With Team Sweden preparing to kick off its quest for a Gold Medal at the Olympics, all eyes will be on Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Pontus Holmberg. The 22-year-old is the youngest player on Team Sweden’s men’s roster but will be a key piece if they want to return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2006. Here is a breakdown of what to expect for the 2018 sixth-round pick and why Leaf fans should be watching very close attention.
Holmberg’s Strong Play in Sweden
Over the past two seasons, Holmberg has been one of the best players in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He led Växjö Lakers HC to a championship last year and won playoff MVP as well as Swedish forward of the year. Others to have won both awards in the same season include former Toronto Maple Leaf Joakim Lindström and current Vancouver Canuck Elias Pettersson.
This season, he has once again stepped up his game with 28 points in 34 games. Homberg enters the Olympics on a three-game point streak and has already established a new career-high in points this season. He is averaging just over 18 minutes a game, has a Corsi of 53.74% and has been arguably Växjö’s best forward this season. Currently, they are fighting for a playoff spot, and the hope is he can use a strong Olympic performance to help push his team into the playoffs so they can defend their title.
Holmberg’s History with Team Sweden
Holmberg has a long history with Team Sweden that goes back to 2017-18. He has played at the U19’s, World Juniors and World Championships. Despite playing in multiple tournaments, he has yet to medal at any tournament and will be looking for his first in Beijing.
At last year’s World Championship, Holmberg played two games but was what concerning is that he played zero minutes in a game against Belarus. Why this is concerning is the same coach who was behind the bench for the tournament, Johan Garpenlöv, is Sweden’s coach for the Olympics. The hope is that with his development, Garpenlöv will have more faith in the young Swede and use him to his full potential in Beijing.
Holmberg’s Role on Sweden
Homberg is profiled as a two-way forward who has good speed and great playmaking ability. He is expected to play a key part in the top-six. The big debate is whether he will play center or wing. He has played both but based on Sweden’s depth at center; he may be pushed onto the wing. His faceoff percentage may also drive him to the wing as this season; he has a 49.53% win percentage with a defensive zone faceoff win percentage of 41.91%.
When it comes to special teams, do not be surprised to see Holmberg on the power play. He has had some success this season with 10 power-play points so far this season and should be used as a set-up man with the man advantage. There is also a chance he plays on the penalty kill as he has averaged 58 seconds per game with Växjö Lakers HC.
Based on Sweden’s roster, it would be surprising to see him on the penalty kill as there are more experienced options such as Anton Lander, Marcus Krüger and Joakim Nordström. Still, he could get some time if he can show head coach Johan Garpenlöv he won’t become a liability while shorthanded.
Holmberg A Must Watch for Leaf Fans
Maple Leaf fans should pay special attention to Holmberg as it is possible they will be watching him play for Toronto next season. The Maple Leafs are a team that will be pressed against the cap next season and could use a young playmaker like him who is only making $827,500. If the young Swede continues his dominance at the Olympics as well as through the rest of the season, do not be surprised if he is wearing the blue maple leaf next season.
Big Tournament Expected From Holmberg
If Holmberg can step up and have a big tournament, do not be surprised if Sweden medals at the Olympics. He is having a great year in the SHL and should be able to translate that over to the National team. Johan Garpenlöv needs to put the Maple Leafs’ pick into a position to succeed as he is projected to be a key piece in Sweden’s run to the Gold.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.