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'Foppa's' return to flop, big boost for Sweden

Sunday, 12.20.2009 / 11:00 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

When NHL.com was designing its ideal Olympic roster for Sweden last month, one of the big questions was should there be a spot for Peter Forsberg.

At 36, he was trying yet another comeback, and all the baggage that seems to trail "Foppa" was going with him: Would his foot hold up? Could he stay healthy for more than a week or two? Could he play at the same level?

Well, in his first nine games with Modo, Forsberg has silenced all doubters, as he's put up 8 goals and 15 points, and the rust seems to have fallen faster than snow in Rockies.

When the roster for Team Sweden is formally announced Dec. 27, it would be a major surprise not to see Forsberg's name on the list.

Just like when NHL.com did its initial roster picks last month, Forsberg will be on our list. He'll be one of just two players not currently playing in the NHL making the roster.

There are a few changes from our last attempt to pick this team, as some players have played their way onto the team and some have fallen off.

The hallmark of Swedish hockey is its all-round smarts, steadiness and dependability. While they may not be blessed with game-breaking skill or overwhelming ability in one particular position, the team that will take the ice in Vancouver will be strong in all phases of the game.

It's the plan used four years ago in Turin, and the result was a gold medal; so why tinker with success?

Here's a look, just a few weeks out, at the roster NHL.com believes Sweden will assemble to defend its Olympic gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.



Jonas Gustafvsson -- "The Monster" has adjusted well to NHL life. His heart condition could be a cause for concern, but the Leafs aren't worried, and neither should the Swedish Olympic brain trust.

Henrik Lundqvist -- "The King" is the unquestioned starter for this team. The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist is seeing more shots than he's used to this season, but that hasn't seemed to affect his usually strong play.

Jacob Markstrom -- Markstrom is regarded as the best player in the world not currently in the NHL. Markstrom will be the third goalie on NHL.com's list, but the experience of seeing shots from NHL stars on a daily basis only will help the 2008 Panthers' second-round pick in his development.



Tobias Enstrom -- Last season the Thrashers defender had 32 points and a plus-14 rating on a team that was outscored by 29 goals. This season he's added an offensive component to his game.

Jonathan Ericsson -- It's been a remarkable climb for the last pick of the 2002 Entry Draft. Finally a full-time NHL player, Ericsson has made a seamless transition into the Red Wings' lineup. He's already proven he can play against the NHL's best; the Olympics won't be much different.

Victor Hedman -- The second pick of the 2009 Entry Draft already looks comfortable playing against NHL opposition, and at 18, he's only going to get better with more experience.

Niklas Kronwall --
The new Motor City Hitman, Kronwall will supply the brute strength on Sweden's blue line. His knee injury will have healed with more than enough time for him to be back in prime condition for February.

Nicklas Lidstrom --
  Is any explanation really needed for why Lidstrom belongs on the Swedish Olympic team? He may not be having a Nick Lidstrom season, but at age 39 he's still among the top blueliners in the League, and he's the even-money favorite to be named team captain.

Mattias Ohlund --
  Tampa Bay signed Ohlund to help Hedman's adjustment; considering it looks like Hedman will be in Vancouver come February, that project certainly has worked. Beyond that, Ohlund still can play the game. The chance to play in his fourth Olympics in Vancouver -- the place he spent his first 11 NHL seasons -- is a driving factor.

Douglas Murray --
Whatever hits Kronwall might miss, expect Murray to take care of. The Sharks' blueliner is a scary sight to opposing forwards.



Daniel Alfredsson -- The Ottawa captain has turned in a solid season so far, and continues to be a big reason the Senators have been a surprising Eastern Conference playoff contender.

  NICKLAS BACKSTROM
  LW - WASHINGTON


G-A-P: 11-28-39
+/-: 12 | PIM: 12 | PP: 4

Nicklas Backstrom -- 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. With that kind of approval, what more do you need?

Loui Eriksson -- Eriksson represents the next generation of Swedish scoring stars. The Dallas Stars left wing led the team last season with 36 goals, and while he hasn't scored with same frequency this season, he's on pace to better last season's 63 points.

Peter Forsberg -- 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.

Johan Franzen -- The Red Wings right wing had knee surgery in October, but his rehabilitation has been focused on playing in the Olympics. Here's betting the Mule is stubborn enough to earn a spot on the team.

Tomas Holmstrom -- Few forwards play a simpler, more effective game than Holmstrom. And after battling numerous injuries the last few seasons, the Detroit Red Wings forward is healthy and productive on a team stricken by injuries.

Sammy Pahlsson -- The Columbus Blue Jackets center remains one of the best penalty killers and checking-line centers in the NHL.

Mikael Samuelsson --
In his first season in Vancouver, Samuelsson is proving he was more than just a product of the Detroit system. His strong play helped the Canucks survive the early-season injury to Daniel Sedin.

Daniel Sedin -- The goal-scorer of the Sedin twins hasn't missed a beat since returning from a broken foot that sidelined him for six weeks. As he builds back his conditioning, he'll be even better by February.

Henrik Sedin -- No brother? No problem for the better passer of the twins. Henrik showed that even without Daniel around, he can elevate the play of whatever teammates he's skating with. He even found a scoring touch, netting his first NHL hat trick Nov. 14.

Fredrik Sjostrom -- Much like Pahlsson, Sjostrom's will role will be checking and killing penalties. Not to be overlooked is the Calgary Flames' right wing's proficiency in the shootout. Last season with the Rangers, he was 3-for-9 with 2 game-deciding goals.

Henrik Zetterberg -- The Detroit Red Wings forward is 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 the 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, 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 Nashville Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist, St. Louis Blues center Patrik Berglund, Dallas Stars left wing Fabian Brunnstrom. Mattias Weinhandl, a top scorer in the KHL with Moscow Dynamo, and Johan Davidsson of HV 71 in the Swedish Elite League also are candidates. Among defenders, Vancouver Alexander Edler, Dallas Nicklas Grossman, Minnesota's Kim Johnsson and Buffalo's Henrik Tallinder remain possibilities, as is HV 71's David Petrasek.

In goal, Atlanta's Johan Hedberg is qualified, as are Stefan Liv, and Mikael Tellqvist, and all have Olympic experience. Liv is playing this season in Sweden, while Tellqvist is in Finland.

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.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com