Sweden 2007 WJC review

By Zoran Manojlovic

In the 2007 U-20 World Junior Championships, Team Sweden again went home without a medal. Although this time they didn’t have to travel that far to get back to their regular clubs, as this year’s tourney was held in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

Looking at the tournament as a whole, the team gets a passing grade. They played good hockey throughout the whole tournament, keeping close to the leading teams.

The most impressive and vital part of the team’s performance was their attitude and commitment to the physical play. They never backed down to anyone although some of the competition was better suited for physical battle. In every game, almost every player showed the right attitude and provided the much-needed physical play.

Goaltending 

The goaltending situation didn’t have a clear-cut No.1 goaltender, at least for starters. But as the tourney went on it became clear that Joel Gistedt would prove to be the go-to guy between the pipes. Gistedt played in five games and performed as expected, very well. He came up huge when the team needed him the most and provided stability on the back end.

His performance at the tournament will sure prove to be a positive boost to his already solid season with Frölunda. It will also improve his draft stock for the upcoming draft.

Jhonas Enroth (BUF) served as the backup and got to play in three games. His first two were as good as they could be, while his third start against Team Russia in the semi-final didn’t go as well. He didn’t get the best start in that game as team Sweden were dominant in the first 10 minutes of the game, leaving Enroth cold in his own end. Shortly thereafter, Russia got a couple of easy breaks and capitalized.

Enroth was forced out of the net and wouldn’t see more ice time in tourney. Overall, he still showed that he can be a difference-maker at this level. He’ll be expected to lead the team at next year’s tourney as he has loads of international competition experience.

Defense 

The defensive end looked pretty solid in most of the games. They played a rugged, physical hockey and were also contributing offensively. Players who were expected to be the leaders provided just that.

Niklas Hjalmarsson (CHI) was among those who were expected to lead the team, both on and off the ice. He did a very solid job overall. He contributed offensively, scoring two goals and three points in seven games. But he showed another side to his game, the physical one. He delivered several bone-crunching hits and was a consistent physical presence.

He got tons of praise from the attending media, although many of them are way out of line on his potential. He is a solid youngster that has some good qualities, but labeling him as the next Nik Lidström or even Nik Kronwall is a bit too much as Hjalmarsson lacks the skating ability and offensive instincts to be a player of that caliber. He also lacks puckhandling ability to be an offensive defenseman. Nonetheless, he has potential but it’s not as high as many tend to report.

The best defenseman on the team was without question Jonas Junland (STL). He played a very good two-way game providing tons of offense with his passing and quarterbacking skills. He moved the puck effectively and often led the attack.

His defensive zone coverage was a bit questionable at times, turning over the puck and being in poor position. But overall, he was steady and his offensive game overshined the defensive errors.

His mobility, passing and poise will take him to the next level.

Jonas Ahnelöv (PHO) also had a very solid tournament, playing top-4 minutes. He was used in all situations and was amongst the leaders on the team. His size, mobility and attitude were a positive presence. Together with Junland and Hjalmarsson, he was the best on the defense for Sweden.

Alexander Hällström and Daniel Rahimi played as expected. Solid defense and not much interest in the offensive play. They were used as shut-down guys and they get good grades. Both have good size, are solid skaters and love the physical play.  Rahimi has better pro potential as he’s a better skater with his fluid and powerful stride.

Patrik Nevalainen didn’t get much ice time at the start of the tournament, but as it became evident that Alexander Ribbenstrand wasn’t helping the team with his play, Nevalainen came in and performed above expectations.

He’s small, but is a good skater and has sound puck skills. He got a good amount of ice time in the second part of the tourney.

Forwards 

At the tournament’s start, many were putting enormous pressure on Niklas Bäckström (WSH) to lead the team to gold, but it seemed that the pressure was a bit too much for him to handle. He went seven games without a goal, although one can’t say that he didn’t have enough scoring chances. It was evident that the pressure had gotten to him and he couldn’t even finish the easy plays. But he did provide tons of offense and led the team in scoring with seven helpers in seven games.

His puck skills and hockey sense need no further evaluation as they are world class. His skating and physical play are coming along as well. He’s a prospect who will spend many years ahead in the NHL.

The other two who were expected to be leaders didn’t show up to work, Niklas Bergfors (NJ) and Patrik Berglund (STL).

Bergfors was the biggest disappointment on the team, thanks to the hype that he has gotten for the last few years topped by his first-round selection by the Devils in 2005. He did nothing to help the team and was even benched in one game and moved to the fourth line.

Berglund was the youngest player on the team and only one of two 88-born players. His season with Västerås shined light on him before the tournament and therefore the expectations rose. He scored a nice goal and added two helpers in seven games, but his overall play wasn’t worthy for a player of his caliber.

He’ll be the big leader on the team for the next year’s tournament, when he most likely will be one of the best players.

There was one more disappointment, Fredrik Pettersson (EDM). He has loads of international experience, but couldn’t really adjust to the big ice. He skated a lot and tried to offer some forechecking, but he wasn’t a big contributor to the team.

Now we can take a look at the positive performers on the team, and there were several.

Luleå players Linus Omark, Magnus Isaksson and Robin Lindquist all had excellent tournaments and were vital parts of the team’s success.

Omark and Isaksson are small, but speedy and intense. They played very well at both ends of the ice. Lindquist is a grinder who was very physical and vital on the penalty-killing unit.

Andreas Thuresson, Martin Johansson, and Patrik Zackrisson were three other role players who had excellent showings at the tournament.

Thuresson used his size and grinded, while Johansson used his speed and solid puck skills, to make a steady duo on the PK unit. They also contributed offensively with Thuresson scoring a goal and two assists and Johansson three goals and two assists.

Zackrisson was also used in all situations and provided more offense than what was expected. He had just a goal and a helper in seven games, but he created tons of scoring chances for himself as well as his linemates.

Patric Hörnqvist (NSH) was another bright spot on this team. He had plenty of spark in all seven games and looks to be on a fast track to pro hockey. He has solid size, good puck skills and a scorer’s touch. He also doesn’t mind the hard work and entering the rough areas on the ice. He’s a very interesting player for the future.

Alexander Sundström (NJ) was misused on this team. He has excellent puck skills and hockey sense and should have been used on one of the offensive lines from the get-go. Unfortunately it took a few games for the coach to realize this and put him in the right environment.

His play with the puck is very similar to that of the New York Rangers’ Michael Nylander, with his many starts and stops and nifty puck skills. He could be on the move to North America after the season.

Andreas Molinder was used as the extra forward in most of the games and got only limited ice time. Therefore, his performance is not legitimate for reviewing.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.