Fans of the Vancouver Canucks have had reason to follow team Sweden at the Winter Olympics since NHL players began participating back in 1998. Mattias Ohlund, Markus Naslund, Alex Edler, and Daniel and Henrik Sedin have all competed in the Olympic games during their tenures with Vancouver.
As well, Vancouver had four Swedes in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, as the Sedin twins were joined by Loui Eriksson and Jacob Markstrom. Now, eight years removed from the last Olympic tournament featuring NHL players, and six years since the World Cup of Hockey, all of those players have either retired, departed from Vancouver, or had a decline in overall play that was big enough for them to no longer be considered for the national team.
The most recent tournament to feature NHL players was the Sochi Olympics back in 2014. As a fifteen-year-old, Elias Pettersson was playing for Timra’s U16 team and watched Sweden earn a well-deserved silver medal. Eight years later, Pettersson looks primed to play a starring role on Sweden’s 2022 roster.
With Mika Zibanejad’s disappointing start to the 2021 season, and Nicklas Backstrom set to turn 34 before the tournament begins, Pettersson is set to take over the position of first-line centre for team Sweden.
Sweden has always had a rich talent pool at forward, and if Pettersson is going to play on the top line, the expectation is that he be paired with Sweden’s two best wingers. Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche was selected 2nd overall in the 2011 draft, and in November 2012, became the youngest captain in NHL history (19 years and 286 days old). He held that title for just under four years, until Connor McDavid broke his record, being named captain when he was just twenty days younger than Landeskog.
Landeskog is an incredible power forward and excellent finisher, recently having his best season with the Avs, putting up 34 goals and 75 points in 2018-19. He plays on the left-wing of one of the strongest top lines in the NHL, joined by Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. While MacKinnon is a different kind of centreman than Pettersson, both players are good at dictating the play, allowing Landeskog to be the finisher.
The likely candidate to play on Landeskog and Pettersson’s right-wing is William Nylander. Nylander is arguably not on the same skill level as Rantanen, but both players are excellent playmakers. Nylander’s vision, skill, and willingness to go battle in front of the net are all factors in him posting a career-high 31 goals in 2019-20. But a common knock on Nylander is his inability to stay consistent. His goals per game average dropped by almost half, from 0.25GPG in the 2017-18 campaign to just 0.13GPG during the 2018-19 season, before skyrocketing up to 0.46GPG in the 2019-20 year.
However, there has been speculation that Nylander’s woes were a direct result of Mike Babcock’s coaching. Before Babcock’s firing in November 2019, Nylander had scored eight goals in 23 games (goals per game of 0.35). Under Babcock’s replacement, Sheldon Keefe, he finished the regular season with 23 goals in 45 games (goals per game of 0.51).
Under Babcock, Nylander would often find himself playing in the bottom-six, while under Keefe, Nylander almost always plays with one of Auston Matthews or John Tavares. With a linemate driving the play into the offensive zone, Nylander was able to have more success, just as you would expect if he was playing on Pettersson’s right-wing while on the national team.
If you look at Pettersson’s most common linemates in Vancouver, you’ll see similarities; both Landeskog and Nylander bring the elite scoring ability and playmaking often displayed by J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. If those three Swedes do end up playing together in the upcoming Beijing Olympics, expect them to be as dynamic and dangerous of a line as any.
Now… what about that powerplay?