The Day is nearly here, the Pre-Tournament Games are done, and its time for the World Juniors. In October I did early looks and predictions on what the rosters might look like, but I think its time to update them now, as teams are being set, and the tournament is ready to go. If you want to see any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
Over the Next two days I will give you are preview of Each Team in the Tournament, highlighting the key players to watch, their strengths and weaknesses, and what to look forward to in the Tournament. Today, we’ll look at Pool A, which features defending champ Sweden, the impressive Finns, the always dangerous Czech Republic, a team that is no stranger to upsets in Switzerland, and an underrated team from Latvia.
So lets get started with Team Sweden, last year’s gold medalist and the Defending Champions.
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.
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 Senators decision with respect 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. It looks like he will start the tournament on the Swedes top line.
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. It appears that Lindholm will centre Sweden’s 2nd line.
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 six games with 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. Sweden should be able to produce three scoring lines.
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 9 goals and 19 points in 22 games for Leksand in the Allvenskan, surpassing the totals of 8 goals and 17 points he posted last year in 43 games. Considering the lack of success most 18 year olds have in the Allvenskan, and the strength of the league this year as it has been improved with the signings of several locked out NHLers this is quite remarkable.
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 it would appear that he will be on Sweden’s top line this year.
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 6 goals and 8 points in his first 15 games with the club.
The first thing you notice about Collberg’s game is a very heavy wrist shot and his lightning quick release. He is especially deadly with one timers. 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, and should be deployed on the second line, as well as being a key contributor on the powerplay.
Defence: The Swedish defence has taken the biggest blow with the news that OscarKlefbom and Jonas Brodin are injured and cannot play in the tournament. The two players are basically irreplaceable in terms of talent level and importance to the team. That said, the Swedes are deep on defence, and hope that the following players can fill those voids.
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.
Mikael Wikstrand, Defence: A seventh round pick of the Ottawa Senators, it looks like Wikstrand will be given a key role on this year’s club. Wikstrand has a cannon of a point shot, and will be an important part of the Swedish power play in this tournament. He’s not a great puckhandler, or passer, but his sizzling one-timer makes Wikstrand an excellent choice as a trigger man at the point.Based on the two pre-tournament games against Canada and the United States, he may even be given first unit power play time. Defensively, Wikstrand is mobile and plays a solid positional game.
Goaltending: The Swedes have been producing great goalies for years, and this year is no different. If he gets hot, Dansk can play as well as any goaltender in this tournament.
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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