The one thing you can say about Sweden heading into the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, it’s that their blue line is going to be spectacular. That’s even true after the news that longtime Sweden national team veteran and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall will no longer participate in the tournament.
Kronwall has pulled out due to an injury. He will be replaced by Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm. With all due respect to Kronwall, he’s already played his best hockey, while Lindholm is surging into his prime. This looks to be an upgrade for a defense that was already loaded with talent.
Lindholm, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, has arguably been the Ducks’ best defenseman over the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 10 goals last season, while putting up 28 points for Anaheim as it won its fourth straight Pacific Division title last year. He also logged a career-best average of 22 minutes per game last season. Given Sweden’s depth at the position, Lindholm likely ends up as a bottom pairing guy, which says a lot about how good this blue line really is.
Just look at this group: Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Anton Stralman, Mattias Ekholm and now Lindholm. They might lose a little bit of the edginess that Kronwall would bring, but this is a D corps with a lot of balance and a boatload of skill. Canada is the only team that has claim to a better defense corps at this tournament, but that’s even debatable.
Sweden’s blue line is going to be the most mobile in the tournament, led by the best offensive-minded defenseman in the game in Karlsson. They also have two of the better pure defenders in the league with Hjalmarsson and Stralman in the fold. The way this D corps sets up, it is going to be really difficult for any team to win the puck possession battle against them.
Lindholm is the second replacement named to Sweden’s initial roster. Earlier in the week, it was announced that Rickard Rakell, also of the Ducks, would be replacing injured St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen.
Meanwhile, the clock continues ticking for Anaheim to get new contracts done with both Lindholm and Rackell. The duo is among multiple restricted free agents still waiting for a contract to play in the World Cup. Others like Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets, both of Team North America, have already said they will play in the tournament with or without a new contract.
Playing in the tournament without the safety net of a contract isn’t good for the player or their NHL teams, which is why we’re probably more likely to see something get done before the event, which starts Sept. 17. At the very least, it should be a soft deadline for these players to look to get something done.