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Sweden's goaltending makes it contender for gold

Friday, 12.27.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2014 Olympics

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Sweden's goaltending makes it contender for gold
Sweden's goaltending is arguably the best in the tournament (led by the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist), which automatically gives Sweden a chance to win each game.

After a fifth-place finish in Vancouver four years ago, Sweden is hoping to bounce back in a big way at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Several players from the 2010 team will be back, but an influx of young, talented players could be the shot in the arm the Swedes need to contend for what would be their second gold medal in the past three Olympics. The goaltending is arguably the best in the tournament (led by the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist), which automatically gives Sweden a chance to win each game.

The Swedes will need more from the likes of Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, but Alexander Steen has been arguably the most pleasant surprise through the first quarter of the 2013-14 NHL season, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is developing into a Norris Trophy candidate for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here's a look at who NHL.com believes Sweden should take to Sochi for the 2014 tournament:

PROJECTED FORWARDS
Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Loui Eriksson
Gabriel Landeskog Henrik Zetterberg Alexander Steen
Johan Franzen Nicklas Backstrom Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin Patrik Berglund Daniel Alfredsson
Jimmie Ericsson Marcus Johansson

They won't be the deepest team down the middle, but the top two centers are among the best on the planet. Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg have been mainstays with the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings, respectively, and are captains in the NHL.

Henrik Zetterberg
CENTER/LEFT WING - DET
AGE: 33
BIRTHPLACE: Njurunda, Sweden
Daniel Sedin, Eriksson, Steen and Franzen are threats to score every time they're on the ice. Steen and Landeskog did not represent their country four years ago, but it'd be impossible to leave Steen off the roster this time considering what he's done with the St. Louis Blues this season (he had 17 goals through 22 games). Landeskog, 21, is captain of the Colorado Avalanche and has played a huge role in the team's resurgence this season.

The 40-year-old Alfredsson, most likely participating in his final tournament, provides Sweden with depth and leadership. Jimmie Ericsson is a 33-year-old right wing playing for Skelleftea in his native country.

PROJECTED DEFENSEMEN
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Erik Karlsson
Jonas Brodin Niklas Kronwall
Victor Hedman Alexander Edler
Niklas Hjalmarsson Douglas Murray

Sweden's first defensive pairing is comprised of a Norris Trophy winner (Karlsson) and Ekman-Larsson, who many believe will win the award in the near future. Each is an incredibly gifted skater, and Karlsson is one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Defense - PHX
AGE: 22
BIRTHPLACE: Karlskrona, Sweden
Brodin burst onto the NHL scene last season and has developed into one of the best young defensemen in the League. Having Kronwall as his partner provides balance to the pairing.

Hedman, the No. 2 pick at the 2009 NHL Draft, can log plenty of minutes and provides the Swedes with some size (6-foot-6, 233 pounds) on their blue line. Edler can contribute offensively and also brings size (6-3, 215).

Hjalmarsson brings a winning pedigree; he's won two Stanley Cup championships with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It should be noted that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom has decided to skip the tournament, opting to focus strictly on his NHL team. Otherwise, he'd likely be in Sweden's top six.


PROJECTED GOALIES
Henrik Lundqvist
Robin Lehner
Jhonas Enroth

Lundqvist has been one of the best in the business for roughly a decade. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner has helped the Rangers get back in the mix after a rough start to the season and is ready to pursue a second Olympic gold medal.

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
AGE: 31
BIRTHPLACE: Are, Sweden
Lehner, 22, has been splendid for the Ottawa Senators and stepped up when starting goalie Craig Anderson went down with a neck injury in early November. Through 11 games, Lehner had a 2.40 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

The third spot goes to Enroth, who has filled in admirably for Buffalo Sabres starting goalie Ryan Miller when called upon. Enroth is three years older than Lehner, so he'll bring a bit more experience.

NEXT IN LINE

Ericsson's experience allows him to make the group ahead of Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist and Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger. While Johansson has been inconsistent, his ability to generate offense gives him a slight edge.

Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya represented his country in 2010, but Sweden's blue line has improved greatly since then.

Goalie Viktor Fasth, who had a strong season for the Anaheim Ducks in 2012-13, has been hindered by injuries this time around. As much as he'd like to represent his country, the three-week break could benefit him greatly.

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2014 OLYMPICS POLL