2014 U18 WJC Preview: Sweden looking to medal after disappointing showing in 2013

By Chapin Landvogt

Anton Karlsson - Team Sweden

Photo: Frolunda Indians forward and 2014 prospect Anton Karlsson competed for Sweden at the 2014 U20 WJC, but will play a bigger role for his country at the 2014 U18 tournament (courtesy of LUDVIG THUNMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Last spring, Team Sweden went to Sochi, Russia feeling like a gold medal candidate. After two silver medals in a row and with a line-up chock full of kids who eventually heard their names called at the 2013 NHL Draft, Sweden sent a team into play that didn’t have to hide from anyone.

After starting off with three solid victories, a collapse came that was simply unforeseeable. The preliminary round was concluded with a 6-0 loss to Canada and followed by a tournament-ending quarterfinal game that saw Sweden get shut out 4-0 by the USA. After failing to make it to a medal game, Sweden’s only solace was in knowing that the North American teams went on the win Gold and Silver, respectively.

This year, Sweden is once again heading into the tournament with a number of highly rated talents for the 2014 NHL Draft with William Nylander heading the list. He’s joined by Anton Karlsson and Adrian Kempe as Swedish talents thought of as possibly going in the first round this summer. These three will have to carry the bulk of the offensive load if Sweden is to better its fortunes from last year.

Sweden’s group at the 2014 IIHF U18 World Championship will once again include Canada, who they’ll get to face right off the bat this year. The team feels this will be an advantage as the Canadians have been known to start tournaments off slowly after long flights, before picking up the kind of momentum they had when they routed Sweden last spring. Sweden will then face Russia, who’ll be hoping to have quite a bit of support as the tournament is only taking place roughly 10 kilometers away from the Russian border. Whatever happens in these first two games, Sweden will look to solidify playoff participation when it rounds out the preliminary round against Slovakia and then Germany, two entries the country will be expected to handle easily.

Goaltending

If you’re not yet familiar with Markus Olsson, then get used to his name. He’s come a bit out of nowhere this season to have quite the fairy tale rise to what may be the starting role for this tournament. The Modo product put up outstanding numbers for both the U18 and U20 clubs, eventually dominating in the playoffs for the U20 squad where he had a 1.16 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in 5 games. Linus Soderstrom is another talented young man who is felt to be solid in most all areas of the game and surprisingly consistent in his play, albeit unspectacular. Felix Sandstrom is a '97-born goalie who is 6’2” and along for the ride, although the staff does feel he can play adequately if the opportunity arises and will likely be a starting candidate for the 2015 tournament.

Defense

The top pairing could consist of two very exciting prospects including underage returnee Rasmus Andersson. Already a top 4 defenseman for last year’s squad, Rasmus just completed his second season with the Malmo Redhawks in Sweden’s second highest men’s league, the Allsvenskan, where he collected three goals, 14 points and a +2 rating. Considered a top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft, Rasmus will be looked at to assume a top 3 role on this club.

His partner may be a player who has been a high riser this winter, namely the 6’3” but only 160-pound Marcus Pettersson. Yet another Skelleftea product, Marcus was so solid at the U20 level that he found his way into 10 games with the SHL club. First turning 18 in May, he is considered a young 2014 draft-eligible player that a number of NHL teams have on their list.

The defense will also feature Adam Ollas Mattsson who at this time last year was considered to be Sweden’s most highly touted defenseman in this class. That has changed immensely since then after a less than inspiring performance at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and a winter in which he had some injury problems. Having put up nine points and 42 penalty minutes in 33 games with his Djurgarden U20 squad, he debuted for the men’s team in the Allsvenskan and gained recognition with two assists and a +3 rating in six games. This tournament will be an excellent opportunity to boost his draft rating, and he’ll get plenty of ice time to do just that.

