Despite being nearly unbeatable during the round-robin matchups year in and year out, Sweden enters the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) in search of its first gold medal since 2012. This edition of the Tre Kronor will have as many as ten players from the 2022 lineup that are expected to return for the 2023 WJC. Unfortunately for Swedish fans, it will not include Simon Edvinsson, the Detroit Red Wings’ 2021 sixth-overall pick. However, Sweden’s forward group is still strong with five first-round picks from the 2022 NHL Draft in Isak Rosen (14th overall, Buffalo Sabres), Jonathan Lekkerimaki (15th overall, Vancouver Canucks), Liam Ohgren (19th overall, Minnesota Wild), Fabian Lysell (21st overall, Boston Bruins) and 2023 top draft prospect Leo Carlsson.
Despite the loss of the behemoth defender, this edition of the Swedish WJC team promises to be capable of playing their traditional style of speed, mobility, and high-paced offensively-minded hockey to improve on their bronze medal win in the 2022 tournament. Here are four players who will have the biggest impact on the team’s success in Halifax and Moncton this year.
Leo Carlsson – Center
Playing for Orebro in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Sweden’s top professional league, Carlsson, who is a top 10 prospect in a very deep 2023 NHL Entry Draft, has been very noticeable so far this season. In 23 games, he has added 13 points, which is an improvement over last season which saw him score nine points in 35 games. Internationally in his age group, he has been a dominant offensive player scoring 11 points in six games.
Related: Guide to 2023 World Junior Championship
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At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, the 17-year-old center has been highly visible, even among men thanks to his size, but also due to his skill. Carlsson is an excellent skater, capable of reaching top speed in a step or two, and maintaining it even when using his edges to change directions.
Carlsson uses this skill set often, showing an affinity for beating defenders wide before cutting in towards the net and using his large frame to protect the puck before making a skillful pass, or accurate shot. Oftentimes, he will use an ability to make decisions and complete plays while at top speed to create offensive opportunities. His most important skill thus far may be his calm approach, as he doesn’t seem to panic when pressured by defenders. This allows him to hold possession for an extra moment as he waits for a high percentage opportunity, or the patience to simply make a safe play to minimize a counterattack.
Adam Engstrom – Defense
The Montreal Canadiens added Adam Engstrom to their prospect pool in the third round of the 2022 NHL Draft. What this means for Sweden is they add a player with professional experience who can solidify their blue line. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he has the size needed to play a North American-style game, which will be necessary for the NHL-sized rinks in Moncton and Halifax. His own game is based on his elite skating, allowing him to remain defensively reliable by using his footwork to keep tight gaps and position himself to prevent forwards from attacking the net.
Offensively, he is still raw as he doesn’t take advantage of his shot or use his speed enough in transitional play. Playing for Rogle in the SHL, Engstrom has scored three goals and four points in 21 games. He plays mostly on their bottom pairing; however, he does get the opportunity to sometimes play on the second unit power play. Engstrom will be relied upon to play in all defensive situations; he will also need to step up his transitional play, as Sweden’s offense is reliant on the rush to generate offense.
Liam Ohgren – Left Wing
Playing in a lesser role at the 2022 WJC, Liam Ohgren only provided one assist in seven games. This is expected to change in 2023. The Minnesota prospect is on loan, playing for Djurgardens in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-tier professional league in Sweden. He has six goals and nine points in 23 games played. The 6-foot-1 winger hasn’t yet played in a top role professionally, and yet still produces respectable offensive numbers. At the 2023 WJC, as a returning player, he will be relied upon as a top-line contributor and as a leader.
Ohgren plays a classic power-forward style, winning board battles, attacking in straight lines, and providing physicality while on the forecheck. All of which are ideal for a North American size rink. This, and his defensive abilities in positioning, aggressive puck pursuit, and long reach also makes him an effective 200-foot player. His skating is not a major strength of his game, but it isn’t a weakness either as he isn’t the swiftest skater but has a wide base, powerful stride, and excellent edgework that allow for him to remain in the play. He also boasts a powerful wrist shot with a quick release as well as good vision to make passes in traffic. His mature overall game will be essential for Sweden to compete for a gold medal.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki – RW
Returning as a 2022 bronze medal winner with Sweden is Jonathan Lekkerimaki. The Canucks prospect has arguably one of the best shots of any player in the tournament. Playing professionally for Djurgardens of HockeyAllsvenskan, he hasn’t had the success he has grown accustomed to scoring only one goal and five points in 20 games. He has been going through some growing pains as he adjusts to playing versus professionals. The 5-foot-11 winger is a pure sniper that is dangerous off the rush, fitting into the Swedish offensive system perfectly, making him an integral part of any success his nation will earn in this tournament.
Lekkerimaki uses his speed as a weapon, backing defenders off, and creating the space he needs to take advantage of his excellent shot. When facing off against other prospects in his age group, he has put his on-ice vision and hockey sense on full display, being a point-per-game player internationally, and this will make him a must-watch player when the WJC arrives in Halifax. He will use that prior international experience as well as the lessons learned with Djurgardens this season to help him in his hunt for gold.
Sweden will need to rely heavily on their talented forward group as this edition of the WJC team won’t have the same level of skill on defense as it has had in prior tournaments. Without any star power on their blue line, it must be seen as a pre-tournament weakness. Despite this perceived deficiency, Sweden is still a contender for the gold medal.