The 2022 Winter Olympics are fast approaching and outside of the usual suspects in Canada, Russia, and the United States, there are arguably no bigger favorites to make a run at the gold medal than Sweden. While the days of Henrik Lundqvist and the Sedin brothers are long gone, the Swedes still boast one of the most impressive lineups in international hockey, featuring some of the biggest and brightest stars of the NHL.
The center position is certainly a position of strength for the Swedes, they actually have so many centers that some will be forced to play wing in order to produce the best lineup. When looking at the depth at the position, there are three players that are essentially locked for the top three center spots. Veteran Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals is a no-brainer and a candidate for the captaincy. Meanwhile, stars Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers and Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks will be relied on to carry much of the offensive load. Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames is likely to slot into the fourth line center role and provide a veteran presence for a generally young forward group.
Along with the depth at center, the Swedish wingers are an impressive-looking group in their own right. Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and Toronto Maple Leafs" star William Nylander will certainly be focal points to the lineup, with the former being another candidate for team captaincy. While mostly playing center for the Vegas Golden Knights, William Karlsson could be pushed to the wing in order to maximize his ice time. Rounding out the forward group, players like Viktor Arvidsson, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, and Elias Lindholm are likely to feature. Players on the fringe who could help themselves with big first halves of the NHL season include Adrian Kempe, Nils Hoglander, Victor Olofsson, and Andre Burakovsky.
The one name that stands out above the rest on the backend is Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Victor Hedman. The 2018 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL"s best defenseman and 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hedman is regarded as the best Swedish player in the game today and is viewed by many as the best defenseman in the world. Outside of Hedman, the defensive group is still an impressive group overall. While players like Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were more highly regarded a few years ago than they are today, they are still capable of elite play, especially Karlsson, who has been playing his best hockey in years early this NHL season with the San Jose Sharks. John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars and Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators are likely to feature in the top four, while former #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, Jonas Brodin, and Hampus Lindholm round out the defensive depth for the Swedes. The most intriguing issue with this defense is how the special teams duties are spread out, as most of these players are the #1 option for their NHL clubs on both the power play and penalty kill.
After the retirement of Henrik Lundqvist, the starting goaltending position for Sweden is wide open for the first time in what seems like forever. Going into this season, Robin Lehner seemed like the most likely candidate for the starting spot. However, Jacob Markstrom has been lights-out so far this campaign in Calgary and looks to give Lehner a run for his money. For the third and final goaltending spot, Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins is a candidate to make the squad now that he is playing in front of the best defense that he has had so far in his career.
While roster decisions have yet to be finalized and there are surely going to be a few surprises in the selection, this roster is most likely what Sweden will be bringing to China when the Olympics begin. While they are not the first nation most think of when they think of the favorites for gold, the Swedes will undoubtedly be bringing a team of superstars that will have every chance to make their mark.
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