Team Sweden WJC preview
Swedish junior hockey has not been doing well for several seasons now. In the early 90’s the Swedish U-20 teams were full with very talented players, Peter Forsberg, Markus Näslund, Michael Nylander, Niklas Sundström etc.
The difference between
Swedish hockey today and that 10 years ago is that the Swedish players under the age of 20 today, are not as established in the elite league as the young players were earlier. Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund were already stars when they competed in the U-20 tournaments, nowadays the young players are only at their beginning of their development, struggling on the 3rd and 4th-lines in the elite league or even playing on a lower level in the 2nd-tier league or in the Swedish U-20 league.
This year’s Swedish squad is in no way as strong as some of those in the 90’s but it is a very interesting one with many players with great potential. Earlier years Sweden has had major problems scoring but this year the forwards are stronger than in many years, with several players that have a nose for the net.
2nd-tier league star Andreas Jämtin, WHLers Marcus Paulsson and Fredrik Sjöström, Mattias Beck and Joakim Lindström are a couple of players that can put the puck in the net at any time. Then there are good group of players that are expected to deliver the important passes; top prospect Robert Nilsson, Toronto prospect Alexander Steen and Dallas draftee Yared Hagos.
– The key-players on our team are the centres, Yared Hagos, AIK, Alexander Steen, Frölunda and Andreas Falk, Huddinge, but everyone has to work if we want to succeed, said coach Peo Larsson on the press conference when the Swedish squad was announced.
Robert Nilsson and Alexander Steen are the two Swedish players that have received most attention before the tournament. Both are excellent prospects and both are sons to former stars in the NHL, Kent Nilsson and Tomas Steen.
The scouts will especially focus their attention on Robert Nilsson who is expected to get drafted very early in the 2003 NHL Entry draft. Robert has had a terrific rookie season in the elite league with Leksand and he his currently chasing Markus Näslund’s earlier point record for a player 18 or younger in the elite league. Näslund’s record is 19 (during the 90/91 season) and Robert sits at 12 points with 20 games left of the regular season.
– Robert will be used a lot on the power play; he has been brilliant in that role with Leksand, said Sweden’s coach when commenting Robert.
While the offense looks good this year, the Swedish defense is a bit questionable. There are two defenseman that stand out more than the rest, Adam Andersson (Brynäs) and Tobias Enström (MoDo). Both of them are established SEL-defensemen and both are undrafted. Tobias Enström is the most talented one and he is also expected to get drafted next summer. Enström is a very smart player and he has had a big impact so far, during his rookie season in the elite league.
Andersson and Enström will carry Sweden’s offensive game while Johan Agu, Patrik Bäärnhjelm and Simon Skoog are three defenseman that will mainly control the game in Sweden’s own end. They are all strong and powerful players and should have no big problems playing on the North American ice.
In net Mikael Zajkowski will get the opportunity to start for Sweden. Zajkowski has seen regular ice-time with Örnsköldsvik in the 2nd-tier league and should have no problems playing on this high level. Sweden’s back-up goalie, Mattias Fagerström, has on the other hand little experience from international play and has so far mainly played in the junior league.
Sweden will play in a very tough group that includes Canada, Finland, the Czech Rep and Germany. Only the 3 first teams advance from the group so it will in no way be easy for Sweden to reach the quarterfinal. Peo Larsson is however optimistic.
–Overall we have big players on the team that can play tight, which is not a disadvantage now when the World Junior Championships will be played on small rinks. It is also good that we will meet team USA in an exhibition game.
Strong team or not, one thing is for sure, team Sweden is a team that can beat any opponent and with the right amount of luck and skill Sweden could very well make it past the quarterfinals.
Top 3 snipers
1. Andreas Jämtin
2. Mattias Beck
3. Fredrik Sjöström
Top 3 playmakers
1. Robert Nilsson
2. Alexander Steen
3. Yared Hagos
Top 3 tough-guys
1. Jonas Almtorp
2. Andreas Jämtin
3. Johan Agu
Place of Birth: Sundsvall
Sweden’s back-up goalie Fagerström will likely only see ice-time if starter Mikael Zajkowski failes to play convincing.
