NHL Olympic picks: Team Sweden
It's the plan used four years ago in Turino, and the result was a gold medal; so why monkey with success?
While rosters for the 2010 Olympics aren't due for another 90 days -- Dec. 31 is the IIHF deadline -- NHL.com is taking a stab at what Sweden's list of 20 skaters and three goaltenders might look like.
The roster will include 21 players currently in the NHL and one who might be there before the end of the season -- Peter Forsberg.
Forsberg, now 36, hasn't played in the NHL since the end of the 2008 playoffs. But he's still trying to play on his chronically sore right foot, and in three games earlier this season with Modo in the Swedish Elite League, he had 3 goals. He played for Sweden at the Karjala Cup, and if the former NHL MVP feels up to it, it's not a stretch to see him suiting up in another Olympics.
Here's a look at the Forsberg-enriched roster I believe Sweden will use to defend its Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Johan Hedberg, Atlanta Thrashers
The well-respected, long-time NHL backup has played the last four seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers. His good attitude and strong work ethic will go a long way in the dressing room.
Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers
"The King" is the unquestioned starter for this team. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, last season he became the first goaltender in NHL history to start his career with three straight 30-win seasons. He's seeing more shots than he's used to this season, but that hasn't seemed to affect his stats adversely and may be good preparation for Olympic duty.
Jacob Markstrom, Brynas (SEL)
Markstrom is regarded as the best player in the world not currently in the NHL. In his third season with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, the young Markstrom is among the top three goalies in the Swedish Elite League. The 2008 second-round pick of the Florida Panthers could be in the NHL as soon as next season.
Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers
The Thrashers found a gem deep in the famed 2003 Entry Draft, snagging Enstrom in the eighth round (No. 239). Last season, he had 32 points and a plus-14 rating on a team that was outscored by 29 goals. His skating and positioning make him an ideal choice for the Olympics.
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit Red Wings
It's been nothing but a steep climb for the player taken by the Detroit Red Wings with the final pick of the 2002 Entry Draft. Finally a full-time NHL player, Ericsson has fit seamlessly into the Wings' defense corps. Ericsson also has proven he can play in pressure situations, as he had 8 points and a plus-9 rating in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season.
Nicklas Grossman, Dallas Stars
In his second full NHL season, the Stars blueliner isn't a big point producer, but he certainly is big -- 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds. Grossman played for Sweden at last year's World Championship, and with a solid defensive showing for the Stars this season, he could be playing himself into an Olympic spot.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
The second pick of the 2009 Entry Draft might seem like an odd choice to be one of the top seven blueliners from his country, but at 18, Hedman already looks comfortable playing against NHL opposition. He's averaging more than 23 minutes per game with the Lightning, and plays in all situations. Hedman already looks good; by February he'll be even better.
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
The new "Motor City Hitman," Kronwall will supply the brute strength on Sweden's blue line. Just 6-foot and 192 pounds, Kronwall is fearless, blocks shots and will hit anything on skates.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Is any explanation really needed for why Lidstrom belongs on the Swedish Olympic team? Even at age 39, he's still leading the Wings in ice time; plays impeccable defense and never takes penalties. He's the even-money favorite to be named team captain.
Mattias Ohlund, Tampa Bay Lightning
The 33-year-old Lightning veteran was imported to help Hedman adjust to life in the NHL. Considering Hedman looks like he'll be in Vancouver come February, that project certainly has worked. Beyond that, Ohlund still can play the game. He's had at least 24 points in eight-straight seasons, and the chance to play in his fourth Olympics in Vancouver -- the place he spent his first 11 NHL seasons -- is a driving factor.
Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators
With a torrid offensive start, Alfredsson has helped the Ottawa Senators get through a rough summer and emerge as an early playoff team. At 36, he's on pace for a career-best 109 points.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin is the offensive centerpiece of the Washington Capitals, but someone needs to get him the puck, and there are few better than Backstrom. "If I play without him, maybe I don't get too many points, maybe I don't get too many goals," Ovechkin told the Washington Post. Backstrom has turned in an assist-per-game guy, and now coach Bruce Boudreau is using him against the opposition's top line.
Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars
Eriksson represents the next generation of Swedish scoring stars. The Stars left wing led the team last season with 36 goals, and this season, he's on a similar pace.
Forsberg's resume speaks for itself -- two Stanley Cups, 2003 Hart and Art Ross trophies, three-time NHL First-Team All-Star, the eighth-best point-per-game average in League history. His injury history is just as lengthy, but if he's healthy, Forsberg will be motivated to not just show up, but to play a leading role. It's a risk, but an 80-percent healthy Forsberg still is better than the majority players out there today.
Tomas Holmstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Few forwards play a simpler, more effective game than Holmstrom. And after battling numerous injuries the past few seasons, the Detroit Red Wings forward is healthy and productive -- perhaps on pace for his best offensive season of his illustrious career.
Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators
The Predators second-year right wing is a prime example of someone playing their way onto an Olympic team. On a Predators team struggling to score, he's one of the Preds' few consistent weapons. Olympic play would be a huge step up in competition for the 22-year-old, but after adjusting to the smaller North American ice last season -- he played 28 games in Nashville, 49 in the minors -- he seems to be a burgeoning talent who could do well from being around talented, smart veterans.
Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets
Wherever he's been, there's been one consistent with Huselius -- he's always been able to put the puck in the net. The Columbus Blue Jackets left wing has scored at least 20 goals six times in seven full seasons. He has battled an injury in the early season, but is due back this week.
Sammy Pahlsson, Columbus Blue Jackets
he Blue Jackets center remains one of the best penalty killers and checking-line centers in the NHL.
Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver Canucks
Was Samuelsson's success the last few seasons just a product of the Detroit system? His early-season showing in his first season in Vancouver suggests otherwise. He's emerged as the heart of the Canucks' offense in the absence of Daniel Sedin.
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
The goal-scorer of the Sedin twins has missed all but four games this season with a broken foot, but like Forsberg, he has an Olympic-worthy pedigree. Sedin has scored at least 30 goals twice in the last three seasons. He's expected back by late November, leaving him more than enough time to get back to full speed by February.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks center is on pace for his fifth-straight 75-point season. And he's still producing despite the absence of brother Daniel. Four years ago, Henrik had 4 points in eight games in Turin. He'll have a bigger role this time around, and it's a good bet his production will show it.
Fredrik Sjostrom, Calgary Flames
Much like Pahlsson, Sjostrom's will be used for checking and killing penalties. Not to be overlooked, though, is the right wing's proficiency in the shootout. Last season with the Rangers, Sjostrom was 3-for-9 with two game-deciding goals.
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings
One of the most complete players in the League, there isn't any role he can't play, in even strength or on special teams. He'll have no problem checking the bigger, stronger forwards Canada and Russia will ice, and he has the versatility to slide to left wing to play on a line with Forsberg.
With Mats Sundin and Kenny Jonsson retired and Lidstrom, Alfredsson, Holmstrom and Forsberg likely playing in their final Olympics, now is the time to initiate the next generation of Swedish players to top-level international play. That's why a number of young NHL players -- Eriksson, Hornqvist, Ericsson, Hedman, Enstrom, Markstrom -- were chosen ahead of more established Swedish players either in the NHL or playing in Europe.
The wild card in all this remains injuries, especially where Forsberg is concerned. Other forward candidates who could emerge to fill any holes include St. Louis Blues center Patrik Berglund, Dallas Stars left wing Fabian Brunnstrom, and Johan Davidsson of HV 71, the leading scorer in the SEL. Among defenders, HV 71's David Petrasek remains a candidate, as does Vancouver's Alexander Edler.
In goal, Stefan Liv and Mikael Tellqvist both have Olympic experience, but are out of the NHL. Liv plays in the SEL, while Tellqvist is in Russia.
This version of the Swedish Olympic roster has all that's needed to earn another gold medal -- experienced veterans and talented newcomers, all of whom do everything well.
Adam Kimelman, the draft expert at NHL.com, may not have had Swedish meatballs yet, but his knowledge of the Swedish Hockey scene is unquestioned. Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.