2013 WJC Preview: Injury, illness hinder Sweden’s chances of golden repeat

By Chapin Landvogt

Hampus Lindholm - Sweden

Photo: With injuries to top defenders Jonas Brodin and Oscar Klefbom, Anaheim Ducks prospect Hampus Lindholm has been thrust into a top defensive role for defending WJC champion Sweden (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Surely few can forget how Ottawa Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad broke in alone on Team Russia’s net in overtime of the 2012 WJC, deking out Russian goalie Andrey Makarov to decide the tournament in Sweden’s favor for the first time since 1981. It’s not something viewers will see this year, however, as Zibanejad is one of a number of highly touted Swedish prospects who’ll be missing this tournament due to illness or injury.

The pre-tournament story for one of the world’s strongest developers of hockey talent is dealing with the adversity brought on by the injury bug in a manner few countries could possibly compensate for, with the defending gold medalists flying to Ufa without a number of its most impressive talents. No less than top flight NHL prospects Jonas Brodin (MIN), Oscar Klefbom (EDM), Pontus Aberg and Max Gortz (both NAS), and the aforementioned Zibanejad (OTT), will be absent at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, where Sweden will look to defend their title, something precious few countries have been able to accomplish over time. Draft-eligible Jesper Pettersson will be joining the list of those missing the trip after suffering a shoulder and wrist injury in an exhibition game against Canada.

Fortunately for Sweden, the process of defending their title will not require them to face Canada, Russia or the USA in the preliminary round. Instead, Coach Roger Ronnberg’s troops will face traditional arch rival Finland, an always tough Czech side, the upstart Swiss and Baltic neighbor Latvia.

In light of the number of losses to injury, it’s of great benefit that the team is entering the tournament with a triumvirate of goaltenders who’d each have a strong chance of starting for a number of the tourney’s participants. They are Joel Lassinantti, Niklas Lundstrom (STL) and Columbus Blue Jackets 2012 second rounder, Oscar Dansk, who is actually on the outside looking in with respect to the starting goaltending job.

There’s no doubt Sweden will sorely miss Brodin and Klefbom on the blueline, who’d likely have established the starting defensive pair, but there is also no shortage of interesting and promising names on the defensive unit, which will now look to NHL draft picks Hampus Lindholm (ANA), Rasmus Bengtsson (FLA), Tom Nilsson (TOR), Mikael Vikstrand (OTT) and Christian Djoos (WAS) to lead the way. With the exception of the USHL player Bengtsson, the entire defensive corps has spent time this season playing professional hockey against men.

There will also be no lack of firepower up front where NHL prospects Filip Forsberg (WAS), Rickard Rakell (ANA), William Karlsson (ANA), Sebastian Collberg (MON), Victor Rask (CAR), and Emil Molin (DAL) will carry the offensive load. They are joined by a number of draft-eligible prospects, none more spectacular than Elias Lindholm, an 18-year-old who is currently the second best scorer for his SEL club Brynas, whose top scorer Is Lindholm’s cousin, Detroit Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok. The club will also be looking for strong contributions from the undrafted Alexander Wennberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Nick Sorensen and Jacob de la Rose.

Key Players

Hampus Lindholm (D) – An absolute rising star in the 2012 draft, the number six overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks has been plying his trade this season with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL where he currently has five points and a +2 rating in 19 games. With Brodin and Klefbom out of the picture, he is expected to assume a great deal of responsibility in all phases of the game. Seeing how far he&rsq