The online hockey community was abuzz the other day when news broke that the NHL and NHLPA were discussing the possibility of hosting a World Cup in 2024. In case anyone needed a reminder, a Sidney Crosby led-Canada skated away with the trophy in 2016, sweeping Team Europe in a best-of-three final. Team Europe was runner-up to Team Canada in the Group A standings but advanced to the finale after knocking Sweden out in the semi-final. After securing the top spot in Group B by a single point over Russia and Team North America, the Swedes’ semi-final loss left a sour taste in the mouth of a country that always has high expectations for gold.
When Tre Kronor hit the ice in 2016, the team’s nucleus included the country’s all-time greatest players. Henrik Lundqvist was the backbone in the net, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin anchored the offense. Henrik Sedin served as team captain after an injury prohibited Henrik Zetterberg from participating in the tournament. Gabriel Landeskog was 23 years old then, and Erik Karlsson was one year removed from being the NHL’s best defenceman. The Swedish lineup was stacked with so many veterans that future 40-goal scorer Mika Zibanejad didn’t make the team.
The average age of Team Sweden was 27 years old, with the Sedins clocking in as the oldest (35) and Hampus Lindholm and Filip Forsberg registering as the youngest (22). Every player on the final roster (23) had a home in the NHL, but in 2022, the team who came up short is now missing eight players from the previous World Cup tournament. Whether they retired (Lundqvist, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrik Berglund, and the Sedin twins) or found homes in Europe (Jhonas Enroth, Marcus Kruger, and Carl Soderberg), there is quite a lot of room for roster turnover.
Sam Hallam signed a four-year contract to coach the Swedish national teams in late 2021, meaning he’d be the man calling the shots for the 2024 World Cup. Hallam replaces former NHL player Johan Garpenlov, who had been head coach since 2019.
There will be some pressure on Hallam to change the men’s program’s direction since the country hasn’t earned a medal at the World Championships since winning back-to-back crowns in 2017 and 2018. The junior program has three medals (one silver, two bronze) in that same time frame.
Mika Zibanejad – Filip Forsberg – William Nylander
Sweden has won two gold medals at the World Junior Championships. Their latest one was in 2012, when Zibanejad scored the golden goal in overtime to secure a 1-0 win against Russia. Since then, he has become just one of the 47 players to achieve five goals in one game (2020). The NHL spring shutdown due to COVID-19 prevented him from reaching the 50-goal plateau that season, which would have tied him with Hakan Loob, Sweden’s only player to score 50. He’s an offensive threat whenever he hops over the boards. Without a doubt, he is the top Swedish center in the league.
One of his teammates during that 2012 tournament was Filip Forsberg, who, after signing an eight-year extension in 2022, may go down as the greatest player in Nashville Predators’ history. Whether scoring 30 goals a season or setting up his teammates for 30, he is the fuel for the offense in Music City. On the international stage, he has more appearances at the junior level than at the senior one. However, he’s got seven medals in nine appearances, showcasing his ability to handle the pressure of high-stakes tournaments.
Nylander is a wild card for a top-line role in this hypothetical 2024 World Cup simulator. He’s another player capable of scoring, with two 30-goal campaigns on his resume. Still, his Toronto teammates Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner usually get all the attention. Nylander has represented Sweden on nine occasions, winning a gold medal twice.
Elias Lindholm – Gabriel Landeskog – Rikard Rakell
Elias Lindholm just finished the best season of his career and has put the rest of the league on notice. As a vital member of the Calgary Flames offense, the country’s second-best center scored 42 goals while finishing plus-62 last year. Once considered a long shot at making the third or fourth line for Sweden (who have an abundance of depth at the position), he finds himself penciled in as the second line leader. If he continues to tear it up, there’s no denying him a spot in the top six. On his international resume, he has seven medals in nine appearances.
Gabriel Landeskog became the second Swedish captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup championship (2022) after Nick Lidstrom did it in 2008. The former Calder Trophy winner in 2012 is routinely a 20-goal scorer, hitting the mark in nine seasons. Reliable for his offense and leadership, he will find a home among the country’s top six forwards at any event he participates. Internationally, he has four medals in eight appearances, with two golds in the last five tournaments.
