A fifth place performance in the 2010 Olympic games has put Sweden under the radar with regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Despite returning 2006 gold medal goaltender Henrik Lundvquist and bolstering a dream team blue line, Sweden is looked by some to be the odd team out of the big four, meaning medals for Canada, USA, and Russia.
Recall that the last time the Olympics were on a larger European ice surface it was the Swedes who captured gold. And although Canada is returning 11 players from 2010, Sweden’s young players are returning to an ice surface far more conducive to their style of play than what they faced in Vancouver.
Someone who should find immediate success from this is Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is having by far his best offensive season thus far. Hjalmarsson has been a plus-13 and scored 23 points with Chicago in 60 games. Remaining with defensive partner Johnny Oduya will also be a massive boost as the combination is comfortable regardless of situation.
For the Blackhawks, however, nobody knows about playing in various situations more than Marcus Kruger. Kruger is the staple of the Blackhawks’ fourth line, the team’s main checking line. With Sweden he will find the same role awaiting him, although there will be a caveat. Kruger has actually become rather defensive in the NHL, but he thrived as a scorer in Europe. In an Olympic environment that emphasizes stick checking as opposed to playing the body, there’s a large reason for optimism regarding how Kruger will perform in his first Olympics.
These three players are unique in their mix of NHL and European experience, and they all hold key roles both within Team Sweden. And although Sweden is a strong candidate for a medal, their fate likely depends on their depth, including these three players.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486
Watch Hjalmarsson, Oduya and Kruger in person when they return from Olympic play later this month by getting your Blackhawks tickets from Razorgator.