NHL Participants: 24 (all but Jimmie Ericsson)
2010 Finish: 5th
IIHF Ranking: 1st
The Swedes are the top-ranked team in the World currently, and are the most successful nation in the history of Olympic ice hockey. They won the gold most recently in Torino 2006, but are coming off a disappointing Quarterfinal loss to Slovakia in Vancouver 2010, and are transitioning over to a new crop of emerging stars. Still, they are always one of the very best teams in international tournaments, and should figure to strike fear in the hearts of all opposition in Sochi.
FORWARDS (with expected lines): Steen-Backstrom-Eriksson ; Sedin-Zetterberg-Nyquist ; Landeskog-Berglund-Alfredsson ; Silfverberg-Kruger-Johansson ; Hagelin, Ericsson
The Swedish forward group, even without injured forwards Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin, is an impressive one. It features a significant amount of top-line NHL talent, principal among which is Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. This will be Zetterberg’s third Olympics, and he has been a catalyst in Sweden’s success in each of his prior appearances. He will line-up alongside fellow third-time Olympian Daniel Sedin, who will be without brother Henrik for the first time in their long careers. A few payers to watch on the fringes include Detroit Red Wings rookie Gustav Nyquist, who has been lighting up score boards in his first full season, and Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who is a two-way star, and will be appearing in his first of what is sure to be many Olympics. And we would be remiss to not mention Washington Capitals star and Alex Ovechkin-wingmate Nicklas Backstrom, who figures to be the number one center of this stacked corps.
DEFENSE: Ekman Larsson-Karlsson ; Kronwall-Ericsson ; Edler-Hjalmarsson ; Oduya-Tallinder
Though this is the first Olympics of the NHL era that will not feature legend Nicklas Lidstrom on the Swedish blue line, the above groupings show that they will likely be just fine without him. Whenever your top pair is the duo of Oliver Ekman-Larsson andErik Karlsson, you’re probably doing alright for yourself. Ekman-Larsson is one of the best young blue liners in the game, and is on track to rack in perennial Norris trophy nominations as best defenseman in the very near future. Karlsson, on the other hand, already has won his first Norris trophy, and the Ottawa Senators scoring star continues to get better. Behind these two dynamos, you have a respectable group teeming with depth, including Detroit Red Wings heavy hitter Niklas Kronwall, and two time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago Niklas Hjalmarsson. It is a group which should be considered among the very best in the tournament, and has no shortage of number ones and minute-munchers throughout.
GOALTENDERS: Lundqvist, Gustavsson, Enroth
The Swedes will again turn to New York Rangers star ‘King’ Henrik Lundqvist to be their guy in Sochi. This will be Lundqvist’s third Olympic games as Sweden’s starter, a run which has included the fantastic success of gold in Torino 2006. Lundqvist is still among the very best goaltenders in the game, and as such, gives Sweden a legitimate shot at winning, no matter the competitor. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound from a somewhat shaky performance in Sochi, particularly with such an overhauled defensive corps. Jonas Gustavsson and Jhonas Enroth will battle for the back-up position, with whomever gains the spot likely getting a spot start against Latvia (and then nothing else)
BOTTOM LINE: It surely needn’t be said at this point, but never take the Swedes lightly. They won the World Championships in 2013, and are icing much the same team that took gold on home soil in that tournament. Factor in an infusion of youth into the line-up, particularly on their stellar back-end, and you have the makings of a favorite.
The true test for the Swedes will come against the big boys, likely in the Quarterfinals. They wilted against the Slovaks in Vancouver 2010, and were greatly disappointed to be unable to defend their Torino Gold Medal. Several returnees from that team will be out for revenge, so figure the Swedes to again be a factor in the Gold medal hunt in Sochi.
GROUP C PREDICTION: 1st
OVERALL PREDICTION: Bronze medallist