Rickard Rakell has proven he can be a top-six forward in the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins just paid him like one ($30 million for six years). Whether he gets a chance for more minutes or serves in the bottom part of the lineup, he makes the team based on his ability to score timely goals, including game winners with a personal best of ten in 2016-17. As an international player, he’s almost a point-per-game player with 38 points in 40 contests. He also has two gold medals in six tournaments on top of silver and bronze.
Elias Pettersson – Andre Burakovsky – Viktor Arvidsson
Elias Pettersson is about to enter his fifth NHL season, and people have begun to wonder if he will ever score more than 70 points in a season or if that is his ceiling. It is a fair assessment for a player drafted fifth overall in 2017. However, he still scores close to 30 goals every year, and despite his size, he has the skills to dangle the best defencemen in the league. On a team stacked with centers, he’ll slide into a bottom-six role where he can contribute when he needs to and doesn’t have to worry about being the center of attention.
Andre Burakovsky would not appear on anyone’s Team Sweden bingo card because he was born in Austria. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is an offensive threat wherever he plays and produces offense as a supporting cast member. He’s never scored 20 goals in a season, but the pressure is not on him to carry an offense. His international participation record isn’t as long as others, but he did light it up in his junior days with 32 points in 34 games.
Viktor Arvidsson was once part of a lethal offense in Nashville with his fellow countrymate Forsberg. Once a two-time 30-goal scorer, he is busy in Los Angeles finding the back of the net after some down years. He makes a great addition to this team because he already has chemistry with some teammates and can play either wing, a viable option in case of injury or a slump. Sweden may want to bring him for good luck, as he’s earned a medal in all five international competitions he’s been a part of so far in his career.
Nicklas Backstrom – Adrian Kempe – Patric Hornsqvist
Nicklas Backstrom may go down as one of the most gifted passers of his generation. As a member of the Washington Capitals, he’s helped his teammate Alex Ovechkin on his quest for the all-time goals record held by Wayne Gretzky. He has surpassed 1,000 games and 1,000 points, something few Swedish players have accomplished. If healthy, he earns his spot on the team based solely on his legacy. He also has 50 international points in 58 career games.
Last year, Adrian Kempe came out of nowhere to shock the hockey world, producing a career-best 35 goals, doubling up on his previous best of 16, as he had a breakout season and helped the Los Angeles Kings into the playoffs. He slides into the bottom six as a gritty winger who can chip in some offense. His international resume includes two gold medals in eight tournaments.
Patric Hornqvist is almost a lock for the team, based on Sweden’s depth at right wing. He joins Burakovsky and Victor Hedman as the only players in the lineup with multiple Stanley Cup titles. He’s also not afraid to get dirty and throw the body. Once a 30-goal-scorer, he plays a different role now, one this team could use to their advantage in tight contests.
Sweden has an abundance of NHL players at every offensive position, sprinkling their talents across the North American continent. There are no guarantees that anyone in this projection will make the team, so here are some honorable mentions: Joel Eriksson Ek, Gustav Nyquist, Mikael Backlund, Lucas Raymond, Jesper Bratt, Victor Olofsson, and William Karlsson.
Victor Hedman – Rasmus Andersson
When Victor Hedman retires, he will be one of the top defencemen ever to play. He was an anchor on Tampa Bay’s back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2020 as playoff MVP. At this time, he is the undisputed best player from Sweden and will be a leader on and off the ice anytime his home country comes calling. On the international stage, he has six medals (one gold) in eight appearances.
Rasmus Andersson had a career year with the Calgary Flames in 2021-22, emerging as one of the game’s best offensive players on the back end. He played every game, contributed on offense with 46 assists, and finished with a plus-30 rating, showing he’s not a liability to have on the ice on any occasion. The Flames consider him a top defenceman, and his ice time (22:40) reflects that. He is one of the building blocks in Calgary as the team continues to contend for another Stanley Cup.
