There may not be another team that has as much riding on their success at the 2020 World Junior Championship as Team Sweden. It has been eight years since the nation has had its hands on the gold medal, and are coming off a recent heartbreaking loss to Team Slovakia on route to their worst finish in the last twelve years. Slating into 5th place in tournament standings for the first time since 2006. The Swedes have made their way to finals of the tournament 13 times in their World Junior history, yet only have two gold medals to show for it. This has many fans wondering if this is the group that can finally get the job done and brings them the glory they haven’t seen in eight long years.
If Sweden has any hope of achieving gold, it will almost certainly be on the back of its bolstered defense corps. The arsenal of elite puck movers is lead by Rasmus Sandin, as the Toronto Marlies of the AHL loaned the former Maple Leafs first-round pick to team Sweden. There’s no doubt Sandin’s performance will have a major impact on the success Sweden has at this year’s tournament.
Defenceman Rasmus Sandin has been loaned to Team Sweden for the 2020 World Junior Championship. #LeafsForever
Sandin is joined on the back-end by four fellow former NHL first-round picks Philip Broberg (EDM), Victor Soderstrom (AZ), Tobias Bjorfot (LA), and Nils Lundkvist (NYR). Adam Ginning (PHI) and Mattias Norlinder (MTL) round out the group as no slouches after being drafted in the second and third round of the NHL Draft, respectively. This group will be the envy of defense corps at the 2020 World Junior Championship and will be the backbone of a Gold Medal winning Team Sweden if they find a way to get it done.
The major question will be who can step up offensively for Team Sweden. They definitely have some talent, but no bonafide superstar to lead the reigns upfront. One player who has the opportunity to step into that role is Nils Hoglander; the 2019 second-round pick has turned heads this season and possesses the skills to grab the reigns of this team and be a primary offensive producer for Sweden.
Perhaps the biggest wildcard coming into the 2020 World Juniors is how well two top touted Swedish prospects will perform against older competition. Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz could significantly raise their draft stock if they can prove to be significant contributors for team Sweden. However, fans must realize that both these players are just 17-years-old and playing against some of the best U-20 talent in the world. So expectations of their performance should be kept to realistic standards. With that said, there could still be a lot of pressure for the young guns to step up, with Sweden’s forward lineup lacking any significant offensive producers. The team’s success at the tournament could rely on the success of their young phenoms.
Goaltending shouldn’t be an issue for the Swedes as they have several options the team should have confidence with backstopping the crease. Tampa Bay prospect Hugo Alnefelt appears to be the favorite to grab the starting job on opening night. The 18-year-old has put up solid numbers this season in the SHL, posting a 1.95 GAA and a 0.920 SV% with HV71. The other options Sweden will have in the crease are 6’6 Erik Portillo of the USHL and Detroit Red Wings prospect Jesper Eliasson.
WJC: Sweden leadership group for #WJC2020 Captain – Adam Ginning (PHI) Assistants Rasmus Sandin (TOR) David Gustafsson (WPG)
The leadership group for Team Sweden will be compiled of three returning players from the 2019 World Junior Championship team. The captains will look to avoid the same experience as last year’s early exit of the tournament, and bring their team farther than just a successful round robin. It’s an experienced group that has the talent level to be leaders on and off the ice and will be crucial for the success of Team Sweden.
Team Swedens Group A Opponents includes:
- Team Finland
- Team Switzerland
- Team Slovakia
- Team Kazakhstan
There’s no question that this is a reasonably weak grouping for Team Sweden to take on, and barring any upsets, they should easily rise to the top of Group A following yet another undefeated round-robin. Their toughest match will be on opening night against Team Finland, who provides their only real competition in Group A. Sweden will be hungry to take down their arch-rivals who are coming in as the defending Gold Medalist. The game should provide a classic rivalry for a boxing day matchup to open up the 2020 World Juniors Championship.
Photo: Kevin Light/Getty Images