Updated Projection for Team Sweden's 2022 Olympic Men's Hockey Roster

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIINovember 30, 2021

Updated Projection for Team Sweden's 2022 Olympic Men's Hockey Roster

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    Mark LoMoglio/Getty Images

    When Sweden takes the ice in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, they'll be missing a lot of familiar faces—especially compared to the squad it took to Sochi in 2014. Gone are former national team staples such as Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.

    In their place is a new guard of sorts, led by the three players we know Sweden is taking in Mika Zibanejad, Gabriel Landeskog and Victor Hedman.

    Landeskog was at the Sochi Games as an assistant captain despite being just 21. Zibanejad was establishing himself in the NHL, while Hedman was left off the final roster for some inexplicable reason. We're pretty sure Sweden won't be making that mistake again.

    As is the case with every Olympic roster, injuries have things in a state of flux. The biggest question mark for Sweden will be Nicklas Backstrom, who only began skating with teammates in late November.

    For this exercise, we're going to assume the center will healthy. If he isn't able to compete, it would dramatically impact Sweden's forward group, perhaps opening the door for a younger skater to debut. More on that later, though.

    We've also done all we can to keep players in their natural positions. We made an exception in moving Elias Pettersson to the left wing. He's struggled with the Vancouver Canucks this season, necessitating the switch in our view. We can't imagine a scenario where Sweden leaves him at home, but anchoring one of their top two lines is likely out of the question for him.

         

    All stats appear courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com and NaturalStatTrick.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate through games played on Nov. 29.

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Team Sweden has a choice to make between the pipes for the first time since Lundqvist broke into the NHL in 2005. He was arguably the team's poster boy throughout his time as a professional, but the time has come for one of Jacob Markstrom or Robin Lehner to take the net over for Tre Kronor.

    The question is: Who will it be?

    Most early projections, like Josh Wegman's in TheScore.com, had Lehner slotted as the team's No. 1 goalie. But he's struggled to find his game with the Vegas Golden Knights this year. This season, 60 goalies have made at least five appearances.

    Of those 60 netminders, Lehner's goals saved above average (GSAA) of zero is good for 32nd. Meanwhile, Markstrom is in the Vezina Trophy conversation with a GSAA of 11.4, five shutouts and an 8-4-4 record. The former hasn't necessarily been bad, but the Calgary Flames backstop has been sensational.

    And sensational goaltending can take teams a long way in short tournaments like the Olympics. If Markstrom continues to play as well as he has been, it'll be difficult for Sweden to leave him on the bench for Lehner. Things can change, and Lehner has a high ceiling, so maybe he finds his game.

    We think Markstrom would have to be Sweden's go-to option. He's been too good and is a huge reason why the Flames have pushed for the top spot in the wide-open Pacific Division.

Defensive Pairing 1: Victor Hedman and John Klingberg

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    There aren't many slam dunks when projecting Olympic rosters. So many hockey minds have input in these choices, and everyone sees the game a bit differently. This is how someone like Hedman was left off the 2014 team. Someone thought it was a good idea, and convinced a room full of other people that it was.

    Even with that in mind, we still see Sweden's top defensive pairing as about as much of a no-brainer as there is in this tournament.

    If the team's blue line wasn't as stacked as it is—and make no mistake, the defense will be Sweden's bread and butter in Beijing—we'd hear arguments in favor of moving one of Hedman or John Klingberg onto the second pairing to "spread the wealth."

    And who knows.

    Maybe the coaching staff likes the idea of having one of Hedman or Klingberg on the ice at almost all times. We think pairing them up offers too much possible impact, and they both are capable of playing north of 20 minutes per night in all situations.

    Since 2019, only three defensemen possess points-per-60 clips better than Hedman's 0.84, while Klingberg rounds out the top 20 with a stellar 0.60.

    Hedman is a bit more sturdy in his own end than Klingberg, giving this duo a nice balance of risk and reward. We also have Sweden's top-six forward group set up with speed in mind, so having effective puck movers like Klingberg and Hedman on the back end is a must.

