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World junior championship: For stacked Team Sweden, the stars have aligned

Canadiens pick Sebastian Collberg is playing in his third WJC (The Associated Press)

GROUP B: SWEDEN

2013 finish: Silver medal, lost 3-1 to U.S. in final
2013 round-robin record: 3-1-0-0, 19 GF/8 GA

To know enough about Team Sweden's potency is to know who's not on coach Rikard Grönborg's roster.

The world junior championship hosts arrive in Malmö with the most tournament-experienced roster, with the returning player count up to 11 — nearly double Canada and the United States combined — following the Nashville Predators' decision to loan 19-year-old right wing Filip Forsberg. Gronborg's late cuts also include Dallas Stars second-rounder Ludwig Byström, who plays more than 20 minutes per game with Farjestad in the Swedish Hockey League. Top NHL draft prospect William Nylander didn't even get a sniff of the evaluation camp, although 17-year-old Anton Karlsson has made a case to be in the final 22.

Suffice to say, Team Sweden should stack up as a favourite. It looked locked in while handling Group A's Team USA (4-2) and Canada (3-0) during pre-competition games.

"We aim to win the tournament and we will do the best we can," forward Jacob de la Rose, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, told hockeysverige.se following the Canada game.

"Of course, we know that every game will be very tough. You have to be humble and go into every game like it is the last game that we'll play in the tournament."

The last world under-20 championship held in the Nordic country, at Mora and Leksand in 2007, marked the end of a low period for Sweden, an 11-year skein of finishing out of the medals. The overhaul of the nation's youth hockey system first trickled up at to the world junior level a year later at the '08 world junior when Tre Kronor came within seconds of dethroning Canada, which tied the gold-medal game in the final minute before prevailing in overtime.

The tournament stacks up as a chance for Sweden to make a statement. Since the 2008 tourney, its five medals (1G-3S-1B) are tied with Canada (2G-2S-1B) and Russia (1G-1S-3B) for the most podium finishes. Having home ice and nearly half the team back from the 2013 runner-up is a perfect storm, especially now that Forsberg and Carolina Hurricanes rookie Elias Lindholm have been airlifted in as loaners from the NHL.

"It will be really fun to see what they can contribute," de la Rose told hockeysverige.se. "At the same time, those of us who are already on the team can not rely on them both to score 10 goals per game."

Swedish teams tend to make two-way play a point of emphasis. Grönborg's quiver of forwards includes the Frölunda line of Montreal Canadiens prospect and WJC third-timer Sebastian Collberg, Toronto Maple Leafs choice Andreas Johnson and Columbus Blue Jackets top pick Alexander Wennberg. Washington Capitals forward André Burakovsky is another potent stick up front.

Defensively, Sweden could reap the benefit of being able to have its top teens play against pro-calibre competition in the Swedish Hockey League. It has lost the still U20-eligible Hampus Lindholm to the Anaheim Ducks, but NHL second-round picks Linus Arnesson and Robert Hägg anchor the group.

In goal, Columbus second-rounder Oscar Dansk is in line to be the starter, with Marcus Högberg backing him up.

Players to watch

Forward André Burakovsky (Erie Otters, OHL): Creative winger whom the Washington Capitals placed Stateside in order to get him to shoot more. The 18-year-old has gone out and scored 23 goals in a half-season of skating alongside Connor McDavid in Erie. He has often played up in international competition.

Forward Sebastian Collberg (Frölunda HC, SHL): The undersized Montreal Canadiens high second-rounder has been a dangerous attacker for Sweden in each of past two WJCs and was nails in shootouts. It's good policy not to drift away from any game where he's playing since eventually he's going do something, and you know it's gonna be good.

Forward Jacob de la Rose (Leksand IF, SHL): Rangy forward made Team Sweden as an 18-year-old by virtue of his defensive acumen and became a high second-rounder of the Habs last June. After electing not to join the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, de la Rose has a respectable five goals and 10 points over 31 games in Leksand. He shares some traits with Calgary Flames rookie Sean Monahan.

Forward Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators, NHL): Former No. 11 overall NHL pick is a third-time WJC competitor after being loaned by the Preds in order to improve his conditioning after missing five weeks due to a brain injury. He's a power winger who can finish in tight.

Forward Andreas Johnson (Frölunda HC, SHL): It's Johnson, the 202nd player chosen in the 2013 draft, who has the most points of any teen in the league formerly known as the Elitserien, with 22 in 32 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs pick and Frölunda mates Collberg and Wennberg combined for nine points during a pre-competition win over Team USA. Johnson is a long-term project for the Leafs, so wait a day or two to #PlanTheParade if he has a big WJC.

Forward Anton Karlsson (Frölunda HC, SHL): Sweden's youngest player, who just turned 17 in August, emerged as a "crowd favourite" with his tenacity during the two pre-competition games. Karlsson is considered a potential top-15 pick in the NHL draft. Also, for clarity's sake, he is the younger brother of the Erik Karlsson who is also with Sweden, not the Ottawa Senators defenceman.

Forward Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes, NHL): The NHL's No. 5 overall pick made the jump from playing in the SHL to The Show by augmenting his high-end skill with a high motor and smart off-the-puck play. The 19-year-old had a respectable three goals and seven points over 21 games for the 'Canes.

Forward Oskar Sundqvist (Skelleftea, SHL): The Pittsburgh Penguins third-rounder will have a prominent role as a penalty killer.

Forward Alexander Wennberg (Frölunda HC, SHL): All three Columbus first-rounders are in the tournament between Wennberg, Canada's Kerby Rychel and Slovakia's marvellous Marko Dano. Wennberg is a centre who can win board battles and funnel the puck to teammates, which made him a top-6 contributor to the 2013 Swedish team.

Defenceman Linus Arnesson (Djurgarden, SWE-2): Think Scott Harrington, the Pittsburgh Penguins prosect and former London Knights captain who represented Canada in '12 and '13. Arnesson, a Boston Bruins late second-rounder, is a steady defensive defenceman who typically gets the job done.

Defenceman Robert Hägg (MODO, SHL): Toolsy defender with size and a big point shot who can run hot and cold, which is the Philadelphia Flyers were able to scoop him up with the No. 41 overall pick in June. Hägg plays regularly for MODO. Undersized puck-mover Christian Djoos, a Washington pick, is the third returnee on the back end.

Goalie Oscar Dansk (Erie Otters, OHL): Dansk was on board as the third-stringer in Ufa amid a first OHL season that was marred by injury and lot long nights on a building Otters team. Now Erie is atop the league and Dansk is in the conversation to be named the league's top goalie, with a league-best 2.17 average and .919 save percentage over 21 games.

MUST WIN GAME: Russia (Dec. 31, 8 a.m. ET)

A rematch of the 2013 semifinal that might determine top spot in Group B and the presumably easier quarter-final matchup.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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