In many ways you could say that the future is already here. When Erik Karlsson picked up his first Norris Trophy last season it has gone no less than one year after Lidstrom settled with his last and seventh, one shy of Bobby Orr's record eight. As one living in Sweden I know the Swedish hockey fraternity were all in smiles. Is there a new era of domination for (Swedish) defensemen in search of the coveted Norris trophy and also bringing more glory for the national team? This article highlights the possibility of such happenings.
The much talked about "golden generation" with Lidstrom, Sundin, Forsberg and Alfredsson peaked at the winter Olympics 2006 claiming the gold medal. The defense then where added Niklas Lidstrom, Mattias Ohlund, Christan Bäckman, Niclas Havelid, Kenny Jonsson, Daniel Tjarnqvist and reserve Ronnie Sundin. Everybody has now quit their NHL career except Ohlund with a total of 4442 games played in NHL. It shows the value of experience on a winning team yet again. The next generation obviously has some ways to go but we shouldn’t be surprised if lets say at the winter Olympics of 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea a similar feat would to happen.
Sweden has at this moment a good handful of bright defenders in the league. Another one for the future got recognized when Anaheim Duck drafted Hampus Lindholm as 6th overall at the last draft. Lindholm is a 6,2 foot, 194-pound talent seen as a future 2nd or 3rd two-way defender and has already some experience from playing in the Swedish second division for men and the scouting report have him compared to Niklas Kronwall.
If I were to set up a national team today the one that got sent out in this years world cup would give a hint of what to come in the future. That group featured Erik Karlsson, 22 and Victor Hedman, 21. It is a first defense pairing that will be seen for many years to come. Even if so may be the case others will come in and break them up and fill out the ranks. Maybe the first that comes to mind is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 21, (2009, 6th overall, Phonix Coyote)
and Adam Larsson, 19 (2011, 4th overall, New Jersey Devils)
. Although these two players may be of a to similar kind to be put together on the same pairing they still boast of impressive talent. They are both players who are expected to add to a team’s offensive numbers even outside power-play. If we go further down the swedish talentpool you would find recently traded Tim Erixon and David Rundblad. Even if the latter have faced some challenging times when being traded twice in a short span and then sent down by Phoneix, the talent is there to be seen. Except Lindholm there are also such drafted players as Oscar Klefbom (2011, 19th overall, Edmonton Oilers)
, Patric Nemeth (2010, 41th overall, Dallas Starts)
and Jonas Brodin (2010, 10th overall, Minnesota Wild)
All of these players are not suppose to carry the national team all alone just yet but are subjected to being mentored by solid players of high NHL caliber. So if I go back again to trying to set up 4 d-pairs plus extras my choice today would be:
Victor Hedman / Erik Karlsson
Hedman last year got better in his own end and also shipped in with some late rushes to notch over twenty points. A total he has amassed in all of his three seasons in the league. Karlsson by his own blow others away when he claim his stake as the future of offensive defensemen and at the same time got better when it comes to being responsible in the defensive zone.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Niklas Kronwall
Ekman-Larsson worked his way into the league and was a pillar in the defense for the Coyotes. This year he did up his playing time to well over the twenty minute and also helped the team with some needy points. Putting him together with Kronwall it would form a reliable pair with good vision and responsible thinking of the ice. They would probably be put against the best line of the other team. Both players could maybe hamper the other teams offensive will with their puck moving skills.
Nicklas Hjalmarsson / Adam Larsson
This duo could probably be broken up accordingly to the running of the play. Larsson is here seen as the offensive one with Hjalmarsson controlling the other end and leaving the rush up the pitch to Larsson. Hjalmarsson would see a lot of time on the boxplay. That would mean pushing either Larsson up with Kronwall or getting Edler as his partner.
Alexander Edler / Tobias Enstrom
Here you have Enstrom who is another power-play guy and Edler could be seen as the same but compared to the others he would get more boxplay and 5-on-5 minutes. Edler at this point of his carrier doesn’t get all the credit he deserves and in the next few years leading up to his new contract would see him get a bit more of that.
Carl Gunnarsson (utility player both as staying home and on powerplay)
In this set up you got point production on all lines and could roll some different change-ups on power-play and in boxplay. Gunnarsson would round out the boxplay responsibilities. Kronwall would obviously be the go-to guy when it comes to leading this gang (probably with an A of C on his chest) even if Karlsson would be the star when it comes to both the power-play and in the press meetings. Any argument stating that this is a too offensive-minded group is contested when you look at players like Hedman, Edler, Kronwall, Hjalmarsson and Gunnarsson. They are all very involved in their respective teams boxplay and secure puck moving, also they are all big bodies that eats a lot of minutes.
In my mind this group would last at least five to eight years from now. The oldest guy is Kronwall who comes in with only 31 years of age. He has a championship ring and have also been playing with Lidstrom for many years. He would be the link between the old and the new generation. Also look for Enstrom to advance, his last season would count as kind of mediocre as it got disrupted by injuries. With a good new contract over 5 years and a steady situation he can now focus on getting back to trying to break further past the 50 point mark and those 51 he had 2010-2011. If all goes as planned, by the time Hampus Lindholm is ready to shoulder greater responsibility Hedman and Karlsson would enter their prime. The future look as it is now quite bright for the national team of Sweden and some lucky teams in the NHL circuit.