Another name to watch will be William Lagesson, a hulking 6’2”, 200 pound beast who had a monster season with a +27 rating for Frolunda’s U20 team. The club is young and dynamic and places an emphasis on youth, so chances are that Lagesson will find himself in the pro ranks next season. The rest of the defense will be rounded out by Gustav Forsling (Linköping), Andreas Englund (Djurgarden), and Albin Runesson (Modo), with the 6’3” Englund the most likely to gain a regular role in the top six after dressing for 19 games with Djurgarden in the Allsvenskan.

Forwards

William Nylander has had a tough winter after starting off the season playing with his father, former NHL forward Michael Nylander. There was a great deal of hoopla about the stunt, which turned out to be nothing more than that. Things didn’t go so spectacularly as he only collected eight points in 18 games before heading back to Sodertalje on loan, where he then scored 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games. He finished the season with Modo in the SHL and even found himself getting roughly 17 minutes of ice time a night. He ultimately finished with one goal and seven points in 22 games there, reaffirming his existing pro abilities. He’ll be one of the absolute highlights of this tournament, as few in this class can skate and handle the puck with anything close to his proficiency.

He’ll get plenty of support from the aforementioned Kempe and Karlsson. The 6’2” Kempe played with Nylander in Modo where he spent most of the season, putting up five goals and 11 points in 45 games. He’s learned the pro game and has the type of routine that few players in this tournament can offer. Karlsson was primarily active for Frolunda’s U20 team, for whom he had 12 goals and 22 points in 28 games. He also represented Sweden in a cameo role at the U20 WJC in Malmö. Younger brother to Carolina draft pick Erik, Anton also played 9 games on loan for Mora in the Allsvenskan, getting his first taste of pro hockey. A rough-and-tumble winger with strong skating attributes, he’ll be entrusted with a leadership role and plenty of ice time. Both Kempe and Karlsson are strong skaters who are hard to slow down when they’re barreling down on one of the outside lanes.

The only other returnee from last spring’s club is Oskar Lindblom. The 6’2”, 190-pound product of Brynas had four points at last year’s tourney, but a rather mild winter, putting up 33 points in 43 U20 games and getting a four-game cup of coffee with the SHL team. Still, his role on this team will be considerable in light of his experience.

The 6-foot, roughly 200 pound Axel Holmstrom may be manning the first line center duties after 38 points in 33 U20 games and four debut matches for powerhouse Skelleftea this past season. His development and progression has been natural and positive to date, lending many to believe that a number of NHL teams will be hoping to grab him in one of the middle rounds.

Other forwards who viewers should denote include the 5’11” Gustaf Franzen, who captained the HV71 U20 club and has been very strong to date internationally, as well as Daniel Muzito Bagenda, who features a hulking 6’1”, 200-pound body and played a key power forward role for Modo’s U20 squad this past winter. Both of these players will be expected to provide various forms of heart and soul play on a daily basis while giving opponents fits.

The rest of the forward corps is filled out by Filip Karlsson (Rogle), Kevin Elgestal (Frolunda), Henrik Tornqvist (Linkoping), Christoffer Ehn (Frolunda), Kim Rosdahl (Malmo) and Axel Ottosson (Modo). The 6’1” Elgestal was a key component for Frolunda’s U20 club this winter putting up 36 points and a +21 in 47 games while the 6’3” Ehn got in two games of play for Frolunda. Karlsson and Rosdahl saw their first action at the professional level, having played 17 and 12 games respectively for their Allsvenskan clubs.
 
Outlook

Most of these boys have spent many years playing with and against each other since their time in the U16 program. They are familiar with each other, but have been known more for their individual talents than for their teamwork, which has been lacking to date to say the least. They are aware of this shortcoming, however, and will be giving everything to change it. The team undeniably has the size and skill that few nations can offer at this level.

In light of this, a medal game at this tournament without Swedish participation is just about unthinkable at the moment.

Follow Chapin Landvogt's U18 coverage on Twitter via @Csomichapin

 

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