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.
In the last few weeks Sweden has suffered three major blows to their World Junior Championship Roster. Three key pieces have been lost, two due to injury; and one as it was announced he would not be released from his AHL club. These three players were key contributors to last year’s World Junior Squad, and expected to take a big role this year.
Yesterday it was announced that Mika Zibanejad, the Senators prospect and outstanding 2 way center who scored the Golden Goal for Sweden last year would not be released by the Senators from his AHL obligations to participate in the tournament. Sweden has also seen its top 2 defencemen from last year’s tournament both lost due to injury. Edmonton prospect Oscar Klefbom has an injured shoulder which requires surgery and will keep him out for the tournament. Meanwhile Jonas Brodin has been confirmed to have a broken clavicle which will keep him out for the tournament.
A few weeks ago I previewed Sweden’s World Junior Squad, and called them a gold medal contender. This preview can be found by clicking here. And the Swedes will still ice a strong squad which will feature the likes of Filip Forsberg, Sebastian Collberg, Pontus Aberg, Elias Lindholm, Hampus Lindholm, Ludvig Bystrom, and Oscar Dansk who were featured in the piece. Today I look at players who will be asked to play a bigger role given the latest news, and see if Sweden can still be a gold medal contender next month in Ufa, Russia.
Forwards: The Swedes have a ton of depth up front and while the loss of Zibanejad is pretty big, they should be able to mitigate it somewhat through promoting some of their other talented centres.
Victor Rask, Centre, Calgary Hitmen: The Carolina Hurricanes second round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry draft was recently returned to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, where he scored 33 goals and 63 points in 64 games last season. After a short audition with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL (5 points in 10 games), he now has four points in his first four games back in Calgary. Rask is a strong two-way player, and will now be leaned on for much of the ice time that the Swedes were counting on getting from Zibanejad. He is a big and strong centre who can score goals due to his great puckhandling skill, and good shot and release. He also has decent vision and playmaking ability especially when working down low in the offensive zone. Rask may be a downgrade from Zibanejad, but he is still a very good player who will help fill that hole at centre for the Swedes. He will certainly find himself flanked by talented wingers, as that is no doubt the strength of this squad.
Erik Karlsson, Centre, Frolunda: No Ottawa fans, not THAT Erik Karlsson. This Erik Karlsson is a Centre, drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 4th round of this June’s NHL draft. Given the injury to Zibanejad a door to play on an offensive line may have opened up for Karlsson. He may be a bit undersized, but Karlsson is offensively talented with good skating and a good motor. He is a high energy guy who always keeps his feet moving. Karlsson is strong on the puck and likes to hit, but needs more size to be effective. Look for Karlsson to be a pass first type of player, and his skills definitely lead to him being more a playmaker than a scorer.
Defence: The Swedish defence has taken the biggest blow with this news, and Klefbom and Brodin are basically irreplaceable in terms of talent level and importance to the team. That said, the Swedes are deep on defence, and hope that one or both of the following players can fill those voids.
Calle Andersson, Defence, Farjestad: The New York Rangers’ 4th round draft pick has played 22 games for Fargestad in the Elitserien this season. Andersson is a two way defender with very good skating skills including good top end speed, quick acceleration, excellent agility, and outstanding edgework. This skating ability makes him extremely mobile on the blueline and capable of playing both an offensive game and a shut down defensive game. Andersson has an accurat shot and good release and one timer ability. He has good hockey IQ and understands when to pinch or join the rush. Andersson is an effective stickhandler and protects the puck well from his opponents. His ability to handle the puck and patiently walk the line buys him extra time to make the smart play especially on the powerplay. Andersson has good vision, and makes crisp, accurate passes, both in transition and from the offensive blue line. Defensively his biggest flaw is that he is not physical enough. He should go for the hit instead of the stick check more often. Still given the injuries on the Swedish blue line expect to see Anderson get huge minutes.
Robert Hagg, Defence, Modo: The door onto the squad may have opened wide for this 2013 draft eligible defenceman. He is an excellent skater who loves to join the rush. He can score off the rush or on the powerplay with a hard accurate shot. Hagg makes good crisp passes out of his own end of the rink and with the man advantage. In previous international competition he has shown to be able to use his size to make him an imposing defender on the blue line. May not get huge minutes, but will be asked to contribute to the success of the Swedish team.
Obviously the three losses are a major blow to the Swedes, but the advancements in the Swedish program and a return to their roots as a hockey power have given the Swedes plenty of depth and the ability to replace injured players. Obviously, on paper, Sweden is a worse team today than when I reviewed them about 3 weeks ago. However, the fall off isn’t as severe as some would think, and the Swedes must still be respected as a contender in this tournament.
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