Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of them here.
With the CHL seasons now well over a month old, I thought now would be a good time to look at the potential line-ups for the World Junior Championships. Last week we started with Team Canada, moved on to Team USA, completed Pool B with Russia, Slovakia and Germany, started Pool A with the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Latvia, and continued with Finland.
Today, I finish the Pool A Preview and will look at the defending Champion Sweden.
Based on the latest in the NHL lockout, I am going to assume that the NHL and NHLPA will not resolve their issues and that premium talent will be available. I’m also going to assume that AHL clubs who have some of these junior-aged players will release them for the tournament.
So let’s get started…
Last year’s Gold Medal Champions return much of the team that won it all. In areas where replacements have been needed they’ve been able to add equally or more talented players. The Swedish hockey development program is firing on all cylinders right now. A legitimate Gold Medal favorite, the Swedes are as talented as anyone in this tournament. They will head to UFA Russia looking to defend their title.
Mika Zibanejad, Centre/Right Wing: The hero of last year’s tournament, Zibanejad scored the gold medal winning goal for Sweden in overtime against the Russians. The first round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2011, Zibanejad is currently playing for the Binghamton Senators. Zibanejad is seen as a power forward with a long powerful skating stride, good top end speed and excellent balance. As such he is able to drive hard to the front of the net (just like he did on that famous goal). He could use a little work on his acceleration though, as it seems to take him an extra stride or two to reach that top speed. He has soft hands, good stickhandling and strong puck protection. Zibanejad has a very good shot and NHL ready release. His playmaking ability is also at a very high level, as he has good vision and makes precise crisp passes. Zibanejad works the boards well and digs pucks out of corners. He is also particularly proficient at working the cycle game, and at getting to the front of the net for rebounds and tip ins. Defensively, Zibanejad also excels. He is a true 200 foot player, capable in all three zones. He again uses his size and physicality to his advantage, winning board battles, and containing his man and keeping him to the outside. His anticipation is excellent and he cuts down passing lanes well. He excels on the penalty kill and is a willing shot blocker. Expect him to be a key leader for the Swedes in this tournament.
Elias Lindholm, Centre: Lindholm is a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He is currently looking like a sure-fire top 10 pick, and possibly even a top 5 player. He was very impressive in helping Sweden win a silver medal at the 2012 Under 18 World Championships. Lindholm is an excellent skater who is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has great stickhandling ability and uses it to deke past defenders and protect the puck. With his excellent vision and ability to feather a crisp pass through a maze of sticks and skates he should be able to rack up assists especially with the talented wingers on this Swedish squad. He is also a gritty forward willing to start the forecheck, and to battle down low and play a puck possession game on the cycle.
Filip Forsberg, RW/LW: The 11th overall pick of the Washington Capitals in this June’s NHL Entry Draft, Forsberg was part of the gold medal squad last year. He’s started the season strong with 7 goals and 14 points in 19 games for Leksand in the Allvenskan, nearly reaching the totals of 8 goals and 17 points he posted last year in 43 games. Forsberg is a versatile forward, capable of playing either wing position. He plays a power forward’s style, as he is very willing to hit opponents, throw his body around, and drive the net. He could stand to add some muscle to his frame to make this power game more effective though. Forsberg is not all power though, as he is also extremely skilled. He’s got an excellent shot with a very quick and deceptive release that often fools goalies. He’s also a very talented passer and is able to complete a number of difficult passes, threading the needle through sticks and skates, and making crafty saucer passes at times. He is also a talented stickhandler and adept at using his body to protect the puck.Defensively, Forsberg is a hardworking, willing backchecker. He’s got good defensive awareness and is effective in all three zones on the ice. He understands defensive positioning and is a willing shot blocker and is able to effectively cut down passing lanes as well as an opponent’s time and space. Forsberg played a 3rd line role with limited minutes last year, however I expect we’ll see him get a lot more minutes and responsibility in this year’s tournament.
Sebastian Collberg, RW/LW: Collberg was also part of the Gold Medal Winning Swedish Club last season, and even scored a huge shootout goal for the club in the Semi-final victory over Finland. He outperformed Forsberg in the tournament, and was a key cog for Sweden last year, scoring 7 points in 6 games. Collberg started the season with Frolunda in the Elitserien. However he was often deployed as the 13th forward or a fourth liner at best. This meant extremely limited minutes for the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect. Collberg was recently loaned to Orebro in the Allvenskan, and has thrived with more ice time scoring 2 goals in his first 5 games with the club. The first thing you notice about Collberg’s game is a very heavy wrist shot and his lightning quick release. Collberg is also a great stick handler, and not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. He’s great on breakaways, and has shown that he can beat the goalie in the shootout. In short Collberg is a natural sniper. Collberg is also an above average skater and has very good vision and passing ability, which gives him the added dimension of becoming a good playmaker too. There are some concerns about his size, and defensive game, but I expect that Collberg will continue to be a key offensive contributor for the Swedish Team this year.
