Sweden, along with the seven other teams participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, announced its 16-player preliminary roster Monday.
The strength in Sweden’s roster is the defense which includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes), Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Nicklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago Blackhawks), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings) and Anton Stralman (Tampa Bay).
With the seventh spot likely going to 24-year-old John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars, that leaves the eighth spot up for grabs among six other defenders — Jonas Brodin (Minnesota Wild), Alex Edler (Vancouver Canucks), Tobias Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets), Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks), Johnny Oduya (Dallas) and Mattias Ekholm (Nashville Predators).
That decision must be made by Jun. 1, when the full 23-man roster must be announced.
Of the six defensemen listed, the least notable is Ekholm. But that does not necessarily mean he is the least likely.
This season, the 25-year-old has developed into the complete player the Predators have been hoping for. Ekholm is in the midst of a career year, scoring a career-high 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) through 64 games this season.
Ekholm has proven to be a reliable two-way defenseman. The reason it took so long for Ekholm to hit the next level is because of Seth Jones. Once Jones was traded, it allowed Ekholm to have more ice time in all situations, especially on the power play.
With Jones, Ekholm’s average even ice time per game, power play ice time, and shorthanded ice time was 16:44, 0:09 and 1:23, respectively. Without Jones, Ekholm’s times have risen to 17:40, 2:13 and 2:13, respectively.
In comparison to other Swedish defensemen in the league, he ranks sixth in scoring and fifth in shot attempts (168).
Ekholm won bronze medals for Sweden at the 2010 World Junior Championship and 2014 World Championship. He also represented Sweden at the 2015 World Championship.
If experience is the determining factor, Ekholm will be on the short end of the stick to Edler or Oduya, who both played for Sweden at the 2014 Olympics. If the selection committee wants a defenseman that is flashy, Ekholm will be looked over, too. However, if Team Sweden wants a reliable, smart two-way defender with size, Ekholm is their guy.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.