Sweden Looking to Spoil Finnish WJC-Party

A disappointing tournament for Sweden ended with an unexpected 4-2 defeat against Slovakia in the bronze medal game. Although the « Tre Kronor » team won all of their group stage games and went into the quarterfinals with the maximum of 12 points and the second most goals scored among all teams, they fell to Russia in the semi final 4-1. After that defeat they didn’t even secure at least the bronze medal and had to leave the World Junior Championship tournament without a medal for the first time after three consecutive medal performances.

Sweden had one of the most exciting players on the roster with Leafs prospect William Nylander last year and together with Oskar Lindblom and Adrian Kempe, there were two additional Swedish players within the top ten of the tournament’s scoring list.

The good news for Head Coach Rikard Gronborg is that all three players will suit up for the team in Helsinki. Next to those three guys, Sweden invited a couple of highly-touted players to selection camp. Some of them are already important core players for their teams in the Swedish Hockey League such as Axel Holmstrom of Skelleftea or Andreas Englund, who plays for Djurgarden Stockholm.

As always, Sweden will be a competitor for the gold medal and they will travel to Finland with a team which is competitive on all three positions. With Rasmus Asplund, Carl Grundstrom and Alexander Nylander there are three potential first round selections of the 2016 NHL-Draft. Especially Nylander could be picked as early as 8th overall, according to FutureConsiderations.ca and he will definitely be an exciting player to watch.

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Leader of this group though is without doubt William Nylander of the Toronto Marlies, who will probably become one of the best players of the tournament. Although Sweden’s offence will be dependent on his point production, they still have some other offensively skilled players. Especially Williams younger brother Alexander has played a solid season for the Mississauga Steelheads and is one of the top scorers of the OHL. It will be Interesting to see how he will do against stronger and older opponents in his first big junior tournament.

3 Players to Watch:

Axel Holmstrom (C, Skelleftea, 196th Detroit Red Wings)

The Detroit Red Wings might have found another late drafted gem in Holmstrom when they selected him in the seventh round last year. Holmstrom is in his second full season with Swedish top team Skelleftea. Although his point production has slowed down this season a bit, he is still on pace to play his most productive season. Holmstrom is good around the net and is an agile, explosive skater.

He would need to work on his strength and physical game in the Swedish League before he makes the move to North America, but his offensive instincts and puckhandling skills are good enough to indicate he can have some scoring ability at NHL-level.

Gustav Forsling (D, Linkoping, 126th Vancouver Canucks)

Chicago Blackhawks defenceman prospect Gustav Forsling was originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks but the Hawks acquired his rights in a trade back in January this year.

Forsling plays in the Swedish Hockey League for Linkoping and is in his second season for the club. He was Sweden’s most productive blueliner in last year’s WJC with eight points in seven games. When chatting with scouts about Forsling his shot improvement is an often mentioned topic. Generally said, Forsling really made a step forward in the past year and it is exciting to see for Hawks fans how he handles much bigger and stronger opponents in the Swedish Hockey League.

Lukas Vejdemo (C, Djurgarden, 87th Montreal Canadiens)

Lukas Vejdemo is a big kid who likes to use his size and long reach to make plays and protect the puck. He plays a strong two-way game and he reminds me of fellow Swede and Habs prospect Jacob De la Rose with his playing style. He is under contract with Djurgarden Stockholm and has 11 points in 27 games for the team.

It is Vejdemo’s first U20 Worlds and it will be interesting to see what his point production is going to be like. He plays a third liner role with Djurgarden and doesn’t possess high-end offensive skills but he has the potential to become an effective depth player with his size, long reach and physical strength.

On the Hot Seat:

William Nylander (C, Toronto Marlies, 8th Toronto Maple Leafs)

It could become the tournament of Leafs first round pick from last year, William Nylander. The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander is having his break out season in North America after joining the Marlies mid-way through last season out of Sweden. Nylander had a very dominant second half of the season in the AHL scoring 32 points in only 37 games.

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However, he already topped that mark this season and is currently even leading the AHL in scoring. Nylander would be NHL-ready in my opinion but it seems the Leafs are giving him additional time in the AHL. However, if he plays another dominant WJC tournament Mike Babcock might not wait any longer before calling up the Swede to the NHL.

Projection:

Sweden is in the tough group A together with Canada and USA. If they want to escape from a quaterfinal against Russia or Finland, they have to beat one or both of the North American teams. Nevertheless, Sweden’s team shows good depth and is solid on each position. Once again Sweden will play for a medal and could end up playing for gold this year.

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