extending into double digits. Here’s a look at who could be responsible for that task.

Forwards: Sweden Has High End Skill Even Without Raymond

The big question surrounding Team Sweden is whether Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz will be allowed to return to the World Juniors. The pair, nicknamed “The Terror Twins” after their dominance when playing together, have been two of the most exciting rookies in the NHL this season. Raymond has been electric with the Detroit Red Wings, scoring 21 points in 22 games, and although Holtz has mainly spent 2021-22 in the minors, he so far has six goals in seven games. At this time, it looks like just Holtz will be allowed to return to the tournament. It will be tough to see the “Twins” broken up, but it still gives Sweden an incredible goal-scoring presence up front.

Alexander Holtz, New Jersey Devils
Alexander Holtz has played six games with the New Jersey Devils this season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, the Swedes won’t fret too much over the loss of Raymond. Oskar Olausson, a first-round pick by the Colorado Avalanche, is having a breakout season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts and will return for his second tournament. He’ll likely man the first line with Holtz and William Eklund, who is finally playing in his first World Juniors. He was expected to play last year, but a positive COVID-19 test cancelled those plans. The 2022 tournament was also up in the air after he started the season with the San Jose Sharks, but he since has been loaned back to Sweden where he’ll almost certainly join the national team before too long.

Related: THW 2022 World Juniors Guide

Zion Nybeck and Theodor Niederbach are two other returnees who will give Sweden a huge boost on offence. Nybeck was expected to have a big tournament last year but put up just one assist in five games. This year should be different, though, as he’s already the national team’s leading scorer among forwards. That confidence, paired with his previous experience, should make him one to watch this year. Niederbach is another one to keep an eye on, as he’s in his second season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), and has incredible on-ice intelligence on and off the puck.

Despite having just four players eligible to return, the Swedes are still loaded with game-breaking talent. Boston Bruins first-rounder Fabian Lysell has been playing with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Vancouver Giants and averaging a point per game to start the season. Isak Rosén, a Buffalo Sabres pick, is a natural playmaker and has been one of the best U20 players in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season with Leksands IF. Winnipeg Jets’ selection Daniel Torgersson is a big, strong forward with excellent vision who has been a mainstay on the Swedish U20 National Team this season.

Daniel Ljungman, a Dallas Stars fifth-rounder, also should be considered a lock for the team, as he’s been playing very well with Linköping HC in the SHL and on been a consistent presence on the U20 team. His SHL teammate, Elliot Ekmark, should also earn a long look despite his 5-foot-9 stature, as he uses his speed and work ethic to create scoring chances. Simon Robertsson, a St. Louis Blues’ pick, is another good bet to make the team, especially if Holtz stays with the New Jersey Devils, as he brings a deadly shot to the right side. If the Swedes need size, New York Islanders’ prospect Alexander Ljungkrantz is a solid option and is excellent at doing the dirty work in the corners and playing with some grit, but also possesses solid speed and a good shot.

The 2022 draft-eligible Jonathan Lekkerimäki may make a push to make the team. He’s been one of the best players in Sweden’s U20 Nationell League and has appeared at both U18 and U20 events this season. Ranked just behind him is Liam Öhgren, who is also having a great 2021-22 season. His 16 games in the SHL ranks 14th among all U20 players and 15th in points.

Defence: Sweden Has Lots of Options

Unlike last year, only one defenseman from last year’s team is eligible to return, but the Swedes aren’t complaining, as Emil Andrae is ready to take over from the likes of Viktor Soderstrom and Rasmus Sandin as the nation’s premier offensive defender. The Philadelphia Flyers’ 2020 second-round pick has 14 points in 17 games in the Allsvenskan and leads all U20 players with seven points in six contests. He’s also a favourite to be team captain, as he already took on the mantle this season for Team Sweden in earlier tournaments.

Andrae will almost certainly be joined by two other 2020 second-round picks, Helge Grans and William Wallinder, both of whom were late cuts for the 2021 World Junior team and bring a blend of size, speed, and offensive support to the Swedish team. Grans spent this season playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate, the Ontario Reign and has six points in 11 games, making him the highest-scoring U20 defenceman in the league. Wallinder remained in Sweden in the SHL, where he’s put up nine points in 18 games, the second-highest total from a U20 defender.

The SHL’s U20 point leader, however, is none other than Simon Edvinsson. The sixth-overall selection at last year’s NHL draft already has 11 points this season and has drawn comparisons to Victor Hedman thanks to the way he uses his 6-foot-5 frame and plays a highly technical game. He’s dominated at every international level so far, and so while this is his first World Junior tournament, he’ll be looked to as one of the more experienced members of the team.

