Early Look at Top Candidates for Team Sweden at the Sochi Olympics

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2013

Early Look at Top Candidates for Team Sweden at the Sochi Olympics

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    Team Sweden is lurking in the background. While the homestanding Russians, the defending gold medalist Canadians and Team USA are likely to be the most high-profile hockey teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Team Sweden could be in the mix for the gold medal.

    Team Sweden has all the tools necessary to give the Russians, Canadians and Americans a run for their money. Sweden did not perform well in 2010, losing to Slovokia in the quarterfinals. That loss should serve as motivation for this proud and excellent team. Team Sweden won the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

    While the NHL waits to give official approval to having its players perform in the Olympics, it would still be a shocker if the league decided against letting its players compete in the Olympic hockey tournament.

    Here's our look at the six starters that should take the ice for Team Sweden in the 2014 Olympics.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

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    Henrik Zetterberg is one of the most talented and versatile performers in the NHL. He can play center or wing, and for the purposes of this team, we are putting Zetterberg at right wing.

    He is a thoroughly responsible player who will not sacrifice defense just so he can score. He plays all three zones expertly and can quickly turn defense into offense.

    Zetterberg is a very creative offensive player and it often looks like he is competing with teammate Pavel Datsyuk in a contest of "Can You Top This?" since they both have exceptional offensive instincts.

    Zetterberg has eight goals and 24 assists this year, and he has a career-high of 92 points on his resume.

    Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has Zetterberg on the ice in critical situations for the Red Wings and Team Sweden will do the same.

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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    Many in the hockey world would not think of breaking up the Sedin twins, but for the purpose of putting Team Sweden's best line together, we will.

    While we have no doubt that Daniel Sedin will be on the team, Henrik is the more valuable of the two because he is one of the best playmakers in the world. He has led the NHL in assists in the last three seasons and won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer when he had 112 points in 2009-10.

    While many of his assists are simply the result of his accuracy passing the puck, Sedin has the instincts to know where his teammates will be, and he will make a blind pass to the precise spot that leads to a scoring opportunity.

    Henrik Sedin has scored as many as 29 goals in his career, but he is looking to pass first and second and shoot third.

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

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    Gabriel Landeskog projects as a second- or third-line forward for Team Sweden on most other iterations of this team. However, Landeskog has something special going for him that might bring out the best in his linemates.

    The 20-year-old Landeskog is a strong combination of speed and aggressiveness. Landeskog regularly lights a spark on the Avalanche and will likely do the same for Team Sweden.

    He won the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie in 2011-12, and he demonstrated a penchant for scoring clutch goals. He had five game-winners a year ago.

    Landeskog scored 22 goals and 52 points last year.

    Landeskog is not afraid to take a hit to make a play and will dish out some solid checks that are designed to separate opponents from the puck.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    The retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom hurts the Detroit Red Wings and Team Sweden, but the Swedes have another superstar defenseman in Erik Karlsson to step in.

    While his 2013 season came to an abrupt halt as a result of an errant skate by Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins that sliced his Achilles, Karlsson may be the most important player on Team Sweden in the Olympics. He is the most gifted offensive defenseman in the game today when he is healthy.

    There is no reason to expect him to be anything less than his best in 2014. Karlsson has a knack for getting open and he also has blistering and accurate shot. He can blast his slap shot from the point or zip his wrist shot.

    Karlsson is an accurate passer and a creative playmaker. He won the Norris Trophy in 2011-12 with 19 goals and 78 points. While he makes some mistakes in the defensive end, they are easily offset by his overwhelming offensive talent.

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings

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    Hard-hitting Niklas Kronwall is the proper defense partner for the offensive-minded Karlsson.

    The Swedes have a boatload of stellar defensemen, including Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman and the underrated Tobias Enstrom.

    Kronwall knows how to put his signature on any game with his big-time hip checks. He sends a message to his opponents every time they skate into the offensive zone.

    Kronwall is a solid contributor on the offensive end. He had 15 goals and 21 assists last year. He had seven power-play goals in 2011-12

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    Henrik Lundqvist's name must be in the discussion any time the subject is the best goaltender in the world.

    Perhaps some would choose Jonathan Quick, Martin Brodeur or Tim Thomas (currently on hiatus), but Lundqvist is as good as any of them. When they are are all at their best, Lundqvist is quite likely the best.

    Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie last year with a 1.97 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts.

    He is clearly Sweden's best goalie, and their medal hopes will depend on him.