We are now less than one year away from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi Russia. The crown jewel of the games will undoubtedly be the Men’s Hockey Tournament. While it is not yet confirmed that the NHL will allow their players to compete, it does seem very likely. Previously at Last Word on Sports we had Grant Alexander project the lineup for defending gold medalist Team Canada. We also had Maksim Vasilyev project the roster for the hosts, Team Russia. Yesterday I looked at a potential roster for Team USA. Today I will continue through the tournament, putting together an early projection for Sweden’s 2014 lineup. The 2006 gold medalists did not have the same success in Vancouver, losing to Slovakia in a hard fought quarterfinal game. Sweden will head to Sochi looking to reclaim their spot on top of the world, and have a roster capable of competing for gold.
Note that the announcement has been made that teams can carry 25 man squads instead of the old 23 (but only 22 can dress for any game). With this format I have gone with 3 goalies, 8 defencemen, and 14 forwards. 1 goalie, 1 defenceman and 1 forward will find themselves in the press box in each game.
#1 Henrik Lundqvist
#2 Anders Lindback
#3 Jonas Gustavsson
King Henrik won the 2012 Vezina trophy, and was the goalie for Sweden’s 2006 gold medal team. He’s one of the best goalies in the world and will backstop this strong squad. Sweden is really the one team where its not even a question mark as who the starter will be, there is no debate, there is no controversy; so long as King Henrik is healthy, he’s the number 1 goalie in February 2014. Backing him up is Anders Lindback. Stuck behind Pekka Rinne in Nashville for years, he’s finally emerged from that shadow and become Tampa’s number 1 goalie, proving his worth as an NHL starter so far this year. Defacto number 3 is Gustavsson right now, but he could be challenged by Jacob Markstrom or Robin Lehner two up and coming prospect goalies who have been stuck in the AHL with some limited NHL games thus far, though with Jose Theodore’s injury, Markstrom might get a prolonged look in Florida.
Erik Karlsson – Victor Hedman
Last year’s Norris Trophy winner will lead this defence. Karlsson may be injured right now, out with his achilles sujery, but we expect him to be back at 100% well before Sochi. Karlsson is the most dynamic offensive defenceman in the world, and has really improved in his own end of the rink over the past two seasons. Before his injury he was playing over 25 minutes a night for the Senators, and was even being used as a key penalty killer this year. Joining him on the top pairing is Victor Hedman who has become one of the top defenceman on the Tampa Bay Lightning. With his towering size at 6’6″, he is an intimidating physical force, and is especially strong in his own end of the rink. While he has showed offensive ability in Tampa, he’ll be the stay at home player in this pairing.
Niklas Kronwall – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
With Karlsson out injured, Kronwall has taken over as the NHL’s leader in points by a defenceman. Taking over from the retired legend Nicklas Lidstrom as the number 1 defenseman on the Red Wings blue line has been challenging at times, but by and large Kronwall has been up to the task. He’s always a threat to throw a big hit especially if someone crosses the Swedish blue line with their head down. Ekman-Larsson, or OEL as he is sometimes known, is one of the NHL’s best kept secrets. Playing for the Phoenix Coyotes, the Swede leads their powerplay, and plays shut down defense for the desert dogs. A smooth skater, his mobility will be a massive asset in this tournament played on international ice.
Alex Edler – Tobias Enstrom
In performing this exercise we really see the quality of this Swedish team. Edler and Enstrom are both fantastic defencemen, and here we find them on Sweden’s third pairing. Edler plays an outstanding two way game and is the main quarterback on a strong Canucks powerplay. Expect him to be on the first powerplay unit for Team Sweden (alongside Erik Karlsson of course) as his chemistry with the Sedin Twins is evident, and anytime you can have 3/5ths of a successful NHL powerplay as a base to build on for a short tournament like this, you take advantage of that natural chemistry. Enstrom is the leader on the Jets blue line, and while a player like Dustin Byfuglien may bring more flash, its Enstrom who is the most consistent two way defender on the squad.
Extra: Jonathan Ericsson
Much maligned earlier in his career, Ericsson has really stepped up and become a solid defender for the Detroit Red Wings the past two seasons. He gets into the starting lineup for the chemistry he has with a number of members of the squad. A solid stay at home player, Ericsson can be used to help kill penalties on this team.