From there, it depends on what Sweden wants out of its blue line. If they want to build a fast, offence-first corps, then Joel Nyström will certainly make the team. The 19-year-old Carolina Hurricanes draft pick stands on the smaller side at 5-foot-10, but has elite quickness and agility, which enabled him to remain in the SHL for 20 games where he recorded six points. Undrafted prospect Måns Forsfjäll is also incredibly mobile and has played in every U20 game so far this season for Sweden. The 2022-eligible Ludvig Jansson would also earn consideration as he’s played well in the Allsvenskan this season and scored a goal in three U20 games.

If Sweden wants to add more grit and toughness, then Blues’ 2020 third-round pick Leo Lööf is likely destined to be part of Sweden’s World Junior roster. The tough-as-nails defender went over to Finland to play with Ilves this season but has been a mainstay on the top pairing with the U20 team alongside Wallinder. Anton Olsson, a Nashville Predators’ pick, is a solid stay-at-home defender who can shut down opponents. Filip Bratt, the brother of Devils’ Jesper Bratt, is also undrafted and is on the smaller side, but makes up for it with a high level of aggressiveness and physicality.

Goaltending: Sweden’s Crease is Rock Solid

There’s no question that Wallstedt and Calle Clang will return as the Swede’s top two options in goal. Wallstedt is the highest-touted goalie prospect Sweden has produced since Henrik Lundqvist and is the easy choice for Sweden’s starter. Last year, he backed up Hugo Alnefelt, appearing in just two games but posted one of the lowest save percentages of any goalie at the tournament. This season, he’s been starring with the SHL’s Luleå HF, recording an astounding 1.88 goals-against average (GAA) and a 0.917 save percentage (SV%). The experience and dominance make him an early favourite to be the tournament’s best goaltender.

Translated from Swedish: Jesper Wallstedt hailed by the team after his second straight shutout!

If Wallstedt falters, however, then Clang will make sure Sweden’s crease remains airtight. He has been lights out in international competition so far this season, posting a 1.72 GAA and a 0.938 SV%. He too was at the 2021 World Junior Championship but didn’t end up playing a game. Still, the experience of simply being there is invaluable, and the 2020 third-round pick will see a couple of games this year, likely against the Slovaks and Swiss.

As for the third goalie, the position is wide open and largely depends on who can hit a hot streak at the right time. After Wallstedt and Clang, Sweden has dressed four other goalies. Jesper Vikman suited up twice in U20 competitions and posted a 0.921 SV% and a 2.53 GAA. He’s also getting starting minutes with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, where he has a record of 6-3-1 with two shutouts in 10 games. Carl Lindbom also has two games under his belt and though his numbers aren’t as impressive as Vikman’s, he has long been part of Sweden’s international circuit and is eligible to return to the tournament next year. Philip Svedebäck and Hugo Ollas are the last two who have suited up for Sweden, but so far haven’t won a game for their nation and are longshots to earn a spot.

Roster Projection

Many European nations have an advantage over their North American counterparts when it comes to making their teams for the World Juniors, as they are able to practice and test their teams in various tournaments in the months leading up to the event. Sweden is no different, and nearly every player who will eventually make the final roster will have already played together in a different tournament. Using that information, here’s my best guess as to who Sweden will take to Edmonton at the end of December.

THW Projected Team Sweden Roster:

Goaltenders – Jesper Wallstedt, Calle Clang, Carl Lindbom

Defensemen – Emil Andrae, Helge Grans, William Wallinder, Simon Edvinsson, Joel Nyström, Leo Lööf, Måns Forsfjäll

Forwards – Alexander Holtz, Zion Nybeck, Theodor Neiderbach, William Eklund, Fabian Lysell, Oscar Olausson, Daniel Torgersson, Isak Rosén, Daniel Ljungman, Elliot Ekmark, Simon Robertsson, Liam Öhgren, Alexander Ljungkrantz

Sweden Needs a Big Playoff Performance

The Swedes might have this year’s most exciting roster at the 2022 World Junior Championship. Eklund, Olausson, Lysell, and Nybeck all have the potential to lead the tournament in scoring, and if Holtz is allowed to return to his third tournament, they’ll have one of the best goal scorers of any nation. Their defence is inexperienced, but not unskilled, and brings a mix of size and intelligence that few other nations can mimic. The crease, however, is their strongest area, as Wallstedt and Clang will form one of the most formidable duos at the tournament.

But this isn’t anything new for the Swedes. They’ve come with loaded rosters before and then failed to perform when the chips are on the table. If this group really wants to claim the gold medal, they’ll need to be ready for the second stage. They have the skill, even without Raymond or Holtz, but they need that aggressiveness to seize the prize they’ve been denied for nearly 10 years.

All the 2022 World Junior Championship Team Information:

Austria – Team Preview – Roster

Canada – Team Preview – Roster

Czech Republic – Team Preview – Roster

Finland – Team Preview – Roster

Germany – Team Preview – Roster

Russia – Team Preview – Roster

Slovakia – Team Preview – Roster

Sweden – Team Preview – Roster

United States – Team Preview – Roster

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