On Monday afternoon Sweden released their 21-player roster for the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa and with that in mind here are 5 players I'll be watching with varying degrees of interest.
5. Victor Hedman (D)
6'6, 220 lbs - Modo (SEL)
He's ranked #1 by both ISS and Redline Report for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He's 17-years-old and is already in his second season with Modo in Sweden's top men's league. Pundits and publications are saying he's the next Chris Pronger; a guaranteed franchise player. So why is he 5th on my list?
It's certainly not because I think he's any less than the budding superstar that those in the know have been envisioning for the last couple of years. I will be watching him for sure, but how much debate can there be on a player so roundly applauded? I have yet to have a single scout tell me that they have any concerns about him. Not one.
I'll be watching but I don't think there's much left to discover with Hedman - he's already the next big blueliner.
4. Erik Karlsson (D)
5.11, 163 lbs - Frölunda (SEL)
He's not big but he garnered so much hype in the weeks leading up to the draft (post U18) that quite frankly, I want to see if he lives up to the billing he was given. He's in the SEL but his stats suggest he's either struggling or not playing much of a role (3 points in 22 games) but the Senators drafted him 15th overall in 2008 because of his supposed offensive upside. He did have 7 points in 6 games at last year's WJC in Prague but I'm interested in seeing if he can rediscover that offensive flair after being held off the scoresheet so much with the men. I bet he can.
3. Jacob Markström (G)
6'4, 185 lbs - Brynäs (SEL)
I'm really intrigued by this goalie. He's got terrific size, his 2.37 GAA and .918 save percentage in 19 Elite League games this year suggest an 18-year-old worth paying a great deal of attention to. The Florida Panthers drafted him 31st overall in 2008 and I know for a fact that the Edmonton Oilers had him ranked much higher than that on their list.
On a strictly immature and personal level... I drafted him in my fantasy league with the 31st pick as well so call this a scouting mission of my own.
2. Magnus Svensson-Pääjärvi (LW)
6'1, 198 lbs - Timrå (SEL)
He's the second highest rated Swede for the 2009 NHL Draft but I think there is some debate about how high he will end up in the rankings. Most I've spoken with so far consider Hedman-Tavares then Cowan-Duchene the almost automatic top 4 but others suggest that a strong performance in Ottawa could get MSP some attention.
Like Hedman, Svensson-Pääjärvi was a 16-year-old playing in the U20 WJC for Sweden in Prague. He only had a couple of points there but he also had three in the SEL (as a 16-year-old) last year as well. How's he doing? Let's just say that dude has some skills. Here's a clip from this past September:
1. Mikael Backlund (F)
6', 198 lbs - Västerås (SEL)
He got a long look from the Calgary Flames at training camp but didn't do enough in pre-season to stick with the NHL club. Back in Sweden, Backlund plays for Västerås in the Allsvenskan, the league below the SEL where his club team was relegated to a couple of years ago. There he has 7 points in 14 games, slightly ahead of the pace he set last year when he scored 13 points in 37 games at the same level.
The Oilers took some flak for taking Riley Nash when they traded up in 2007, some of that criticism at the time was from me; I'm 3 for 4 with Oiler 1st round picks in the last couple of years during the TEAM 1260's draft coverage... but I predicted Backlund when the Oilers made their move up in 2007. Since then I've kept waiting for Backlund to prove me right and the Oilers wrong but frankly his stats don't scream 'NHL stud' like yoou would expect a player of his hype to have.
He had 7 points in Prague at the 2008 WJC and he should be Sweden's top guy in Ottawa this time around. He turns 20 next March and if Västerås appears headed for another Allsvenskan seeding in 2009-10, I would assume this is a player that the Flames would like to add to their organization at either the NHL or AHL level. I'm looking at this tournament as a way to gauge whether he should be Calgary bound or headed to Quad City.
The Swedes will have a strong team, there is little doubt of that. Peter Loubardias, a good friend of The Pipeline Show, suggested to me that Sweden will be exceptional in Ottawa but perhaps even better in 2010. Aside from the five names I have already mentioned, the 2009 roster is packed with players of interest; Mattias Tedenby (NYR), Simon Hjalmarsson (STL), David Ullstrom (NYI) and Joakim Andersson (DET) included.
Canadians are proud of our hockey history and tradition but sometimes I think we get a little caught up with being the dominant nation on the planet when it comes to sticks and pucks. Sweden has a pretty established record of its own with some individual hi-lights that still stand the test of time today; Markus Naslund still holds the record for most goals scored by a single player in the tournament with 13 back in 1993 while Peter Forsberg is the king when it comes to most assists (24) and points (31) done that same year. Defenceman Peter Andersson holds the record for defensive scoring in a single tournament with 14, set in 1985.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Swedes will be worth watching as they look to get revenge on Canada for the result of the 2008 Final game.
Final Note: It eluded me when I looked over the roster last night but... Oilers prospect Johan Motin is not on the list. He's in his 3rd year in the SEL but apparently isn't good enough for the WJC. That's not a good thing.
Washington 1st rounder, Anton Gustafsson is also a noticeable absentee. He was taken 21st overall in 2008 but has 4 points in 10 games in the Allsvenskan league. I assume he's either hurt or just really, really struggling.
(photos courtesy http://eliteprospects.com/index.php)
(WJC record stats courtesy TSN.ca)