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DRAFTPRO – 2024 IIHF U18 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP REVIEW – SWEDEN

By DraftPro Staff

The IIHF World U18 Hockey Championships just wrapped up last week in Espoo and Vantaa Finland, and was a scouting hotspot as a last big event for NHL staffs who are charged with evaluating the next wave of NHL talent.

There were some bright spots for the upcoming 2024 NHL draft that stood out and some future draft eligibles that really grabbed the spotlight. In this ten-part series we will look at each team entry and provide some review of prospects, how they performed and how their performance might have affected their draft stock. We will start with the last place team, Kazakhstan, and work our way through to the gold medal winning Canadian squad.

The Swedish team was seen as a bit overmatched heading into the event with solid depth on the roster but lacking in game breaking offensive talent up front. The Swedes managed to grind their way to the third place game and come home with a bronze medal in their pockets.

Here are some player reports from our John Ryan on the Swedish U18 players that stood out.

#4 D, Leo Sahlin Wallenius, Sweden (Vaxjo Lakers HC J20, J20 Nationell), 6’0”, 183, L, 04.10.206

Was called upon to be the big-time minute muncher for team Sweden during the tournament. He was heavily relied upon to be the team’s best defensive defenseman in the tournament playing huge minutes. Additionally, he was tasked with being the quarterback for the first powerplay unit. Offensively, he left more to be desired and was outshined by his teammate, Alfons Freij. However, he was Sweden’s most steady defenseman and consistently made tape-to-tape passes out of the defensive zone to one of his teammates. I was expecting more engagement on the rush using his speed to carry the puck up the ice than what I saw throughout the tournament. He did have flashes where his offensive skill shined but was inconsistent. Overall, he had a strong tournament and proved that he can be relied on to play heavy minutes. He will likely be selected somewhere in the late first to early second round of the 2024 NHL Draft.

#20 D, Alfons Freij (Vaxjo Lakers HC J20, J20 Nationell), 6’1”, 196, L, 02.12.2006

The offensive defenseman shined in this tournament. He was consistently Sweden’s biggest threat from the backend and was especially dangerous when he joined the rush up the ice. His skating ability, hands, and vision popped throughout the tournament. He is a smooth and fast skater that can handle the puck at top-end speeds and dance around opponents. He did have some defensive lapses during the tournament which is expected from an offensively minded defender that looks to push the play up ice nearly every shift. He stood out among all defenders for Sweden and was by far the biggest offensive threat from the backend throughout the tournament. Freij’s offensive tools and fast paced game should draw lots of attention from NHL scouts. He will likely be selected somewhere in the late first to early second round of the 2024 NHL Draft. 

#26 F, Alexander Zetterbeg, Sweden (Orebro HK J20, J20 Nationell), 5’8”, 148, R, 04.24.2006

A gifted undersized forward that plays a skilled game and excels at offensive creativity. Unfortunately, his tournament was cut short because of an injury he suffered against team Switzerland. During his time in the tournament, he was arguably Sweden’s most consistent player at generating offense for his team. A great trait that he demonstrated throughout his time in the tournament is his willingness to drive to the high traffic areas despite his small stature. His puck skills and skating ability also showed well in the tournament. He used these abilities to juke around defenders and create offensive opportunities for himself and teammates. Due to his size and lack of high-end skill, Zetterberg will likely be selected in the 3rd-4th round of the 2024 NHL Draft if not later.

#24 F, Linus Eriksson (Djurgardens IF, HockeyAllsvenskan), 6’0”, 185, L, 03.23.26

Played a strong 2-way game. Demonstrated that he can process plays quickly and has great vision of the ice throughout the tournament. His defensive game stood out more than his offensive skills throughout most of the tournament. He showed his high-end hockey IQ throughout the tournament with his positioning defensively and his ability to find open players in the offensive zone. Eriksson was consistently the first forward back in the defensive zone which further demonstrated the emphasis he puts on playing a strong defensive game. There were pockets of play where his offensive tools did flash, especially with his playmaking ability. He will likely be selected somewhere in the 2nd-3rd round of the 2024 NHL Draft. 

#18 F, Victor Eklund (Djurgardens IF, HockeyAllsvenskan), 5’11”, 161, R, 10.03.2006

A hard-working winger that drives to the front of the net to create chaos in front of opposing goaltenders. His compete level with and without the puck shined throughout the tournament. Whenever he mishandled the puck, he would quickly attack the opposing player attempting to strip the puck from them and take possession back. Most of his goals were scored within five feet of the net. He is an undersized forward which makes it even more impressive that he was able to compete for space in front of the goaltender to score close range goals. Eklund is not draft eligible until 2025 and with further growth in his skills and natural bodily growth, he could take a major step next season and shine even brighter at next season’s IIHF U18 Worlds tournament. Right now, he looks like a potential first round pick for the 2025 NHL Draft. 

#12 F, Melvin Fernstrom (Orebro HK J20, J20 Nationell), 6’0”, 170, R, 02.28.26

An average sized winger that possesses a great release. Unlike many of his counterparts on team Sweden, he does not excel away from the puck and is not a play driver. Instead, he is more of a support player and trigger man. I would have liked to see more engagement in the defensive zone and more of an ability to lead the rush. However, the things he does well in his game he did well in the tournament. He was strong along the boards in the offensive zone and did crash the net a few times. Additionally, he stripped opponents of the puck a few times in the offensive zone during the tournament which led to scoring chances for. A higher compete level in the neutral zone and defensive zone would make him a much more well-rounded player. Overall, he performed to the level that is expected of him. He will likely be selected in the 2nd-3rd round of the 2024 NHL Draft.

#11 F, Lucas Pettersson (MoDo Hockey J20, J20 Nationell), 5’11”, 172, L, 04.17.2006

A smart 2-way center that plays with a lot of pace. His play in transition was perhaps the best among all Swedish forwards in the tournament. In the offensive zone he saw the ice extremely well and made tight window passes look easy. He was especially dangerous when he used his speed and makes a quick cut to the slot to release his strong wrist shot. He played with a high motor and was consistently one of the best players on team Sweden throughout the tournament. His play away from the puck was also very impressive. He was consistently the first forward in the defensive zone and used strong stick work to strip the puck from opponents on the backcheck. He projects as a potential third line 2-way center with offensive upside. He will likely be drafted in the late first to early second round of the 2024 NHL draft.  

Photos courtesy IIHF.com

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