Team Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg and the rest of the team's coaching and management staff are ready to have a big impact at the World Cup of Hockey in September. By the time the first 16 roster spots are announced on March 2, Sweden believes it will have a solid blueprint for success. Here's how I predict Sweden's full roster will look:
The forward position is one of strength for Sweden, and now that the NHL season is in the final stretch, several guys have played themselves into the mix for a possible roster spot, including forwards Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators, Victor Rask of the Carolina Hurricanes and Carl Soderberg of the Colorado Avalanche. Along with those players on the bubble, the Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom and the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson are both having solid seasons. Backstrom, a first-time All-Star Game participant this season, has 17 goals and 36 assists for 53 points in 51 games, including a plus-19. Eriksson has 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points in 56 games. Marcus Kruger has missed the majority of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks with a wrist injury. He's expected to return in May, and should be on the roster if he's healthy. Getting traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Pittsburgh Penguins in January likely saved Carl Hagelin's spot on the World Cup roster. Hagelin's playing well again and his speed will be a major weapon.
Erik Karlsson is having another Norris Trophy-type season for the Senators. His ability to add offense is key for Sweden, along with the tireless amount of ice time he logs every game. Ekholm, of the Nashville Predators, has produced a strong season with six goals and 20 assists in 57 games, impressing Gronborg. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are solid, while John Klingberg is quickly becoming the next Karlsson. Both the Ducks' Hampus Lindholm and Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin remain in the mix.
It's hard to bet against Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers' goalie was recently named second star of the week ending Feb. 14. He went 3-0-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average and a .976 save percentage, including one shutout. The 33-year-old is tied for third in the NHL with 28 wins, along with a 2.29 GAA, .924 save percentage and three shutouts. Despite a recent stint in the hospital for an elevated heart rate, Jonas Gustavsson has proved to be a solid backup in Boston and should serve a similar role for Sweden. He's 10-4-1 in 18 games with a 2.53 GAA and a .913 save percentage. At this point, the Los Angeles Kings' Jhonas Enroth seems to be Sweden's third goaltender, while the Vancouver Canucks' Jacob Markstrom, 26, has emerged as a possible backup, too.