Just last week, top prospects Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz weren’t locks to make Sweden’s roster for the world junior championship.
Although both 17-year-olds are highly touted players projected to go in the top 10 of the 2020 NHL Draft, head coach Tomas Monten wasn’t sure if they would be the right fit for his team.
But when Sweden’s preliminary roster for the tournament was released Wednesday, both players’ names were there and Monten said he hopes they’ll provide offence.
“We like their skills and work ethic,” he said in a text message. “But it’s tough at WJC so will see. We didn’t feel that we had any other (players) that could provide the same (offence).”
Raymond is a skilled winger who is playing in his first year of professional hockey with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League. The five-foot-10, 165-pound Raymond has three goals and two assists in 16 games.
Holtz is also in his first full SHL season with Djurgardens IF and has five goals and three assists in 21 games.
Now that Raymond has made the team, Monten expects to put the highly-skilled, playmaking winger in offensive situations with power-play minutes.
“I don’t think you pick a player like Lucas and you put him on a fourth line and play for six minutes and tell him to play the PK and on a forechecking line,” Monten said in a phone interview.
Raymond’s favourite world juniors memory is watching Mika Zibanejad racing in and lifting a back-hand shot past Russia’s Andrei Makarov in overtime to win the 2012 world junior championship.
The goal won Sweden its first world juniors since 1981 and they haven’t reached the top of the podium since. Now Raymond will get his chance to help his country change that during this year’s holiday event.
“It’s a thing you watch growing up, the world juniors, and it’s a fun tournament with a lot of good teams,” he said in a phone interview last week from Frolunda. “So it would definitely be a dream come true.”
Offence is something Sweden will be looking for this year when it opens the world juniors on Dec. 26 against rival Finland in Trinec, Czech Republic.
The Swedes were eliminated in the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament by Switzerland despite leading Group B with 16 goals-for. Its highest scoring forward was Emil Bemstrom with six points.
“I think if you compare us to Russia, Canada, U.S., I don’t think we’re going to have that solid first line or first offensive line,” Monten said. “I think we have to find out some secondary scoring from some forwards to be able to compete with the best teams.”
Having players like Raymond and Holtz in the lineup should help with that problem, but their coach isn’t expecting the duo to carry the load.
He mentioned how Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid only had one goal in his world junior debut in 2014 while Alexis Lafreniere, the projected first overall pick at the 2020 NHL Draft, only had one goal for Canada at last year’s tournament.
“If you have players that are three years younger, I don’t think you should expect that they’re going to be your scoring leaders,” Monten said. “They’re there to contribute, but they’re also there to learn and get experience and be able to be next year and use that experience as well.”
Sweden’s strength once again this year will be its defence, led by Edmonton Oilers prospect Philip Broberg and Montreal Canadiens draftee Mattias Norlinder.
Monten is still holding out hope – and left room on his roster – for three NHL players including Rasmus Sandin of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Adam Boqvist of the Chicago Blackhawks and David Gustafsson of the Winnipeg Jets. Both Sandin and Boqvist are defencemen currently in the AHL.
Monten said he thought Sandin was good at the beginning of the season for Toronto when he suited up in six NHL games before his demotion.
“I thought Toronto would keep him,” Monten said. “So I’m really happy that there is a possibility of getting him, but I totally understand Toronto as well. He’s a high prospect for them and I think he’s pretty close to the lineup. We’ll see what happens.”
As for Raymond, he’s continuing to work on being more patient with his game. With it being his draft year, he’s not feeling any added pressure.
“I think the most pressure comes from myself wanting to become better and play good to win games and compete for my team,” he said.
Here are 10 other prospects who have impressed of late:
Spencer Knight (FLA – 2019 1st round)
Current team: Boston College (NCAA)
Stats: 9-4-0 | 1.92 GAA | .934 SV%
With the world junior championship right around the corner, the U.S. is looking solid in goal with Knight. The 18-year-old freshman has the 12th best save percentage and 11th best goals-against average in Division I with Boston College.
Raphael Lavoie (EDM – 2019 2nd round)
Current team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Stats: 28 GP | 17 G | 24 A | 41 PTS
Lavoie dipped into the second round at the 2019 draft despite being ranked highly for most of the year. A strong showing at the Canada-Russia Series where he had three goals and one assist in two games, including an overtime winner, earned him a spot at Hockey Canada’s selection camp.
Samuel Poulin (PIT – 2019 1st round)
Current team: Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Stats: 25 GP | 16 G | 21 A | 37 PTS
One notable omission from Canada’s world junior selection camp. He’s coming off a solid start to November which saw him score seven goals and four assists in four games, including a hat trick against Blainville-Boisbriand. However, he slowed down after that and hasn’t scored in six straight.
Drake Batherson (OTT – 2017 4th round)
Current team: Belleville Senators (AHL)
Stats: 21 GP | 9 G | 18 A | 27 PTS
Batherson was recently featured by colleague Wayne Scanlan as being on the cusp of returning to the NHL. And with good reason. He’s second in AHL scoring and has three goals and seven assists in the last five games for Belleville.
Oliver Okuliar (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
Current team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Stats: 30 GP | 21 G | 17 A | 38 PTS
The Slovakian is enjoying a successful second season in the CHL after playing last year for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix. He re-entered into the league’s import draft over the summer and had back-to-back hat tricks at the start of November while playing on a line with Sabres pick Dylan Cozens.
Connor Zary (2020 NHL Draft Eligible)
Current team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Stats: 26 GP | 19 G | 20 A | 39 PTS
Zary is producing a ton of points for the Blazers, but is still projected by some to be a late first-round draft pick next spring. He’s fourth in WHL scoring during his third year in the league.
Connor Ingram (TB – 2016 3rd round)
Current team: Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Stats: 9-2-1 | 2.25 GAA | .928 SV%
Ingram has been getting more action this year after being dealt by Tampa Bay in the off-season to the Nashville Predators for a 2021 seventh-round draft pick. His save percentage is currently the second best in the AHL.
Tyce Thompson (NJ – 2019 4th round)
Current team: Providence College (NCAA)
Stats: 15 GP | 12 G | 12 A | 24 PTS
It took Thompson a full season in the NCAA before garnering the attention of NHL scouts, who selected him in the fourth round of June’s draft. The 20-year-old is second in DI scoring and has created a solid one-two punch with Vegas pick Jack Dugan, who leads the league with 31 points.
Joel Hofer (STL – 2018 4th round)
Current team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Stats: 18-4-2 | 1.92 GAA | .934 SV%
Hofer is an intriguing name who earned an invite to the wide-open Canadian selection camp roster for the world juniors. His success in net is a big reason why Portland is a first-place team and he also stood out during the Canada-Russia series shootouts.
Cam Hillis (MTL – 2018 3rd round)
Current team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
Stats: 24 GP | 8 G | 28 A | 36 PTS
A series of knee and collarbone injuries kept him out for most of last year, including the Memorial Cup. He’s on pace for a career year in 2019-20 with an impressive Guelph team and had a stretch of seven points in two games last month.