Team Sweden's manifest for Malmö just got beefed up a little more, with the assurance that the Carolina Hurricanes will loan out 19-year-old forward Elias Lindholm for the next three weeks for the world junior.
Based on home-country advantage and the carryover from its silver-medal winning iteration in 2013, Sweden stacks up as a fairly easy country to peg as the favourite. Canada is sending a younger than usual squad and Team USA is missing its best realistically available defenceman, injured Calgary Flames farmhand Patrick Sieloff. Even prior to this news about Lindholm that still has to be signed off on by the 'Canes, Sweden already had nine players with tournament experience.
Lindholm cemented his status as a high pick by holding his own in the Swedish Hockey League as an 18-year-old with Brynas, and has been able to hack it through 21 games with Carolina. His playmaking and patience with the puck could open up a lot of offence for the Swedes, who are headlining Group B with Finland, Norway, Russia and Switzerland.
The roll call of returnees also includes Montreal Canadiens second-rounders Sebastian Collberg — Sweden's leading point-getter in the 2013 WJC — and Jacob de la Rose. Throw in Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Alexander Wennberg and a back end with three returnees, including NHL second-rounders Linus Arnesson and Robert Hagg, and it's pretty formidable raw material. Do keep in mind that whereas Canada and the U.S. are taking on top prospects for the next NHL draft (and the one following, i.e., Connor McDavid), Sweden didn't even take potential top-5 pick William Nylander.
One says raw material, but the Swedish hockey system is refining it very well, too. The country's overhaul of its youth hockey programs that began just more than a decade ago has born a bumper crop of players, which has been reflected in the 2012 team ending a three-decade U20 gold medal drought and the '13 team following up with silver. This '14 event could be seen as a chance to further affirm that well-developed strength, as a small-scale version of what happens when a country hosts an Olympics or a Canadian city hosts a Grey Cup. In it to win it, eh.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.