PLYMOUTH, MICH. - The World Junior Summer Showcase is an excellent spot for national teams and NHL franchises to evaluate talent in an elite setting. This year’s tourney also happens to be rife with top-end talent for the 2020 draft, with potentially four of the top five picks in attendance. Canada is represented by left winger Alexis Lafreniere, the early fave to go first overall. Finland has strong, two-way center Anton Lundell and he has already won a gold medal at the world juniors. Sweden, in the meantime, boasts a pair of aces in wingers Alex Holtz and Lucas Raymond. From here on out, let’s just call them the Terror Twins.
Holtz and Raymond have both made early SHL debuts with Djurgarden and Frolunda, respectively. They were integral to Sweden’s gold medal at the world under-18s this past spring and it was a special one: not only was the tournament in Sweden, but the Tre Kronor had never won it before.
“It was amazing to do it in front of family,” Raymond said. “It was a big tournament and especially with the group we had, it was really fun.”
Raymond really came through in the clutch when gold was on the line, netting a hat trick - including the overtime winner - in a dramatic 4-3 victory over Russia. But the Terror Twins didn’t do it alone. Their center was Karl Henriksson, who was drafted 58th overall by the New York Rangers this summer. Henriksson actually led the team in scoring with nine points in seven games, with Holtz behind him at eight and Raymond with seven after that.
So far at the WJSS, Sweden has used both Henriksson and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jacob Olofsson in the middle of the line, but it’s hard not to see Henriksson in that role come December.
The trio brings to mind another successful combo from the recent past, albeit a Finnish one. In 2016, Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho was the defensive conscience on a dynamite line with draft-eligible wolfhounds Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. The Finns won a shocking gold in large part to that trio, even though Aho had barely played center before.
Henriksson on the other hand is well-versed down the middle and that’s a great advantage for the Swedes.
“It’s incredible to play with Karl, he’s such a smart center,” Holtz said. “Great hockey sense, great skater and he can shoot the puck also, so it’s fantastic to play with him.”
And the adulation goes both ways.
“They are incredibly skilled, it’s easy to play with them,” Henriksson said. “They think hockey very well but they’re not the same players: Holtz is more of a sniper and Lucas is more of a playmaker so it’s really good.”
And that’s the funny part about that under-18 gold medal game; usually it’s Holtz doing the finishing, not Raymond. But being unpredictable and unstoppable is kinda the name of the game with the Terror Twins and while playing back home in Sweden will shield them from a considerable amount of North American hype in their draft year (especially with the world juniors taking place in the Czech Republic), Sweden coach Tomas Monten noted that the national squad has offered both Holtz and Raymond special help in terms of dealing with extra attention.
It’s a good strategy because both players could go as high as second overall, depending on how the season shakes out. Raymond averaged nearly an assist per game with Frolunda’s under-20 team this past season while also making his SHL debut, getting into 10 games with the Indians. Holtz potted 30 goals in 38 games with Djurgarden’s junior team and also saw his first SHL action with the big squad. Needless to say, more SHL time beckons for the pair next season.
“It’s huge to play against men because of the speed and the structure, compared to junior,” Raymond said. “You mature a lot as a player and it helps a lot.”
Henriksson plays for the same Frolunda organization as Raymond and he will continue to grow his game there. New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is obviously a fan.
“He’s a 200-foot player, real cerebral with and without the puck," Gorton said. "And he does all the dirty work. For a guy who’s not big in stature (Henriksson is 5-foot-9, 175 pounds), he plays a bigger game. He hunts pucks, he wins battles and he can make plays. He does all the little things to help you win - faceoffs, kill penalties. When you add it all up, it was most appealing for us.”
If he continues to play internationally with Holtz and Raymond, the New York pick could be in line for some more gold, this time at the world juniors. And he certainly doesn’t mind being the Sebastian Aho on the line.
“That’s my game,” Henriksson said. “When I play with Lucas and Alex, they’re so good with the puck in the offensive zone that if I can do them better by doing hard work all over the ice then that’s good for us.”