Pontus Aberg, LW: A second round pick of the Nashville Predators, Aberg has had a nice start to the season with 9 points in 19 games for Djurgarden in the Allvenskan. Last year Aberg made the Swedish World Junior team but was injured in a pre-tournament exhibition game and did not get to play in the actual tournament. Aberg will be among the fastest skaters in the entire tournament. He’s an absolute speed demon, and combines this with great agility, balance, acceleration and edgework. He’s an elite level skater. Aberg also has a hard, heavy wrist shot which he gets off quickly thanks to a great release. He also has a heavy slapshot and a good one timer. Aberg is a good stickhandler who makes creative moves and is able to beat defenders off the rush. Aberg is a much better goal scorer than a set up man. He definitely prefers to shoot rather than pass. As a set up man, he lacks ideal vision and passing instincts. Despite his smaller size, he’s an absolutely fearless player, who gets in hard on the forecheck, and is willing to battle on the boards and in front of the net. Look for Aberg to try to make up for missing the tournament last year by impressing in this years competition.
Oscar Klefbom, Defence: Klefbom was named to the World Junior All-Star team in helping to lead the Swedes to a gold medal last season. The Edmonton Oiler first rounder is an outstanding skater. He has excellent edgework, and the ability to quickly pivot and change direction in all 360 degrees. He is extremely difficult to beat off the rush as he adjusts to an attackers movements and cuts them off. He closes gaps quickly and efficiently which allows him to line up the attacker for a big hit if given the opportunity. He is also able to quickly recover if something does go wrong. Offensively Klefbom is able to use his mobility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes when he has the puck. He also adds good top end speed and this allows him to both lead and join the rush. Klefbom has an extremely poweful slap shot. He sets up at the point on the power play and unleashes absolute howitzers at opposing goalies. He also has a very hard, very accurate wrist shot, and an excellent release. Klefbom is an excellent two way defenceman who will log huge minutes for Team Sweden in all situations, just as he did last year.
Hampus Lindholm, Defence: The surprise pick of last year’s draft, Lindholm shot up the draft board and was taken 6th overall by the Anaheim Ducks. Lindholm is an excellent skating defenceman. He is particularly impressive in his backwards skating which is extremely fast. He is rarely beat to the outside by forwards off the rush. Lindholm is already an excellent defender. He has size and is willing to use it to hit opposing forwards. He is generally a defensively responsible player, with good instincts, and an ability to read the play, however he can make youthful mistakes, and get himself out of position looking for the big hit at times. Lindholm is also good offensively. He has great hockey sense and instincts and picks good times to join the rush, and to make pinches at the blue line. He’s a good playmaker, with vision and creativity. Lindholm also possesses an accurate shot from the point and good velocity, however this is something he definitely needs to utilize more often. With his excellent two way play, expect Lindholm to be a key defender for Sweden.
Ludvig Bystrom, Defence: A second round pick of the Dallas Stars, Bystrom has international experience for Sweden at the Under 18s and the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Bystrom is an offensive defenceman, he is a good skater who loves to join the rush and is extremely creative in the offensive zone. He is a great passer with excellent vision, and is very good at distributing the puck, especially on the PP. One criticism is that he doesn’t shoot the puck enough to keep opponents guessing. Despite this he is still an excellent set up man on the powerplay. Defensively Bystrom relies on his skating, good positioning and an active stick to stop opponents.
Jonas Brodin, Defence: A 2011 first round pick of the Minnesota Wild, Brodin was a star defenceman for Team Sweden last year. Word recently came down that Brodin has a broken clavicle and will miss 8-12 weeks of action. This pretty much guarantees that he will be unable to play in the tournament and is the first big blow to the Swedish squad. A solid two-way player, Brodin may have been Sweden’s best player in last year’s tourney.
Oscar Dansk, Goaltender: A second round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dansk is playing for the Erie Otters in the OHL this season. The numbers in Erie don’t look great, but this is more a function of the weak team in front of him than it is Dansk’s play. He is a tall athletic goalie who plays the traditional butterfly style. Dansk has good athleticism, and quick reflexes. He moves well laterally and slides quickly from post to post and is able to make some very nice saves as a result. He is also extremely strong down low, and covers the bottom of the net effectively. He is great at stopping the first shot and is rarely beaten on a clean opportunity. Dansk has an excellent glove hand though he could use some work on his blocker side. A good puckhandler, Dansk is always coming out of his net to play the puck. Even with all those skills, in a short tournament like this one, Dansk’s most valuable attribute may be the cool and calm demeanor he displays in net. He recovers quickly from goals against and plays with a quiet confidence, something that will help the Swedish team as they look to repeat as World Junior Champions.
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