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World Cup of Hockey 2016: The case for Sweden

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Don’t be fooled: Sweden is the team best built to knock off Canada.

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Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Pre Tournament-Team Sweden vs Team Europe
With the King in the crease, Sweden has a great chance at a World Cup crown.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of digital ink has been spilled explaining how the United States’ World Cup team is designed to beat Canada. The execution is not as strong as the initial idea, as the Americans are not the team best built in order to do so. Sweden is.

In order to beat Canada, a team needs a strong blueline that can slow down Canada’s forward depth, an offensively gifted yet defensively responsible forward group, and a dominant goalie. Sweden checks all of those boxes.

The Swedes have assembled the best blueline in the tournament. Four of the top six players in zone, venue, and score-adjusted corsi relative to their teammates (Hampus Lindholm, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson), and five of the top six players in fenwick with those same adjustments (Lindholm, Karlsson, Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Ekman-Larsson) are on this team’s blueline.

That doesn’t even include Mattias Ekholm, who emerged as Nashville’s number two defenseman this season, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who’s consistently drawn opposing teams’ best players in his career in Chicago. Every Swedish defenseman is mobile, and each can chip in offensively. Every player on Sweden’s blueline scored at least 20 points this season, and their roster has as many players in the top 10 (Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson) of defensive scoring as any team in the tournament.

Up front, the Swedes aren’t as strong, but boast a deep forward group capable of matching up with the tournament’s best teams. There’s plenty of skill, with the Sedins, Loui Eriksson, Nicklas Backstrom, Filip Forsberg, and Patric Hornqvist filling out an impressive top six. Sweden’s checking lines, too, are ideal in the modern game. Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger, Gabriel Landeskog, Patrik Berglund, Jakob Silfverbeg, and Mikael Backlund are strong two-way players, and can be relied upon to chip in offensively. They are not as deep as Canada, but will be able to generate chances playing in front of such a strong defense.

It helps, too, when you have the tournament’s best goaltender. Over the last six seasons, Henrik Lundqvist is the leader in even strength save percentage. He’s the greatest goalie of his generation, and is coming off of the highest even strength save percentage of his career. The Swedes are good enough where he doesn’t need to carry them, but Lundqvist is more than capable of doing so if called upon.

Sweden simply has every ingredient necessary to beat Canada. They have the tournament’s deepest group of defensemen, its best goalie, and a forward group capable of hanging with the tournament’s best teams. They’ll face a tougher road to the semifinal than the top two finishers in Group A, especially with North America standing in their way in Group B.

But they should still be able to easily advance to the semifinal round, and once they get there, should be one of the favorites to win the tournament. With the roster best built to beat the tournament’s best team, don’t underestimate their chances. In all likelihood, Canada won’t either.