Sochi Olympics 2014: Sweden Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of thehockeyhouse.net.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

Next up: the number one ranked team in the world, Sweden.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of icethetics.squarespace.com.

    Alfredsson, Daniel

  • Backstrom, Nicklas
  • Berglund, Patrick
  • Ericsson, Jimmie
  • Eriksson, Loui
  • Hagelin, Carl
  • Johansson, Marcus
  • Kruger, Marcus
  • Landeskog, Gabriel
  • Nyquist, Gustav
  • Sedin, Daniel
  • Silfverberg, Jakob
  • Steen, Alex
  • Zetterberg, Henrik

Defence (8):

  • Edler, Alex
  • Ekman-Larsson, Oliver
  • Ericsson, Jonathan
  • Hjalmarsson, Niklas
  • Karlsson, Erik
  • Kronwall, Niklas
  • Oduya, Johnny
  • Tallinder, Henrik

Goal (3):

  • Enroth, Jhonas
  • Gustavsson, Jonas
  • Lundqvist, Henrik

Notable omissions?

  • Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

    Hedman, Victor – the big Lightning defender has really come into his own this season; despite a quiet first few years in the league, he has in fact been developing at a steady pace all along to the point where he can be considered a bona fide top-pairing defender.  With 37 points in 51 games and an outstanding defensive game, Hedman is the complete 6’6″ package, but apparently isn’t even as good as Johnny Oduya or Henrik Tallinder…

  • Sedin, Henrik – not so much an omission as a notable absentee, Henrik had to pull out of the tournament just a few days ago thanks to a rib injury, leaving just the one twin to cheer for.  With 40 points through 52 games so far, Henrik is no longer at his peak, but is still a game-breaking offensive skater, so is a big loss to Sweden and their hopes of a gold medal.  He was replaced by Marcus Johansson.
  • Franzen, Johan – another late pull-out thanks to injury, Franzen has been replaced on the roster by Wings team-mate Gustav Nyquist.  Franzen may not be the player he used to be, but his knack for scoring timely goals in big games would be highly desirable.
  • Enstrom, Tobias – the diminutive defender might just be one of the most underrated in the NHL, and it seems Sweden have forgotten him too.  He’s not in the midst of his most dominant season, but he’s still a quick, slick puck mover who would be a big asset on the big ice.   EDIT: We have been reminded that Enstrom pulled out from Olympic consideration several months ago in order to put all his energy into helping Winnipeg make the playoffs.  The point remains that he would be an asset to the team, but our apologies for the error!

FORWARDS

Team Sweden Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers.  Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to Team Sweden, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

SWE FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Sweden’s forward pack may not be filled with overwhelming offensive stars, save for Sedin (who is on the decline), Zetterberg, Backstrom and perhaps Steen (in the midst of a season-long hot streak), but it is jam-packed with players that pretty much every team in the NHL would love to have.
  • Berglund and Kruger stand out on the low-end offensively, but they have been utilised in highly defensive roles and that is likely what their roles will be on this team too.
  • Jimmie Ericsson, older brother of fellow Olympian Jonathan, is the lone non-NHL representative, but Elite Prospects describes him as a hard-working gritty forward who can shoot the puck well, and from the looks of his career has earned this chance at Olympic glory.
  • Gabriel Landeskog may be joining the ranks of the elite Swedish scorers soon, bouncing back from a disappointing sophomore campaign with a bang and looking like the future star of Sweden’s international entries.

Team Sweden Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players like Eriksson are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how Team Sweden might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SWE FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Sweden have six forwards all playing first-line roles for their NHL clubs this season, the rest of the players either young up-and-comers (Silfverberg, Nyquist) or defensive two-way forwards.
  • The exception to this is Loui Eriksson, who is slightly buried on a great Boston squad, but prior to this season he had spent many years as the Dallas Stars’ legitimate top scoring forward, along with sound two-way play, and is still only 28.
  • There is a lack of penalty-killing talent on the team, though Kruger and Steen are clearly highly-regarded by their coaches.  Eriksson, Hagelin, Berglund and even Sedin are all capable of filling the spots, but the coaches will have to manage some of their ice time to avoid fatigue.

Team Sweden Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Team Sweden forwards.