John Klingberg – Rasmus Dahlin
John Klingberg was a star with the Dallas Stars, quarterbacking their power-play unit for years before signing with the Anaheim Ducks in 2022. The veteran of 552 games already has 374 points, with 148 coming on the man advantage. Although he could be a liability in the defensive zone with three straight seasons of a negative plus/minus rating, a change of scenery may work wonders as he gets to restart his career. Whether or not he returns to form in a new city, he is not afraid to get dirty on the ice, whether it’s hitting or blocking shots.
Rasmus Dahlin is the last Swedish player to go first overall in an NHL Entry Draft (2018). The Buffalo Sabres made him the top selection, and he jumped right into the NHL as an 18-year-old. As one of the cornerstone players for the Sabres, Dahlin represented Sweden at the 2018 Winter Olympics and remains the youngest player to ever play for Sweden at the World Juniors. He has only one silver medal in five international appearances, but he is just 22 years old and still has plenty of time to serve his country.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Gustav Forsling
Oliver Ekman-Larsson should make the team based on his leadership capabilities and consistent play in the NHL and international competitions. He’s a veteran of 66 games and has earned seven medals in 11 tournaments representing his home country. His production on the blue line isn’t what it used to be, and he is a liability with a bad minus-104 rating for his career. Yet, he will only be 33 at the time of the tournament bringing invaluable experience on and off the ice.
The final spot on the blue line will go to Gustav Forsling. As of right now, he has never represented Sweden as a senior but racked up 30 games at the junior level (through various tournaments) before finding a home with the Florida Panthers. He was the 22nd highest scoring Swedish player in the league, and his plus-41 rating was among the best. He may be a wildcard pick here, but he’s young (26) and should be hitting his prime by the summer of 2024. Only a terrible regression would cost him a chance to be part of the final roster.
Honorable mentions and potential seventh defencemen are Jonas Brodin, Mathias Ekholm, Oliver Kylington, Adam Larsson, and Eric Karlsson.
Jacob Markstrom – Linus Ullmark – Anton Forsberg
Jacob Markstrom is the current king of Swedish goalies in the NHL, picking up the mantle that Lundqvist left behind when he prematurely retired in 2020. During the 2021-22 season, he had a career year with 37 wins and led the league with nine shutouts. He always gives his team a chance to win, and when it’s time to represent his country, he’s always up to the task, with four medals to his credit on the international stage.
Robin Lehner has been a top-ranked goalie, even on struggling teams like the Sabres and Ottawa Senators. Questions regarding his health will make him the wild card for 2024 since he will sit out the entire 2022-23 season due to surgery. However, his absence will open the door for two other younger goalies to step up and serve in a backup role.
Linus Ullmark signed a big-money deal in 2021 with the Boston Bruins and is one half of a platoon with Jeremy Swayman. He gave weaker teams a chance to win every night in the past and is more than capable of securing his spot in this lineup. Ullmark has also been a starter in Buffalo and Boston, showing he can play in high-leverage situations too.
There will be some people who want to point out that Jesper Wallstedt could be the third-string goalie if he cracks the lineup and builds up his name in Minnesota. He may not be ready in 2024, despite owning the Swedish net at the junior level. Anton Forsberg is already an NHL starter and is rounding out his game, helping the Senators turn the franchise’s path around. Since there will not be a lot of competition for a third-string role with this club, he has a chance to slide right into place by continuing his strong play.
Sweden doesn’t have the depth in goal like Canada, Russia, or the United States, but outside of the starter and backup role, it is a toss-up on who attends practices and sits in the press box for the tournament’s duration. Sweden’s honorable mentions include Lehner (if healthy), Filip Gustavsson, and Jesper Wallstedt.
World Cup Gold or Bust
Sweden is known for producing elite-level hockey players who play across the globe. Whenever international teams get together for a best-on-best tournament, Tre Kronor fans expect a medal every time their country hits the ice. Their medal count has been low over the last few years, but one tournament can change all that. The 2024 World Cup will feature the best of the best, and Sweden always brings the best roster they can assemble. Whether the lineup features generational stars or guaranteed Hall of Famers, you can bet this team will be out for something much better than a semi-final overtime loss.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.