While the majority of the attention at the ongoing U-18 World Junior Championships is on this year’s NHL Draft-eligible talent, Team Sweden is quietly displaying a pair of elite forwards who will very much be in the spotlight at this time next year. Top 2020 draft prospects Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond have each notched three points through four games at the tournament, continuing their success from the Swedish junior season. While Canadians Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield have long been considered the best prospects in the 2020 class, Holtz, Raymond, and fellow Swede forward Noel Gunler are closing in.
Holtz may have the highest ceiling of the Swedish trio due to his natural goal-scoring ability. Holtz led Sweden’s top U-18 junior league in goals and shared the lead in points in 2017-18 while playing in just 13 of a possible 18 games. This past year, he led the top U-20 league, the SuperElit, with 30 goals in 38 games and was sixth in overall scoring with 47 points. Holtz plays with supreme offensive ability, pairing his great vision with deadly offensive instincts. His shot will likely be considered among the best in the draft class, as it packs a quick release with high-end power. The next step for Holtz will be to take on a regular role in the SHL next season, after being held scoreless in just three big league games this year.
Raymond, who didn’t turn 17 until last month, has been right alongside Holtz the whole way. In 2017-18, it was Raymond who finished tied with Holtz atop the U-18 scoring ranks and this past season he finished one point ahead of Holtz for fourth overall in points, while also finishing second in assists in the SuperElit. Raymond is smaller than Holtz, but there are very few other holes to his game. The Frolunda phenom plays with just as much skill as Holtz and has a more well-rounded game as a tough two-way competitor. He may not have the same eye for the net, but plays with great vision and puck-moving ability. Raymond played in ten SHL games this season, but was limited to just two points. Showing that his size will not be a hindrance to his professional play will be a major point of emphasis next season.
Lastly, there is Gunler, who hasn’t received as much early praise as Holtz and Raymond, but is just as much a threat to crack the top-five in 2020. Gunler is slightly older than the others and it shows in both his mature build and playing style. Gunler jumped to the SuperElit a year ahead of Holtz and Raymond and put up good numbers, but in 2018-19 he finished right alongside them among the league leaders. Gunler’s 46 points were one less than Holtz and his 27 goals were good enough for third in the league. Yet, Gunler accomplished those tasks in just 31 games and was in fact the league leader in per-game production. On top of that, he played in a whopping 15 SHL games with Lulea, recording five points, while Holtz and Raymond combined for two points in 13 games. While Gunler’s skill isn’t quite on the same level as the others, Gunler plays with equal offensive instincts and has shown that his game can translate to the top level.
The 2020 NHL Draft is still a long ways away, with a whole class of prospects still yet to be drafted this June before the attention really even shifts to next year’s crop. Yet, Holtz, Raymond, and Gunler have already done enough to garner substantial attention regardless. The trio will do their best to continue their dominating ways in the SHL next season and to unset Lafreniere and Byfield as the presumptive 1-2 punch of the 2020 class. Consider this a preview of what will be an ongoing story through next season, as Sweden’s elite young forwards look to crowd the top of the draft board.