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Friday, January 14, 2011

WJC Scouting Reports: Sweden

Team Sweden came up short for a medal in the second consecutive season since losing to Team Canada in the gold medal game in 2009, but this was quite a team of skilled, promising players. Obviously, losing alternate captain Gabriel Landeskog in the first game of the preliminary round against Norway hurt them, but the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will be heavily represented by the Tre Kronor.

Adam Larsson had a pretty strong tournament after his stock had taken shots in circles this season. It wasn't perfect, but overall, Larsson looked like a top-three pick. If you're a New Jersey Devils fan, you might be looking at one of your top-six D-men next season...on that team, he could play right away.

Rickard Rakell was also impressive to me. He was kind of like Landeskog-lite against the Russians, hitting people and playing an in-your-face game all night.

Johan Sundstrom and Max Friberg are 2011-eligible, but didn't do a great deal to stand out.

Not getting to see Landeskog against his global peers was a disappointment, and it would have been nice to see defenseman Jonas Brodin and centers Victor Rask and Mika Zibanejad, but perhaps in 2012, their time will come.

Adam Larsson, D 6-2, 210 Skelleftea AIK (Sweden)-- Nice size with the frame to put on a little more mass as he continues to mature. Smooth skater; quick acceleration and fine speed. Moves well laterally and backwards. Very good puckhandler and passer from the back end. Makes the crisp breakouts and quick clears. Disrupt his time/space and he starts to make mistakes, however. The Russians gave him too much leeway in both games and he nearly killed them. With forecheckers in his grill, his decision-making deteriorated and he turned the puck over. When in control, has as much poise and skill as anyone...can confidently move the puck out on his own and will jump into the play. Good, hard shot-- getting more involved offensively as the games go on.

Overview: On the balance, Larsson came out ahead. You can see where the early accolades came from; the mobility, presence and transition game is all there. However, he's not a dynamic presence and is very much an unfinished product. He has the tools to play in the NHL right away on a gongshow like New Jersey's defense corps, but might be best served by playing another year in the SEL. May not be the franchise, cornerstone-type player being discussed last season, but still has very good potential to be a solid NHL two-way defender for years to come.

Rickard Rakell, RW 6-0, 185 Plymouth Whalers (OHL)-- Only average-sized, but makes his presence known with his high-energy, aggressive style. Underrated. Excellent skater who has some real pop in his first few strides to get up to speed. Slippery and elusive; will attack defenses on slant patterns up the ice. Uses his speed on offense and defense; seems to embrace all aspects of the game. Didn't see a lot of production in the tourney from him, but has quick hands and puck skills to find the back of the net. Tenacious on the forecheck and plays and abrasive style. Adept at drawing penalties against opponents. Nasty with the stickwork- sent a Russian player into a rage with a subtle spear that incited a retaliatory slash- the Russian took a seat in the box while Rakell skated away scot-free.

Overview: Stepped up when Landeskog went down, and made a name for himself. Has the look of a player who has embraced North American-style hockey and is making the most of his opportunity in the OHL this season. Not a high-end guy, but could go late 1st-round and is a bit of a sleeper given expectations for him to start the season.

Johan Sundstrom, RW/C 6-3, 195 Frolunda (Sweden)-- Tall, lean player with a high center of gravity. Below average skater with slow initial quickness and rough footwork/lateral agility. Decent straight-line speed, but technique is lacking- needs to open up the stride. Will drive to the net. Works hard and displays intensity and good hockey sense/visions. Hands seem a bit stiff-- had trouble collecting passes. Seems to be more of a defensive grinder type than a scoring forward with upside.

Overview: Didn't do a lot to stand out, but seemed to get the ice time, so he's obviously a player the coaches trusted. A subtle guy who seems to have the passion and smarts, but may not have the feet and hands to be much of an NHL player down the road.

Max Friberg, RW 5-10, 195 Skovde (Sweden)-- Small, but thick-bodied winger with strong lower body drive. OK skater-- doesn't have explosive burst or top speed with extra gears, but is quick and elusive. Handles the puck well and not afraid to go into traffic. Questionable vision and hockey sense. A crest-shooter- puts head down and blasts away instead of surveying the ice and making better plays. Plays with enthusiasm and intensity.

Overview: Not a bad little player, but a longshot to be much more than a journeyman/grinder type. Probably better suited to the larger European ice surfaces than trying his hand in North America. Could get a late look, but doesn't look like much of a player as far as NHL projections go.

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