Fagerström plays with Timrå’s junior team and he is among the best goalies in the Swedish junior league.
Place of Birth: Lodz (Poland)
Zajkowski is Sweden’s #1 goalie and has had a good season with Örnsköldsvik, a quite poor team in the 2nd-tier league. Zajkowski has already some experience from international play and is perhaps Sweden’s most important player. He is a very quick and agile goalie. Zajkowski is very tough to beat from close range and one-on-one.
Place of Birth: Motala
A big and strong defenseman. Agu plays a pretty good two-way game and he is very reliable in his own end. He doesn’t playing a physical game and is perhaps the Swedish player that will have least problems adjusting to the smaller surface in Canada.
Place of Birth: Gävle
Adam is the most experienced defenseman on the team. He has already played plenty of games in the elite league and this will be Adam’s second WJC-tournament. Adam reads the game very well, he has a strong passing game as well as an accurate shot and therefore we will get to see him a lot on the Swedish power play.
Place of Birth: Luleå
Bäärnhjelm is a tough defenseman with strong defensive skills. He has also a powerful shot and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Bäärnhjelm is currently playing his first season in the Swedish Elite League and so far he has played very well, which is also the reason he made the Swedish squad.
Place of Birth: Nordingrå
Tobias has been among the very best rookies in the elite league this season. The 18-year old defenseman has surprised everyone and earned a regular spot with MoDo, playing a lot with Toronto draftee Pierre Hedin. Enström is likely the best defenseman on the Swedish team, despite his lack of earlier experience. He is a terrific skater, he reads the game extremely well and everything seems to be so easy to solve, when he is on the ice.
Place of Birth: Timrå
Hansson has still little experience from playing in the elite league, but he is a valuable member of the team nonetheless. Hansson’s main strength’s is his offensive game and passing ability. The question is how he’ll handle the more physical play; Hansson is not a giant and needs to bulk up.
Place of Birth: Kungälv
Leetma is having a pretty good rookie season with Frölunda in the elite league and could be a nice addition to the team. The undrafted defenseman plays solid all the time and you don’t see him making many mistakes. Leetma has good on-ice-vision and he plays well at both ends.
Place of Birth: Sölvesborg
Drafted: 9/2001 (283rd overall) by St. Louis
Blues prospect Skoog is a very solid defenseman with Mörrum in the 2nd-tier league. He has some offensive instincts but has so far mostly been recognized for his defensive awareness. He reads the game very well and he solves difficult situations quite easily. Skoog will take the next step in his development next season, when he will play with HV 71 in the elite league.
Place of Birth: Uppsala
Drafted: 4/2002 (111th overall) by Edmonton
Almtorp is a very powerful player. He is not a giant but he is the toughest player on the team and plays with a lot grit and speed. He is also a fine scorer, which he proved last season when he scored 27 goals in 39 games in the junior league. This season Almtorp has seen pretty limited ice-time with in the SEL, but he has also played a couple of games in the 2nd-tier league, where he has been very successful.
Place of Birth: Stockholm
Beck is a very exciting player to watch. He is a phenomenal skater (likely among the best skaters in the tournament), he has fine technical skills and he has a nose for the net. Beck has managed 24 points in the 2nd-tier league this season and expect him, despite having no experience from earlier WJC-tournaments, to provide some serious offense. Beck is also expected to get drafted this summer and the scouts will be following him closely.
Place of Birth: Örebro
Fredrik plays with Bofors in the 2nd-tier league. He is not drafted but with a strong tournament this winter he might very well receive some attention from the scouts. Eriksson will provide Sweden with a strong overall game and he will kill many penalties. He does everything well and he can put the puck in the net, as well as delivering it.
Place of Birth: Huddinge
Falk is an unknown prospect that has been among the most impressive players in the 2nd-tier league.
