Team Sweden U18 WC preview

By Johan Nilsson

Going for a medal

Sweden has a very interesting U18 WJC roster this year. The Swedish 89’s have been described as the best age group since the 82’s or 80’s. Looking even further down the road, Swedish coaches have said that the Swedish 90 and 91 groups are the best ones to come out of the country since the talented 73 group, which featured the likes of Markus Näslund and Peter Forsberg. Therefore, it is no surprise that five players born in 1990 made this year’s U18 WJC roster.

A medal is very realistic for this team that has been successful internationally during the last two years. Whether they could even challenge for the gold, remains to be seen, but they have defeated all top nations but Canada, which they tied 2-2 in an exhibition last Saturday.

Decent goaltending options

Although goaltending might not be as strong as last year, when Buffalo draftee Jhonas Enroth was in net, there are still two quite capable Swedish netminders that will fight for the job as starter. The favorite to see most ice time is Djurgården player Mark Owuya. A minor celebrity in Sweden, Owuya does not only have goaltending talents, but also appeared in a few episodes of the Swedish version of American Idol.

The other goalie is Christoffer Bengtsberg, who is eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. A very mobile goaltender that has been very consistent in the Swedish Junior League with HV71, but not played as convincingly at the international stage. 

Motin and Hedman the defensemen to watch

Among defensemen, the top two names will both have to wait until next year, and the year after, to get drafted. One is SEL regular Johan Motin, born in October 89, and the other one is huge MODO phenomenon Victor Hedman, born in December 1990. Motin is a solid two-way defenseman with good size and strength. He has this season, quite surprisingly, become a SEL regular on one of the deepest rosters in the league – Färjestad. Victor Hedman will likely make his SEL debut next season, but could be the greatest Swedish defenseman prospect since Mattias Öhlund. At 6’5, 212lbs he is the biggest player on the team. Hedman is an offensive-minded player who is actually a really capable skater, despite his large frame, and has fine technical skills and hockey sense to go.

Three other defensemen to watch are two-way defensemen Sebastian Erixon, Jens Hellgren and Nichlas Torp. The all-round Erixon, who is somewhat undersized at 5’11, has been a pleasant surprise all season long. Jens Hellgren, who won the Swedish U20 championship with Frölunda recently, can be really dominant at this level, but has had some consistency problems. Nichlas Torp was arguably the top Swedish defenseman born 1989 a year ago, but the injury that prevented him from playing hockey until Christmas this season has not had a positive affect on his game. Torp is an agitator and a physical defenseman that can deliver bone-crushing hits at times.

Plenty of offensive options

The Swedish team is stacked with offensively gifted players. The most known, and the most likely candidate to be Sweden’s leading scorer in the tournament, is WHL rookie Oscar Moller. An all-round and explosive player with fine puckhandling skills who scored 32 goals and 69 points in 68 WHL games this season. Another player that is thought of as key player is the previously much hyped Mikael Backlund. Backlund has been struggling all season with knee injury he had last year, but has been pretty decent as of late. A strong U18 WJC tournament could perhaps squeeze him into the first round of the draft this summer. Backlund has hockey sense, skating, technical skills and a fair physical game.

The most reliable player of all Swedes is center Joakim Andersson. Andersson is a very consistent player with good size and strength. He is very well-rounded except skating, which he could improve, since he does not accelerate very well. A flashier player is Andersson’s teammate in Frölunda – winger Simon Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson is a speedy player with nice hands and with a good nose for the net, although he has not scored nearly as many goals internationally, as he has in the Swedish juniors.

The above mentioned forwards are all eligible for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. There are, however, several players that will not be drafted until next year who are definitely worth mentioning. Johan Erkgärds is a fast forward with excellent puck control, Mattias Tedenby has possibly the best combination of speed, technical skills and balance that Swedish junior hockey has ever seen and puck magician André Petersson has the best stickhandling skills on the team and a sniper’s mentality, although he can be a tad selfish at times.

Swedish roster, player by player

G – Christoffer Bengtsberg, HV71 (5’10 , 174 lbs)
An aggressive netminder with good mobility and agility.

G – Mark Owuya, Djurgården (6’2, 192 lbs)
Has good size which he uses to his advantage. Good side-to-side, likely starter.

D – Alexander Eriksson, Björklöven (6’1, 187 lbs)
Two-way defenseman with good mobility and decent passing game. Not a great shooter.

D – Sebastian Erixon, Timrå (5’11, 176 lbs)
Nice puckhandling and hockey sense, strong both ways.

D –  Victor Hedman, MODO (6’5, 212 lbs)
Best Swedish defenseman prospect in many years. Size, skating, puckhandling, hockey sense, Hedman has it all.

D – Jens Hellgren, Frölunda (6’3, 187 lbs)
Fine hockey sense and playmaking ability. Very valuable when on top of his game.

D – Johan Motin, Färjestad (6’2, 201 lbs)
SEL regular with good on-ice vision, two-way ability, reach and strength.

D – Robin Olsson, Luleå (5’10, 172 lbs)
Smallish defenseman with good vision and a mature and sound game.

D – Nichlas Torp, HV71 (5’11, 194 lbs)
Two-way defenseman who plays aggressive and physical.

F – Joakim Andersson, Frölunda (6’2, 198 lbs)
Excellent two-way center with good playmaking ability and hands. Flawless defensively.

F – Jimmy Andersson, HV71 (5’9, 181 lbs)
Speedy forward with smarts. Good passer and can be used in most game situations.

F – Mikael Backlund, Västerås (6’0, 194 lbs)
Skates well, handles the puck well and has good hockey sense. Hopes to end a mediocre season in a good way.

F – Emil Bejmo, Färjestad (5’10, 165 lbs)
A fast and hardworking center who can be put on both special teams. Plays a mature game.

F – Henrik Björklund, Färjestad (6’1, 190 lbs)
Underaged forward with a pure sniper instinct. Not very flashy, really, but he knows where the net is.

F – Johan Erkgärds, Färjestad (6’0, 176 lbs)
Good leader with speed, technical skills and passing ability.

F – Carl Gustafsson, Djurgården (5’7, 172 lbs)
Very short forward with surprising strength (and actually a decent physical game). Speedy with nice hands. 

F – Simon Hjalmarsson, Frölunda (5’11, 161 lbs)
Speedy forward with a nose for the net. Nice release and soft hands. Needs to become stronger.

F – Marcus Johansson, Färjestad (5’11, 172 lbs)
Undaraged two-way forward with quick feet, decent physical game and nice creativity.

F – Oscar Möller, Chilliwack (5’11, 181 lbs)
Technically skilled forward with fine scoring ability, hockey sense and attitude.

F – Anton Persson, Brynäs (5’10, 181 lbs)
Defensive-minded center and role player. Good hockey sense, not very flashy.

F – André Petersson, HV71 (5’9, 165 lbs)
Best hands on the team. Also a very good goal scorer and skates well. Underaged.

F – Mattias Tedenby, HV71 (5’9, 161 lbs)
Top Swedish forward prospect for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Terrific speed, technical skills, balance and goal scoring ability.

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