Defensive Pairing 2: Jonas Brodin and Hampus Lindholm

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    This is where the slam-dunk picks stop for Sweden's blue line. Not because the rest of the players available aren't good. It's quite the opposite situation. The team has arguably the deepest group of defensemen worthy of an Olympic roster spot.

    If they medal in Beijing, it'll be on the strength of their goaltending and back end.

    Both Jonas Brodin and Hampus Lindholm are top-pairing blueliners for their respective teams, and their games would complement each other. Brodin also quarterbacks the Minnesota Wild's power play and skates with the second penalty kill group, while Lindholm has evolved into more of a shutdown defender for the Anaheim Ducks.

    We think this pairing would give Sweden another duo capable of playing in all situations while effectively hanging onto the puck.

    Brodin has quietly been driving play all year long for the Wild, giving life to the team's electric offense. Only three teams in the NHL score goals at a better clip than Minnesota, and their defenders' collective ability to get the puck up to the forwards quickly has been a key component of that success.

    With the larger ice surface being used in Beijing, that skill will be even more critical.

    Meanwhile, Lindholm anchors Anaheim's top-10 penalty kill, and we can envision him playing a similar role for Team Sweden in the Olympics. Both of these defenders are lefties, and if this group has a weakness, it's that. We have Lindholm playing on the right side here even though he plays on the left in Anaheim.

Defensive Pairing 3: Mattias Ekholm and Erik Karlsson

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    Kavin Mistry/Getty Images

    We tried to figure out a way to get Rasmus Dahlin into this lineup but couldn't make it work. He's struggled in his own end with the Buffalo Sabres this season, and the team has grappled to find a partner who can help stabilize his game.

    That's not the kind of defenseman you want to have on your third pairing. Especially not when Erik Karlsson is playing on the other side.

    This is a young team, and we think Karlsson's vast international experience gets him onto this roster. He also has been playing on the right side with the San Jose Sharks, and this team needs defenders on their natural sides.

    Karlsson isn't the same dynamic skater and creator he was a few years ago, but he's still capable of playing anywhere in this lineup, can run the power play and gives Sweden another experienced penalty killer. 

    We tepidly have Mattias Ekholm slotted in alongside Karlsson here despite his early-season struggles. He makes the most sense in this spot, and he's a better player than he's shown in the early stages of 2021-22. 

    Slotting Dahlin or our other reserve, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, alongside Karlsson on the third pair doesn't make a lot of sense. And maybe Brodin or Lindholm drop to the third pairing while the more offensive-minded veteran plays up a slot. We can see that reality too.

    No matter how the pairings shake out, we think this is the top-six that Sweden will take to the Olympics, with Dahlin and Ekman-Larsson coming along as extras. 

Forward Line 1: Filip Forsberg, Mika Zibanejad and William Nylander

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    While Sweden's defense will be their backbone, that doesn't mean they don't have some standout forwards available to them. We went as high octane as possible with this forward group, knowing that Hedman and Klingberg will be there to bail them out if they get too greedy in the offensive zone.

    The creativity and speed on this line would help it contend with other high-end units such as Canada, Russia and the United States. No one in this group would be confused with a Selke Trophy-caliber two-way forward, but the trio is responsible enough to not get scorched at five-on-five.

    Filip Forsberg is nearly playing at a point-per-game clip and has been clicking with Matt Duchene as his right wing in Nashville. William Nylander is Duchene with another offensive gear, so this pair would flank Zibanejad quite nicely.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs are top-heavy, and Nylander has contended for the team's scoring lead all year long. Only John Tavares has more points than Nylander. 

    Then we have the New York Rangers' heartbeat in Zibanejad. He is one of the NHL's most creative passers and can light the lamp himself. Since 2019, only six forwards have scored more goals than him.

    With this setup, he'll be on a line with two wings who can match his speed, and we love the idea of these three blazing around in the offensive zone with Klingberg and Hedman backing them up.

Forward Line 2: Gabriel Landeskog, Nicklas Backstrom and Lucas Raymond

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    We'll call this the caveat line because there are a few of them in play here.