Press Box: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Part of the top 4 on the record setting Blackhawks squad, super-intendent Hjalmarsson has become an outstanding shot blocker. His strong work in his own end of the rink is a big part of Chicago’s winning ways, and will be a valuable asset for the Swedes if he is pressed into service. Don’t expect much offence out of Hjalmarsson, but there is plenty of scoring among the rest of this Swedish defence. Its his stay at home presence that makes him a valuable fill in.
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Gabriel Landeskog
Two thirds of the first line was extremely easy to assemble. Where else will Sweden look but to the Sedin twins? They have outstanding chemistry and are two of the most dangerous scorers in the NHL. The strength of the Sedins game has always been their work along the boards and on the cycle game, and they work best with another forward who can play that cycle, and score goals in front of the net. The young Swedish power forward Gabriel Landeskog is the perfect compliment to the twins. Strong on the puck, and capable of burying goals from the front of the net, Landeskog should be the beneficiary of some great set ups by the twins. Expect this line to lead the way offensively for the Swedes and play huge minutes. They are also very capable defensively and can be used in any situation.
Loui Eriksson – Nick Backstrom – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Backstrom is still an excellent playmaking centre and his great speed will be extremely effective on the international ice. In Eriksson and Hornqvist I’ve surrounded him with two power forward, goal scoring wingers. These guys get to the front of the net and know what to do with the puck when they get there. Eriksson also has a great wrist shot with an excellent release, as well as a strong one timer. While Hornqvist has taken over from Tomas Holmstrom as one of the premier edge of the crease, screen/tip in specialists in the NHL.
Johan Franzen – Henrik Zetterberg – Daniel Alfredsson
This will be Sweden’s shutdown unit. Henrik Zetterberg is one of the best two way players in the game, and is capable of logging the tough minutes in the hardest assignments, against the best centres the world will have to offer. He’s done it for years in Detroit, and often had the mule, Johan Franzen at his side. For this reason, we take already established chemistry and keep it together on the checking unit. Daniel Alfredsson is entering the twilight of his career, but with it being an Olympic year, we think he stays around for one more kick at the can. The long time Senators captain is still an excellent two way player and will help the Red Wings combo in their shut down role. However these three players have also scored a ton of points in the NHL. They can quickly transition to. offence if the other team makes a mistake.
Alex Steen – Patrick Berglund – Viktor Stalberg
On the fourth line we also have established NHL chemistry as two stars for the Blues will be playing together in Steen and Berglund. They provide a quality two way game for St. Louis and will be expected to do the same for Sweden. Stalberg has become a twenty goal scorer and a strong net-front presence for the Chicago Blackhawks. He’ll be asked to continue to play that game with Berglund and Steen being excellent set up men. This line can be used in all situations, and gives Sweden four strong units that they can roll out there throughout the tournament.
Extra: Jacob Silfverberg
Last season Silfverberg was the Elitserien MVP, and Elitserien playoff MVP, leading his club to the championship. He then came over to the Ottawa Senators, appearing in a pair of playoff games. This year he’s been impressive as a rookie for the Sens, and his strong skating, and excellent wrist shot and release have been evident. As he continues to develop I project him to take the role as 13th forward for his versatility and offensive ability.
Press Box: Carl Hagelin
Hagelin has been a pleasant surprise for the New York Rangers over the past two seasons. A powerful winger, he has a strong two way game, and the versatility to step into any role should injuries hit. A valuable player to have in the press box, no doubt about that.
Leadership: I’ve decided to give the Captain’s “C” to Daniel Alfredsson, the longest serving captain in the NHL today. I’ve given the Alternate’s “A”s to Vancouver Captain Henrik Sedin, and Detroit Captain Henrik Zetterberg. While they will be officially recognized as the team’s leaders, there will surely be plenty of strong personalities in the room, such as Daniel Sedin, Nick Kronwall, Alex Edler, Gabriel Landeskog, and others. Sweden has no lack of character on their squad.
So there it is, my picks for Team Sweden’s 2014 Olympic Team. Who would you have picked? How will they fare in Sochi? Feel free to leave your comments below.