Team Sweden 2012 WJC Preview

By David Thicke
Photo: Rikard Rakell (ANA) will be leaned on heavily by Team Sweden to provide offense. Rakell is one of only a few Swedish junior age players who have extensive experience playing in North American rinks. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Last year, Team Sweden finished ahead of tournament favorite, Team Canada after the round robin games but failed to even win a medal at the 2011 WJC Tournament. They will be looking to be more successful in this year's tournament with probably the most North American-like playing style out any of the European Teams.

The 2012 team is a good mixture of returning players, first time players and a couple of draft eligible 17-year-olds in Sebastien Collberg, Filip Forsberg. Sweden has Mika Zibanejad (OTT), Jonas Brodin (MIN), Oscar Klefbom (EDM), and Rikard Rakell (ANA) playing for them in the tournament who were all first round picks in 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Team Sweden will be missing both Gabriel Landeskog (COL) and Adam Larsson (NJD) who were high first round draft picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. They are both playing regularly in the NHL and weren't released by their teams for the WJC tournament.

This year's Swedish team will play a more high speed, up-tempo, physical offensive game while still playing solidly in the defensive zone but their one weakness might be their goaltending.

Goaltending

Sweden has decided to name three goaltenders to their WJC Roster for the tournament. They are all very late round NHL draft picks unlike those of the past few years, Robin Lehner (OTT) and Jacob Markstrom (FLA) who were both second rounders.

Johan Gustafsson (MIN) is most likely the team's starter but could be on a short leash if he doesn't perform well in Round Robin games. The big netminder has posted an excellent 1.99 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 19 games with Lulea HF of the Swedish Elite League. His numbers could be misleading as he plays for a very solid defensive team.

Johan Mattsson (CHI) could be Gustafsson’s backup or replacement should he falter in the tournament. He has posted a 3.08 goals against average along with a solid .907 in 17 OHL games for the Sudbury Wolves and is the only Swedish goalie who is accustomed to playing on the smaller ice surfaces in North America.

The third goalie is Anton Forsberg (CBJ) who plays for MODO Ornskoldsvik of the SEL where he has posted a 2.63 goals against average along with a .913 save percentage in 26 games.

Defense

Sweden's defense will be led by returning Dallas Stars prospects, John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth who most likely will play big minutes as the team's shutdown pairing.

The Swedes' number two pairing will be Oscar Klefbom (EDM) and James Brodin (MIN) who are teammates with Farjestad BK Karlstad, SEL and will be counted on to bring offense from the blue line.

Mattias Bäckman (DET), Fredrik Claesson (OTT), and Petter Granberg (TOR) will fight for ice time as the third defense pairing for Sweden.

Sweden's defense group are quick skating, physical, and can move the puck while also being capable of joining the rush into the offensive end. Klingberg, Klefbom and Brodin are slick puck handlers who will take offensive risks and are expected to help the Swedish attack. These high risk plays could be a problem in Sweden's game which other teams in the tournament could capitalize on the mistakes in order to create scoring opportunities against the Swedes.

Forwards

Sweden has so many offensive weapons in their tournament lineup as well as their ability to play the physical North American style of game, making them a very dangerous opponent to play against.

One of Sweden’s returning players is Johan Larsson (MIN) who is a big, physical forward and plays a very solid two-way game. He will be leaned on heavily in all important situations of games, to provide leadership as their captain and set the physical tone for the team’s play.

Mika Zibanejad (OTT) started the NHL season with the Senators but after nine games was returned to his Djurgården IF Stockholm of SEL to continue his development. The big, physical quick skating forward can create offensive chances for his linemates as well as himself and should be one of the main weapons on the team's power play.

Max Friberg (ANA) and Rikard Rakell (ANA) can both bring speed; playmaking abilities while possessing quick accurate releases. These two offensive weapons are returning after both playing in last year’s WJC tournament and should help lead the younger players on the Swedes’ offense.

Sweden has three offensive players who are playing in the CHL this season and have made the adjustment to play the more physical game on the smaller ice surface. Rakell is playing his second season for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL where he has scored 17 goals and 20 assists in 32 games this season. Victor Rask (CAR) has scored 16 goals along with 13 assists in 34 WHL games this season and has the physical size and speed to play the North American style of game. Ludvig Rensfeldt (CHI) has scored ten goals and 12 assists in 29 OHL games for the Sarnia Sting.

Sebastian Collberg and Filip Forsberg will both be showcasing their offensive talents to all the NHL scouts present at the WJC tournament. They are both projected first round selections in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and can definitely help Sweden's offensive game in this year's tournament.

Conclusion

Sweden has to be considered a medal contender for this year's tournament but not a favorite to win. In the past four years of the WJC tournament, the Swedes have won their round robin pool only to fail to win Gold in the medal round as a favorite. They could win their pool again or at the very least finish second to the Russians.

The Swedish team will need to play solid team defense while outscoring their opponents and play a physical style to surprise the tournament favorites, Russia, Canada, and the United States in the medal round. The Scandinavian nation could be the team in this year's WJC tournament who upsets one of the favorites to win a medal, maybe even the Gold.

 

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