    As discussed in the introduction, it isn't clear yet if Backstrom will be healthy and able to play in the Olympics. If he can't compete, we'd slot Elias Lindholm in here and take Joel Eriksson Ek as the fourth-line center.

    We're going to assume Backstrom will have enough time to get back into game shape by the Olympics, however.

    The second catch here is that Lucas Raymond wasn't a part of Team Sweden's initial 55-player list that was submitted to the IIHF, meaning that Tre Konor has had to ask for an exemption for him to enter anti-doping control to compete.

    Again, we're assuming that Raymond will receive that exemption and be able to play for Sweden.

    If the top line is all wheels, the second line is where the muscle is. Maybe you want to add a bit more strength to the top unit, so you bump Landeskog or Raymond up. That would be logical, but having these two power forwards skating alongside a grizzled veteran like Backstrom could be the way to go.

    Both Raymond and Landeskog have lethal one-timers, and Backstrom has been setting up Alex Ovechkin shots for his entire career. The heart of the second power-play unit is likely here somewhere as well, with all three players skating for their teams while up a man.

    Some things need to fall into place for this line to materialize, but if all goes well, there's enough power and size to hang with the biggest units any opposing nation could roll out.

Forward Line 3: Elias Pettersson, Elias Lindholm and Rickard Rakell

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    We briefly touched on Pettersson's struggles already, but it's worth noting again here: The 23-year-old hasn't done anything that would force Sweden to take him to Beijing. There's no question he's talented, but the Canucks have demoted him to their bottom-six, and we don't see a path towards him being a center on this squad.

    This means it might make sense to take someone like Jakob Silfverberg instead, who can kill penalties and might be more comfortable in a bottom-six role.

    The Olympics are a best-on-best tournament, though, and Pettersson would have been considered a lock at the start of the season. He scored 153 points in his first 165 games, and a rough start to one season doesn't nuke all of that production.

    So we're taking him to Beijing as a wing, hoping that playing for his country gets him going. Because when he is, few forwards can match his ability in the offensive zone.

    Elias Lindholm is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. He's got the Calgary Flames' top line ticking and can kill penalties on the top unit. The center is one of the NHL's top-10 scorers and has played himself into a spot where Sweden has to take him.

    Rickard Rakell isn't a lock and is coming back from an injury, but he's another forward who can play top-six minutes if needed and skate on the penalty kill. 

    This trio has a nice blend of skill and defensive acumen, Pettersson's struggles in all three zones notwithstanding. 

Forward Line 4: Victor Olofsson, William Karlsson and Gustav Nyquist

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    A month ago, William Karlsson broke his foot while blocking a shot. At that juncture, he was given a four-to-six-week timetable to return, according to Jesse Granger at The Athletic.

    That means he should be back within the next few weeks. If the center is available, he'd be a Mr. Do-It-All forward for Team Sweden. He'd be an outstanding fourth-line center, could play on the top power play and penalty kill units and bring a steady veteran presence to the bottom-six.

    That's why we like Gustav Nyquist as part of this unit as well. Younger, more skilled options are available, but the veteran of over 580 NHL contests can be effective even when he's not scoring. He's always driven play at a decent level and is an underrated penalty killer at this stage of his career.

    We can see the left side of the bottom six shaking out in a variety of ways, but if Victor Olofsson is no longer dealing with a soft-tissue injury, he would be a good choice. He has a knack for finding soft spots and open ice. With the larger surface being used in Beijing, he could be a difference-maker in limited five-on-five minutes while skating heavily on the man advantage.

    Eriksson Ek is the perfect kind of player to take as a spare. He could even slot in on the left side of this line and join the penalty-killing group. We can see him going as an extra but still getting into important games for Sweden.

    For our last forward, we're taking Viktor Arvidsson. He's not the flashiest name in play, but he is a possession monster for the Los Angeles Kings and has a pair of 30-plus goal seasons on his resume. He'd give Sweden another scoring option against loaded teams like Canada. Those games could turn into track meets, and Arvidsson would be a useful spare.

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