Olympic Hockey: Team Sweden Looking to Youth for Strength

Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson
Dec 10 2013 Buffalo NY USA Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson 65 carries the puck up ice against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Buffalo beats Ottawa 2 to 1 in a shootout Timothy T Ludwig USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Winter Olympics were held overseas, 2006 in Turin, Italy, it was Team Sweden that skated away with the men’s hockey gold medal. That was also the Olympics where there were allegations that Sweden threw a game against Slovakia, which they lost 3-0, in order to face the Swiss and not the Canadians in the first quarter-finals. They would face the Swiss and Czech Republic in the quarter-and-semi finals and win those games by a combined score of 13-5 before defeating Finland in the gold medal game.

Things didn’t go as well for Sweden in 2010 in Vancouver. After waxing the competition in the round robin by winning three straight, the Swedes lost in the quarter-finals to Team Slovakia. That probably won’t be the case this time around.

There’s a youth movement on this team as there is on many others. Gone are greats like Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson, in come younger stars like Erik Karlsson and Gabriel Landeskog. Of course, there are still veterans like Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall around, and a couple of guys with the last name Sedin.

Sweden is one of the countries that will have a lot of tough decisions to make, though the easiest one comes in net.


Undoubtedly, this is Henrik Lundqvist’s starting job, and likely for the entirety of the tournament.

Sure there are concerns about how Lundqvist has played to this point this year. However, it would be fairly ignorant to just set aside the several great seasons he had before that. The bigger question is who will be his backup in case of injury.

Their Olympic orientation camp invitees had Jhonas Enroth, Viktor Fasth and Robin Lehner’s names attached to it. Fasth, mostly because of injuries, has only played five games this year; Jhonas Enroth has been pretty much stapled to the bench in favor of Ryan Miller in Buffalo (he’s played four games in five weeks); Robin Lehner has been up and down for Ottawa, an up and down team themselves.

For my money, Lehner should be the backup here. He’s been solid in his parts of the last three years and could be one of their goalies of future Olympic squads. Not that it matters much; it’s still King Henrik getting the starts.


Out goes Lidstrom, in comes Karlsson. While I’m certainly not saying that Karlsson is Lidstrom or anything close to it, there is a glut of defensemen coming that should certainly help fill the void left behind by arguably the greatest defenseman of all time.

When you look at the orientation invitees, three names stick out as automatic locks on the blue line: Karlsson, Kronwall and Oliver Ekman-Larksson. The latter of the three has fairly quietly turned into one of the most dominant defensemen in the NHL at both ends of the ice; Ekman-Larsson has more points than other Olympic-hopeful defensemen like Sergei Gonchar and Jay Bouwmeester since the start of the 2011 season and more points than guys like Dion Phaneuf, Drew Doughty and Kimmo Timonen since the start of the lockout-shortened season. That’s all while logging 24-25 minutes of ice time regularly and getting the toughest minutes of any Coyotes defenseman with partner Zbynek Michalek. It is very impressive stuff for a defenseman that is still just 22-years old.

I also expect Johnny Oduya to be on the team again as he was in 2010. Though there’s nothing flashy about his game, he’s a good possession defenseman who gets most of the top matchups in Chicago, not Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Victor Hedman should also hear his name called for the Olympic team, as he’s slowly but surely turned into one of the best young defensemen in the game.

For their last three defensemen, I would assume one spot goes to Jonas Brodin, the young blue liner who plays for Minnesota and got a lot of traction for the Calder Trophy last year, even from this humble writer. If he’s healthy in time, Alex Edler would also seem likely to round out the defensemen, though Phildelphia’s Nicklas Grossmann is a candidate if they feel they need a tougher defense corps.


Most teams have their fair share of top end talent, and Sweden is no different.

Returning from the last Olympic team are brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom. Those four guys will make the core of their top two lines and will also be looked at for leadership both on and off the ice.

It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that both Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Steen, assuming health, will both be on this team come February. Landeskog is truly one of the game’s best two-way players; not only does he have 29 points already this year he’s the top possession player for Colorado and he faces the toughest competition of any of their players. Steen, well, his resumé from the last couple of years speaks for itself.

There are veterans that can return like Patric Hornqvist and Johan Franzen, and though Franzen has been injured, both are having good seasons and are almost guaranteed to be there. So we have eight now.

After those eight players, it gets a little iffy up front. I would assume Patrik Berglund from St. Louis makes the squad as well. This is a good centreman who can play up and down the lineup and his penchant for hot streaks makes him ideal for this type of tournament. Loui Eriksson was a sure-fire addition to this team, but after already suffering two concussions this year, the second of which he still has not returned from, that’s a question mark (though, I assume they’ll still name him).

Their next four forwards are as up in the air as it can get. Gustav Nyquist has shown flashes of offensive talent this year in the NHL, as have Marcus Johansson and Carl Hagelin in years previous. Joel Lundqvist is a career Swedish Elite League player, and he was on the 2013 World Championship team, along with 22-year old Oscar Lindberg, a second round draft pick of Phoenix back in 2010. You never know which particular players a coach will like, so after the first 10 forwards named basically any four could be at the bottom (though I think Hagelin’s speed alone gets him on the team).

Sweden’s success will start from the net on out. They don’t have the offensive powerhouses that the Canadians and Russians do, but they do have the better goaltending and a pretty solid, if young, defense corps. There is no reason they shouldn’t challenge for a gold medal, assuming no meltdowns between the pipes.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');