Fate works in cruel ways. For the 2008 Swedish World Junior squad, it meant improbable victory after victory, only to end on a bad bounce by Canadian checking forward Matt Halischuk. However, at the 2009 World Junior Championships, Sweden has the talent to make destiny all theirs.
One of the most high-powered squads put forth by any country in recent years, Tre Kronor benefits from extremely strong 2007, 2008 and especially 2009 draft classes.
Mikael Backlund, C
Drafted by: Calgary, 1/24 2007
2008 WJC Statline:
Backlund's career has been a roller coaster. A knee injury almost cost him a first round spot in '07, for example, but his star exploded with a dominant 2008 World Juniors. In between those events have been middling performances at the Swedish second tier level.
However, none of those things matter at the WJC. While his ability to dominate against adults is still developing, Backlund has proven himself to be heads and shoulders above his peers. With Patrik Berglund too old for the event, Backlund is Sweden's biggest weapon.
Magnus Svenson-Paajarvi, C/LW
Drafted by: 2009 eligible
2008 WJC Statline: 6 GP, 1-1-2, +1
Giving Backlund a challenge for top dog will be 2009-eligible Magnus Paajarvi. A brilliant offensive talent oft compared to Peter Forsberg, the 6'1, 198 lbs 16 year-old debuted for Timra in the SEL at just 16, earning a full-time spot. While he posted just three points in limited minutes, the fact he was even in the league at all speaks to his incredible ability.
At the 2008 WJC, while Paajarvi didn't score a lot, he seemed to get comfortable as the tourney progressed. Kopitar-esque in his ability to use his size and hands to protect the puck, Paajarvi made dangerous drives to the net that his linemates often couldn't finish. With Sweden's overall talent level arguably higher than last year, watch for Paajarvi to explode.
Mattias Tedenby, LW
Drafted by: New Jersey, 1/24 2008
2008 WJC Statline: DNP
It's still a mystery to me how one of the best skaters ever in the last few years with one of the most impressive all-around toolkits fell to 24th on draft day. Okay, Mattias Tedenby is a mite at 5'10, 176 lbs, but he's still a lad. You just don't ignore this kind of talent.
While critics can deride his pro readiness, the World Juniors are the perfect stage for the gifted forward to display his ample talents. Watch for the Tre Kronor rook to score several key goals and agitate opponents, as he did at the 2008 U18s. In six games, Tedenby posted 4-4-8 and a whopping 35 PIM.
Oscar Moller, RW
Drafted by: Los Angeles, 2/52 2007
2008 WJC Statline: 6 GP, 3-2-5, +3
Perhaps Sweden's most reliable bet, WHL forward Oscar Moller is already a fan favorite in LA despite never having played a game. A spirited, diligent backchecker who also happens to own a crackling shot, Moller posted 30 goals as a North American rookie in 2007-08 for Chilliwack. Moller would continue his great play with three markers at the 2008 World Juniors.
One of just a few natural RWs available to Sweden, Moller will see huge amounts of ice time in every situation.
Anton Gustafsson, C
Drafted by: Washington, 1/21 2008
2008 WJC Statline: DNP
Balance is crucial on a champion, and Team Sweden will get it in the form of towering two-way pivot Anton Gustafsson. Drafted by the Caps in June, the spawn of former NHLer Bengt Gustafsson has many of daddy's traits: great intelligence, a big frame, and top-notch playmaking ability.
Left off both the Swedish U20 and U18 teams last year, the WJC will be a big adjustment. But if Gustafsson sticks to his style of game, you won't notice him- if at all.