Swedish Elite League Playoffs

By Lasse Johansson
The first Swedish playoffs of the new millenium has proven to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. One team – Djurgården, have already qualified for the final. The team that they are expected to face of against is Modo, home of the famous “Line 19″, with New York Islanders prospects Mattias Weinhandl joining the Sedin twins. The talk of the moment is the match-up between Modo and Brynäs in the second semi-final. These two teams met last year in the finals of the playoffs with Brynäs taking home the championship after winning the fifth and decisive game away from home after a marvellous feat by the young New York Rangers prospects Johan Holmqvist in goal.
Johan Holmqvist is showing all the signs of becoming an All-star calibre goaltender, and a worthy replacement for Mike Richter when he chooses to retire from professional hockey. Holmqvists brilliant play earned Brynäs the Swedish Championship last year when he only was 20 years old. Now as a 21-year old, he is showing the world that his standout performance in last years playoffs wasn’t a fluke, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is the top young “money-goalie” in the world right now. Johan can definitely challenge the Islanders Roberto Luongo for the title of top New York goaltending prospect. Johan is a “pseudo-Hasek”, playing with an extreme butterfly technique, he makes saves that you wouldn’t believe even if you saw them with your own eyes, but he can also allow some pretty cheap goals. If he can adapt to the North American style of hockey, then he will probably be the starting goaltender for the New York Rangers no later than the year 2004. By the way, he assisted to the game-winning overtime goal for Brynäs in game three of the semi-final series about half an hour ago…

The clash between Brynäs and Modo isn’t all about Johan Holmqvist, the Sedin twins are getting their share of attention to, Daniel is the leading scorer so far in the playoffs. The famous “Line 19″ have shown their class all through the playoffs, and if you are an Islanders-fan you will be happy to hear that Mattias Weinhandl is back to the form he had before his injury. If his eye gets better he will be a first-line winger in the NHL for sure. Weinhandl is a sniper with great anticipation. He always seems to know where the puck will be played. He reminds me a bit of Teemu Selänne. Mattias has the potential of reaching the same heights as Teemu, depending on his vision. He has been playing with a visor since returning from his injury. The Sedin twins have been as brilliant as always, nothing more needs to be said about those two, they are the two hottest prospects for the future of hockey right now, and they will make their debut in the NHL as 19-year olds this autumn. My personal wish is for the Vancouver Canucks to get their hands on Mattias Weinhandl, so that we can see what the three of them can produce in the NHL, but that’s probably a bit too much to ask for. However it must be said that Mattias probably benefits more from the Sedins than they benefit from him. Having said that, the productivity of the Sedins dropped dramatically when Weinhandl wa injured, and coach Per Bäckman has had a very hard time finding a replacement for Weinhandl. The best replacement this year has been power-forward Magnus Wernblom, who easily would make the cut for the Los Angeles Kings roster if he decided to play in the NHL, but he has apparently decided to stay in Sweden with his wife and kids. Given the fact that Wernblom fits in nice with the twins, maybe the best thing that Vancouver can do is to pair them up with a big, strong power-forward. The number one quality that a player seems to need when playing with the Sedins is a touch for the net, something that the Vancouver Canucks are lacking, and even more so now that they have traded away Alexander Mogilny to the New Jersey Devils.

Remember Henrik Zetterberg? He is the Swedish Detroit Red Wings prospect who played marvellously during the WJCs, and now he is absolutely on fire! His Timrå IK, are currently in the playoffs for the Swedish division one, and if nothing disastrous happens, they will be playing in the Elite league next year. Henrik has been absolutely amazing in the last games of the season. In the game against rivals Björklöven, Henrik scored two goals and added two assists in Timrå’s 5-2 victory. He has now scored eight points on the last nine goals for Timrå. Not bad for a guy born in 1980…

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