Here we are after two pre-tournament games for Team Sweden, both of them against the ‘Leijonat’ from Finland, resulting in one loss (2-3 after overtime) and one win (6-3). A summarized verdict thus far — promising yet unsatisfactory. In other words, everything is as normal at this stage.
One of the things that you look closely to in these kinds of games is the chemistry in the lineup. If the team wins or loses is less important as long as the performance indicates improvement for each shift. And since the coach of Team Sweden, Rickard Grönborg, didn’t make any notable line changes between game one and two, there are 120 minutes of hockey to base this conclusion on. Is the Swedish chemistry working?
Not fully, I would say, with the concern of one specific player in mind. Carl Hagelin, the recent Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has looked scanty at times in these couple of games, and I think I know why.
He’s playing where he shouldn’t be and he isn’t where he should be.
Now, let’s start with the first one. Where is he playing? Well, Grönborg seems to view Hagelin as a fourth line player, because that’s where the coach has put him in both games against Finland. Nothing wrong with that, except that the environment that surrounds the lightning fast Swede in that line is no good for him.
Starting out in game one, he played next to Marcus Krüger of the Chicago Blackhawks and Jakob Silfverberg of the Anaheim Ducks. In game two, when Krüger was scratched due to a day-to-day injury, Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames joined in.
None of these three is a bad player in any way – not to forget, they all play significant parts in their respective team in the NHL – but Hagelin doesn’t benefit from playing alongside them. The object of this line tends to become too defensively oriented for him to bring his best offensive effort. One of the most widespread misconceptions about Carl Hagelin is that he is all pace and no brain. That’s why he often winds up in the back zone, killing box play minutes, while being neglected when it’s time to attack.
Just by looking at the statistics from these two pre-tournament games, Hagelin’s unflattering shortcomings appear themselves. Not only didn’t he score any points. In both games, he was the only Swedish forward failing to get a single shot on goal.
So where should Carl Hagelin be playing in the World Cup of Hockey?
The answer to that is waiting a couple of steps up in the hierarchy. Thus far, the Swedish second line has consisted of Filip Forsberg, Nicklas Bäckström, and Patric Hörnqvist. To split them up would be madness, one might assume after seeing that they collected four goals in the last 6-3 win. However, that line hasn’t really shown that good of a chemistry as most people would have expected. It’s important to acknowledge that at least two of the goals against Finland came from lucky bounces rather than extraordinary interplay.
In the long run, as far as the World Cup goes, I believe that it would be more favorable for Team Sweden to replace Hörnqvist with Pittsburgh teammate Carl Hagelin. Considering the success of the notorious HKB line, with Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel in the Penguins’ seizure of Stanley Cup earlier this year, Sweden could see some similar development.
Filip Forsberg is the closest Sweden can come to Phil Kessel. And Nicklas Bäckström is the closest to Nick Bonino, with the remark that Bäckström arguably is a better player than Bonino. If put together with them, Hagelin would be able to bring his A-game, once again becoming a complement to a natural born sniper and a natural born playmaker. Just like at home in Pennsylvania.
At the same time, Hörnqvist would prosper next to Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Söderberg, I am sure.
So where could this go wrong? Can’t we make the HFB line happen?