SWE FWD - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • A very encouraging chart, virtually all the Swedes shown are positive drivers of play on their respective teams relative to their team-mates.
  • Silfverberg and Kruger have orange circles probably thanks in part to the fact they play on teams with highly dominant offensive stars, who’s own dominant numbers would likely make anyone look bad in comparison.
  • Landeskog, Steen and Zetterberg really stand out as guys getting the job done despite playing with sub-50% offensive zonestarts and playing the most difficult competition available.  That they still create as much offense as they do despite this is something special.

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

SWE FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • This table continues to illustrate the strong puck-possession game these Swedes are capable of.  They mostly play on decent-to-strong teams which helps, but considering they are some of the most-used forwards on the team it stands to reason that they are a big part of the success.

DEFENSE

Team Sweden Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Team Sweden, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

SWE DEF - STATS

  • A strong two-way group which includes one former Norris Trophy winner (however arguable that decision was), Karlsson, who is likely the best offensive blueline weapon in the game today, and also a likely contender for the Trophy in the not too distant future in Ekman-Larsson.
  • Alex Edler and Niklas Kronwall have proven to be highly effective top-pairing D-men for some years now, providing rock-solid defensive play, quality puck moving ability and a gritty demeanour.
  • Tallinder and Oduya provide the veteran leadership, though it is fair to wonder whether or not the team would benefit more from having Hedman in his place.

Sweden Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams or the way in which their coach manages their ice time — but it does give some indication as to how Sweden might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SWE DEF - TOI

  • Ekman-Larsson, Kronwall and Karlsson are a fearsome trio judging from this table, eating up minutes in all disciplines while providing the strong offense pointed to above.
  • Couple that with the fact that half the blueline corps are highly trusted powerplay quarterbacks, all except Karlsson are top (or near) unit PKers, and even Karlsson plays nearly 2 minutes per night.
  • This unit is built to rival the likes of Canada and the USA, and Ekman-Larsson and Karlsson could prove a nightmare for other teams with their minute-munching ways.

Sweden Defense Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Let’s use Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts to track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Swedish defense.

The following table displays each blueliner, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

SWE DEF - PUC

  • OEL, Edler, Hjalmarsson and Oduya don’t look great here, but they are taking on very tough competition while contending with sub-50% offensive zonestarts, so not breaking even is not surprising in many ways.  That said, seeing blue bubbles all-round would put some minds at ease.
  • Despite his age, Tallinder is still being relied upon on an awful Sabres club to take on severe defensive zonestarts, and he looks OK doing it.  A veteran of 35 international games including 4 at the last Olympics, Tallinder will be looked upon to provide a hardworking example to the younger talents.
  • Erik Karlsson has long been known for receiving the benefits of extreme offensive zonestarts, but he certainly makes the most of the added opportunity.  If the Swedish coaches use him in the same way, Karlsson could be a game-breaker for the team.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage.  By removing their numbers on the powerplay or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.

SWE GOAL - SV%

  • Here is where the Swedes’ true strength lies, thanks almost entirely to “King” Henrik Lundqvist.  The NY Rangers net-minder has been one of the world’s top talents between the pipes since his entry into the league back in 2005, culminating in his 2012 Vezina Trophy win and earning four other nominations along the way.
  • He also owns a sterling international record, leading the Swedes to gold at Torino in 2006, winning the 2004 World Championships Best Goalie award and being named to the 2004 WC All-Star Team.
  • Waiting in the wings are Enroth, who has proven to be at the least a very solid backup behind Team USA star Ryan Miller, and Jonas Gustavsson who has seemingly recovered from an awful start to his NHL career to post solid numbers this season with Detroit.  It’s unlikely either of these two will get much playing time behind Lundqvist.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of cbssports.com.

The injuries to Sedin and Franzen will sting a great deal, but even without them the Swedes have an enviable collection of two-way talent, plus arguably the best goal in the world since the last Winter games.   Despite their number-1 world ranking however, it would be a big stretch to name them tournament favourites.  Their star power simply cannot match the likes of Canada – though star power doesn’t guarantee a win by any means.

If they can stay healthy, and if their young defenders can play as well on the big ice as they can on the small, then there is a little doubt of a top-4 finish and for certain they are just as much a contender for gold as Canada, USA and Russia.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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