After winning two silvers and a bronze medal at the last three World Junior Championships, Sweden has hopes of medaling for a fourth straight year -- only this time with gold.
Looking to help Sweden win its first WJC gold since 1981 will be four returning players from last year's third-place finish, including highly touted defenseman Adam Larsson
, who plays for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League. Larsson is the No. 1-rated 2011 Entry Draft prospect among Swedish skaters in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings. He had 1 goal, 4 points and a plus-3 rating in six games at last year's tournament.
Other returnees beside Larsson include defenseman and Skelleftea teammate Tim Erixon
, a Calgary Flames
prospect taken with the 23rd pick of the 2009 Draft, and forwards Anton Lander
(Edmonton, second round, 2009) of Timra and Carl Klingberg
(Atlanta, second round, 2009) of Frolunda HC.
Lander, who finished with 5 goals and 8 points in last year's tournament, will captain the team for a second straight tournament.
Four other players from last year's team remain eligible for the 2011 WJC, but currently are playing in the NHL or AHL. Oilers forward Magnus Paajarvi
is unlikely to be made available for what would be his fourth WJC, and Devils forward Jacob Josefson
currently is recovering from thumb surgery, but is due to return right around the start of the tournament. Paajarvi was second on last year's team with 10 points, while Josefson had 3 goals and 6 points.
More possible to join the team are Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
and Senators goalie Robin Lehner
, both of whom are playing in the AHL. Ekman-Larsson had 5 points and a plus-5 rating last year.
Sweden coach Roger Ronnberg said that while Lehner would be "nice to have," he said having Ekman-Larsson, who has played 15 games with the Coyotes this season, could be the difference between silver and gold.
"It would a great boost to get Oliver," said Ronnberg. "He has played in the men's World Championship last spring and he is one of the best players born in 1991 in the world. But even if we don't get him, we have a strong roster."
It certainly isn't a stretch to consider Sweden one of the early favorites for the 2011 World Junior Championship, which starts Dec. 26 in Buffalo. The Swedes announced their 31-player preliminary camp roster Thursday, and pre-camp events will be held in Stockholm from Dec. 13-17.
Another top prospect set to join the team when it arrives in North America on Dec. 18 will be Gabriel Landeskog
of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers.
Central Scouting rated Landeskog the No. 1 skater in its preliminary ranking of OHL players for the 2011 Draft. He's fourth in the League with 20 goals and fourth on the Rangers with 36 points, and as the captain in Kitchener, he's the second-ever European-born and -trained player to captain an OHL team -- Islanders prospect Tomas Marcinko
, a native of Slovakia, captained the Barrie Colts in 2007-08.
Landeskog was granted a roster spot for the WJC, and was excused from Sweden's pre-camp workouts in Stockholm. Instead, he'll join the team when it arrives in North America on Dec. 18.
"With the time zones, all that travelling would be hard on my body, so (the coaches) decided I could stay here and finish the games with Kitchener and then meet the team afterwards," Landeskog told reporters.
Landeskog has played for Sweden's Under-16, U-17 and U-18 teams, but this will be his first WJC experience. He was part of Sweden's 30-player entry list for last year's tournament, but was cut from the final roster.
"With this being my draft year, there's going to be a lot of scouts there watching," said Landeskog of the 2011 WJC. "But I can't really think of that. With team success, individual success comes with that, too."
Landeskog, who debuted in the Swedish Elite League in 2008-09 as the youngest player in Djurgarden's history at 16 years, 90 days.
Other 2011 Draft-eligible hopefuls include defenseman Jonas Brodin
of Farjestad, No. 2 on Central Scouting's ranking of Sweden skaters, and No. 3 Mika Zibanejad
, a center with Djurgarden Jr. Right wing Rickard Rakell
of the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers is rated No. 14 on Central Scouting's OHL list.
Sweden is in Group B for this year's tournament, along with Canada, Russia, Czech Republic and Norway, the team it will open against Dec. 26.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
SWEDEN 2011 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP SELECTION CAMP ROSTER
-- Jonatan Bjuro, IF Malmo (2011 Draft eligible); Johan Gustafsson
, Farjestads BK (Minnesota); Fredrik Petterson Wentzel, Almtuna IS (Atlanta); Robin Lehner
, Binghamton, AHL (Ottawa).
-- Adam Almqvist
, HV 71 (Detroit); Nils Andersson
, Vaxjo (2011 Draft eligible); Simon Bertilsson
, Brynas IF (Philadelphia); Jonas Brodin
, Farjestads BK (2011 Draft eligible); Klas Dahlbeck
, Linkopings HC (2011 Draft eligible); Tim Erixon
, Skelleftea (Calgary); John Klingberg
, Frolunda HC (Dallas); Adam Larsson
, Skelleftea AIK (2011 Draft eligible); Patrik Nemeth
, AIK IF (Dallas); Fredrik Styrman
, Lulea HF (2011 Draft eligible); Oliver Ekman-Larsson
, San Antonio, AHL (Phoenix).
-- Patrick Cehlin
, Djurgardens IF (Nashville); Dennis Everberg, Rogle BK (2011 Draft eligible); Jesper Fast, HV 71 (Rangers); Max Friberg
, Skovde IK (2011 Draft eligible); Calle Jarnkrok
, Brynas IF (Detroit); Carl Klingberg
, Frolunda HC (Atlanta); Anton Lander
, Timra IK (Edmonton); Gabriel Landeskog
, Kitchener, OHL (2011 Draft eligible)* Johan Larsson
, Brynas IF (Minnesota); Oscar Lindberg
, Skelleftea AIK (Phoenix); John Norman
, Djurgardens IF (2011 Draft eligible); Rickard Rakell
, Plymouth, OHL (2011 Draft eligible); Ludvig Rensfeldt
, Brynas (Chicago); Johan Sundstrom
, Frolunda HC (2011 Draft eligible); Erik Thorell
, Skare BK (2011 Draft eligible); William Wallen
, Frolunda HC (2011 Draft eligible); Sebastian Wannstrom
, Brynas IF (St. Louis); Mika Zibanejad
, Djurgardens IF (2011 Draft Eligible).
* - will not be attending training camp in Sweden