It’s hard to call Sweden a dark horse considering all the talent they boast, but the Swedes are getting less attention than the big dogs over in group B. Add to the fact that the tournament is on Canadian soil, and Team Canada naturally has most of the spotlight. But Sweden is one team that you can’t sleep on. They have what it takes to win gold, and maybe flying a little under the radar is exactly what they want.
Sweden’s History of Success
The Swedes have always been one of the hockey powers in the International competition, last winning Olympic Gold in 2006. They won the World Championship that year as well. Sweden captured gold at the 2013 World Championships and silver at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Despite a disappointing Semifinal loss at the World Cup of Hockey, their talent base is strong.
They last won World Junior gold in 2012 and followed that up with two consecutive silvers. But they haven’t medaled in the past two tournaments. This year, they have arguably the best squad since the 2012 victory, and look poised to go on a deep run.
Sweden has a history of producing some top-line defensive talent, like Nicklas Lidstrom, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson and Oliver-Ekman Larsson. This tournament they have an elite prospect in Rasmus Dahlin.The young Dahlin is a strong puck-mover and a player poised under pressure. He doesn’t rush into bad decisions and sees the game extremely well.
With game tied 2-2, Rasmus Dahlin seeing more ice time. Said Sweden coach: “We know we can throw him in the mix and he’ll stir things up”
— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) December 29, 2016
It should come as no surprise that Sweden holds one of the better defensive prospects. Despite being just 16 years old, Sweden is counting on Dahlin to help lead them to gold. It’s incredible the kind of defensive talent that Sweden’s hockey program has produced over the years. Though he’s not eligible until the 2018 NHL draft, Dahlin is already on a lot of scout’s radars.
This kid is 16 years old. Rasmus Dahlin with a curl and drag before scoring his first World Junior goal pic.twitter.com/jDON2jXefP
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 26, 2016
Sweden Has What it Takes
Their game against Switzerland was likely a lot closer than the Swedes would have liked, but in the end, they found a way to win. Sweden outshot the Swiss 46-15, but the game was deadlocked at 2-2 heading into the third period. The hero of the night for Sweden was Minnesota Wild draft pick Joel Eriksson-Ek, who scored the game-winner late in the game. Eriksson-Ek is just one of the many top draft picks on Sweden’s roster. Defenceman Jacob Larsson was also a 2015 first round pick, chosen at number 27 by the Anaheim Ducks.
Alex Nylander, chosen eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in last year’s draft, already has two goals and four points thus far. Carl Grundstrom, a Toronto Maple Leafs second round pick, is also having a strong start to his tournament. Other 2016 second rounders on the team include Rasmus Asplund (Buffalo), Jonathan Dalen (Ottawa), and Filip Gustavsson (Pittsburgh). Sweden is loaded with so much talent, in every aspect, that it’s difficult to pick out a weakness.
They were almost stymied by Swiss goalie Joren van Pottelberghe, who was great again, making 42 saves in a losing cause. After the game, Eriksson-Ek acknowledged the netminders’ strong play: “We had a lot of shots, but the goalie was playing good. We need to be in front and not allow him to see the puck.”
Next up on the docket for Sweden is a battle against their bitter rivals in Finland. The Finns have two losses and will be looking to rebound. It sets up to be a great game because the two countries always get up to face each other. But Sweden holds the edge to run the table in Group A, setting themselves up nicely for the next round. Team Sweden have all the goods to win a gold medal, with no conceivable holes in their lineup. They are among four countries realistically contending for gold. And they may have the best shot.