After leaving the juniors last season Falk has established himself as a top player in the second highest level of hockey in Sweden. The rather smallish Falk plays an intensive game and he has a fine scoring touch, as well as willingness to play physical. It is quite likely that a team will draft Falk this summer.
Place of Birth: Stockholm
Drafted: 3/2001 (70 overall) by Dallas
Hagos is the most hardworking player on the team. He has strong defensive skills and we will likely see him kill a lot of penalties. Hagos is also a leader and a fine playmaker and is not afraid of heavy traffic. Dallas Stars drafted this youngster in the 3rd round, 2001, and so far there is no reason to regret that selection.
Place of Birth: Stockholm
Drafted: 5/2001 (157th overall) by Detroit
Jämtin who is Red Wings property is currently having an excellent season with AIK in the Swedish 2nd-tier league. Jämtin has 14 goals and 15 assists after 28 games and with those numbers he is actually among the best scorers in the league.
Jämtin controls every aspect of the game well. He plays very aggressive, he skates a lot and he can put the puck in the net.
Place of Birth: Skellefteå
Drafted: 2/2002 (41st overall) by Columbus
Columbus prospect Lindström is having a pretty tough season in the elite league, with limited ice-time and few points. With the Swedish U-20 team we can however expect Lindström to provide a lot of offense and he is one of the key-players. He will probably see a lot of ice-time with his fearless, offensive game.
Place of Birth: Calgary
Robert is definitely the most interesting Swedish player this year. Being the son of one of the greatest Swedish players to ever play the game, Kent Nilsson, people are already expecting miracles from young Robert. So far Robert has not disappointed, he is having a terrific rookie season in the elite league is perhaps the main favorite to win the rookie of the year award. Expect Robert to play a lot on the power play, where his excellent vision and playmaking ability will be very valuable.
Place of Birth: Finja
Team: Tyringe SoSS
This guy is certainly the surprise of the squad. Most Swedish hockey fans don’t even know who Andree Persson is. He plays with Tyringe in the 3rd-tier league and is among the best players on the team, if not the best. When playing with his club Persson is usually the one that sets up plays and moves the puck, but with team Sweden Persson is expected mainly to provide a strong physical game, with his great size.
Place of Birth: Karlskrona
Team: Saskatoon (WHL)
Drafted: 5/2002 (149th overall) by NY Islanders
Paulsson is not known by many; in fact most people probably don’t know that he is playing with Saskatoon in the WHL. This young player plays more like an American power forward than the typical European. Paulsson has a good shot, he skates pretty well and he loves to play physical. He might see some time on the power play, were his strong shot could come in handy.
Place of Birth: Färgelanda
Team: Calgary (WHL)
Drafted: 1/2001 (11th overall) by Phoenix
The speedy and very hardworking Fredrik Sjöström is having a very good season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Sjöström struggled last year but it seems he is now more comfortable with the more physical play in North America. Sjöström had a pretty poor tournament last year and is likely very eager to put up impressive numbers this year.
Place of Birth: Winnipeg
Drafted: 1/2002 (24th overall) by Toronto
The son of former NHLer Tomas Steen has established himself as a solid SEL-player this season.
Alexander sees regular ice-time with Frölunda mainly on the 3rd and 4t line. This technically skilled and aggressive player is expected to be one of the leaders on the team. Steen can be used in most situations and he can put up serious offense with his very intelligent play.
Place of Birth: Malmö
Team: MIF Redhawks
Valdix is predicted to get drafted quite early in the 2003 NHL Entry draft after displaying a strong play during his rookie season in the elite league. Valdix’s game involves a lot of speed and to go with that he has fine offensive skills. Perhaps it is still too early for Valdix to put up any greater numbers, but he will definitely be a key-player for team Sweden in next year’s tournament.
Non traveling reserves
Joakim Lundström, Daniel Fernholm, Mikael Svensk, Gustav Gräsberg, Sebastian Meijer.