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World Cup

Goalies, defense backbone for Team Sweden

Lundqvist, Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson virtual locks

by Janne Bengtsson / NHL.com Correspondent

By the time the puck drops for the first game of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Team Sweden coach Rikard Grönborg will have his passport full of customs stamps from the United States and Canada. 

Grönborg and his assistants, Peter Popovic and Johan Garpenlov, along with advisory board members Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom, will be well-traveled and well-equipped with knowledge about the players Sweden will face and the players that will represent Tre Kroner.

"We started out with a group of 40 players, and now we've trimmed it down to a group that'll form the backbone of the team," Grönborg said. 

Grönborg, Garpenlov and Lidstrom will watch 19 NHL games in person during a two-week span in February, before naming the first 16 players to the Team Sweden roster. 

The Swedish coaches and advisory board members, which also includes former Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson, has combined for 5,250 regular-season NHL games, and an additional 557 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

"They're not here for the fun, they're here because they want to contribute, Grönborg said, referencing his star management team. 

Once the team is selected, some of the best Swedish players in the NHL will be left on the outside looking in. 

Young players Jonas Brodin (Minnesota Wild), Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes), Jakob Silfverberg (Anaheim Ducks) and Calle Jarnkrok (Nashville Predators) could all miss the cut, and veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya (Dallas Stars) also might not make the team. 

As a result, the current projection varies little from the one made in September. One notable exception is Jonas Gustavsson of the Boston Bruins replaces Robin Lehner of the Buffalo Sabres as part of the goaltending rotation. 

Here is what Team Sweden's roster could look like for the tournament, which will be held Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016 (alphabetically by position): 

FORWARDS 

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals, C -- Among the best Swedish players in the National Hockey League at the moment, Backstrom is a skilled two-way forward and a great playmaker, who also knows where to find the goal. Despite missing a few games at the start of the season, Backstrom is one of the leading scorers on the best team in the NHL. 

Video: FLA@WSH: Backstrom gets the Capitals on the board

Marcus Kruger, Chicago Blackhawks, C -- Kruger is a sure thing on a checking line; if he's healthy. An injury to Kruger's left wrist has him sidelined for four months. He is expected to return in May. If Kruger can launch a full comeback, he will be on the team, but likely not named in the first group. 

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks, C -- For almost a decade, Henrik Sedin has been one of the best pivots in the League. He comes as a package deal with twin brother Daniel. 

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings, C/LW - At 35 and in his 13th NHL season, Zetterberg is still going strong. A two-way player, as good offensively as he is in killing off penalties, Zetterberg is a skilled puckhandler, sees the ice well and knows how to find the goal. Can be used as a center or a winger. 

Mika Zibanejad, Ottawa Senators, C -- One of the young Swedish players guided and nurtured through the junior ranks by Grönborg when he was the coach of the junior national teams, Zibanejad has improved his game every season. Zibanejad is followed closely on a daily basis by Alfredsson, an advisory board member and the Senators senior advisor for hockey operations. 

Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators, LW -- At 21, Forsberg is a young gun, a good skater and a skilled stickhandler. His second year in the NHL is as good as his rookie year, in which he had 26 goals and 63 points. 

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche, LW -- Landeskog, a four-year NHL veteran, was elected the second-youngest captain in the League in 2012 and is already a proven leader, not only in the locker room but also on the ice. Landeskog could be one of the best scorers on this team. 

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks, LW -- The leading scorer on the Canucks, Daniel Sedin also played in the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Nashville. 

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues, LW -- An eleven year veteran, Steen is likely playing his best hockey right now. A two-way player, Steen creates most of his offense through highly skilled defensive play. 

Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins, LW -- An excellent skater and a smart player, Eriksson is on his way to his best offensive performance in several seasons. 

Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh Penguins, RW - Hagelin's name was up for discussion after his miserable start to the 2015-16 season and after being traded to the Anaheim Ducks from the New York Rangers. But Hagelin bounced back after the mid-January trade to Pittsburgh. One of the fastest players in the League and a threat from everywhere on the ice. 

Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins, LW -- A strong and fearless player, not afraid to be in there with the crowd in front of the goal, Hornqvist, who shoots right, has picked up his game in Pittsburgh after a slow start. 

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings, RW -- Competing with Hagelin to be the fastest skater on the team, Nyquist has stabilized his game and is a playmaker and a scorer. 

Video: CHI@ARI: Ekman-Larsson goes top shelf, beats Crawford

DEFENSEMEN 

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes - The engine that makes the Coyotes go, Ekman-Larsson is underrated as a defensive player as well. His ability to start the transition and man the point in the attacking zone will be invaluable for Sweden. 

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Hedman didn't made the Sochi Olympics, but he was a major force behind the Lightning making the Stanley Cup Final last season. A firm and strong defenseman with excellent speed and the ability to read the game. 

Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chicago Blackhawks -- The three-time Stanley Cup winner could be a formidable partner in a defensive pairing with Erik Karlsson or John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars. A good physical player with great passing skills. 

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators -- Arguably the best offensive defenseman in the League, Karlsson is a constant threat from the blue line, especially on the power play. In 2011-12 Karlsson scored a career-high 78 points, but is on pace to trump that this season. 

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars -- A very offensive defenseman and a strong player on the power play. A Karlsson-type player, or to quote Stars general manager Jim Nill, "I think we have the next Erik Karlsson here". 

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings -- Kronwall had arthroscopic knee surgery in January to get rid of the pain that hampered his game for some time. In good health Kronwall with his signature "Kron-walling" hits, is a major physical force alongside one of the more offensive defensemen. 

Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Stralman paired with Tampa Bay teammate Hedman is probably the most obvious pairing in the World Cup. Stralman is a steady presence in the defensive zone with underrated passing skills. 

Video: NYR@PHI: Lundqvist stones Voracek on breakaway

GOALIES 

Jhonas Enroth, Los Angeles Kings -- Enroth has moved around, playing for three teams in the last two seasons, never managing to become a No. 1 goalie. He is a modern, butterfly-style goalie, and a good backup to Henrik Lundqvist.  

Jonas Gustavsson, Boston Bruins -- This well-built goalie plays an aggressive style. After having a hard time adjusting to the North American game, Gustavsson is now playing some of the best hockey of his career as the backup to Tuukka Rask in Boston. 

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers -- One of the best goalies in the League, Lundqvist is the unquestioned No. 1 for Sweden, the same role he filled in Sochi when the Swedes won a silver medal. 

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