Brian Sklar The Hockey Writers
Top 10 Swedes in The NHL Today
Sweden is one of the best hockey countries in the world. The Swedes are hockey players with a ton of skill and talent. This past winter Olympics, the Swedes made it all the way to the gold medal game before losing to Team Canada. Capturing a silver medal was still a good accomplishment.
At the World Juniors, Sweden won in 2012 on an overtime goal by current Ottawa Senator Mika Zibenejad.
At the World Championships since 2010 Sweden has won once. The Swedes captured the 2013 World Championship Gold Medal, the tourney was played in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland. Sweden is a strong contender at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Especially considering young talent, such as Filip Forsberg, that will only get better between now and tournament time in the fall of 2016. I believe Sweden’s defense is elite status and arguably going to be the best defensive group at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Five out of ten players on this list are defenseman. Take these five and add in Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks on the 3rd defense pair and you have an extremely talented group. Here are my top 10 ranked Swedes in Hockey today.
10) Anton Stralman
Stralman really came into his own as a hockey player during his tenure with the New York Rangers. Stralman was the Rangers secret weapon on the blueline. He played on the Rangers second defense pairing with Marc Staal during the 2013-2014 season and was as consistent as it gets. Stralman is a very strong skater, makes the simple play, is usually always in the right position defensively and makes an excellent breakout pass. This year in Tampa Bay he has taken his game to a completely different level. Playing in the regular season, when the Lightning were playing a more open game, Stralman excelled offensively and had his best year in the league. Stralman was paired with Victor Hedman and the two have been dominant all season long. Stralman scored 9 goals, 30 assists and a career-high 39 points.
9) Niklas Kronwall
One of the anchors of the Detroit Red Wings blueline for years has been Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall Is an all-around defenseman that can also throw his body around. Kronwall is one of the best in the league at delivering a solid hip check in open ice. This past season at age 34, Kronwall was a force on the power play. Kronwall scored 9 goals, 35 assists and 44 points this year. However, 23 points were on the power play. Kronwall is a 2008 Stanley Cup Champion with the Detroit Red Wings.
8) Daniel Sedin
The left wing and more known goal-scorer of the Sedin twins, Daniel Sedin, had a very solid season this past year at the age of 34. Sedin scored 20 goals and also added 56 assists for 76 points. Daniel and his twin brother Henrik have been a dominant pair for the Vancouver Canucks for the past decade. This year Daniel and Henrik played on a line with newly acquired forward Radim Vrbata of the former Phoenix Coyotes. Vrbata scored 30 goals and the trio had a dominant season as a top 10 line in the NHL. Daniel had his best year in 2010-2011 when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final. That season Daniel scored 41 goals (career-high) and 63 assists (career-high) for 104 points. Daniel was the Art Ross Trophy recipient that season for most points in the NHL during the regular season.
7) Henrik Sedin
The twin brother that takes the faceoffs, Henrik, has been one of the best centers in hockey for a long time. He has been known for his creative passes, give-and-go’s, and cycles that he and his brother Daniel are so good at. Henrik was in his prime from 2006-2011 and was dominant. In the 2009-2010 season Henrik had 83 assists to go with 29 goals for 112 points. That season he was the Art Ross Trophy Winner as well as the Hart Trophy winner for the NHL’s league MVP during the regular season.
6) Henrik Zetterberg
Zetterberg scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final as the Detroit Red Wings captured the Stanley Cup over the young Pittsburgh Penguins. Zetterberg, like the Sedins, is going on his age 35 season next year and is still a top player in the league. Zetterberg is a rare talent that has a ton of skill and is an excellent back checker that has a 200 foot game. Injuries have gotten to Zetterberg in recent years, and hopefully he can return to top form next season. Last year Zetterberg had 66 points in 77 regular season games in 2014-2015.
5) Nicklas Backstrom
Backstrom is one of the best passers in hockey. The Washington Capitals top ranked power play ends with Ovechkin, but runs through Nicklas Backstrom on the opposite half boards. Backstrom comes off the wall with the puck and usually sends it exactly where it needs to be. Backstrom played in every regular season game this past year and scored 18 goals, 60 assists and 78 points. Next season will only be Backstrom’s age 28 season, if the Capitals are going to take the next step as a franchise, and finally get to the Conference Finals and even a Stanley Cup Final, Backstrom has to stay at elite status during the playoffs.
4) Oliver Ekman-Larsson
OEL is an unreal defenseman. He has a big frame, great skating ability, makes smart defensive plays with and without the puck, and is an excellent offensive defenseman. Ekman-Larsson scored 20 goals this year from the Arizona Coyotes blueline including 10 on the power-play. He also averaged 25:00 of ice time per game and scored 7 game-winning-goals. OEL is an excellent puck mover as well and will only be 24-years-old next season. While the ‘Yotes are in a rebuild, Ekman-Larsson will be their best player.
3) Victor Hedman
One player that has established himself at elite status is Victor Hedman. The 2nd overall pick from 2009 took a few years to develop, but since the 2013 48 game season Hedman has drastically improved his game. The 2012 Lockout did not benefit any player more than Hedman, Hedman was playing power play, gaining experience, and logging a lot of ice time. He carried his confidence to North America and the NHL and was a force. In 2013-2014 Hedman played in 75 regular season games and scored 13 goals, 42 assists and 55 points. Hedman was limited to 59 regular season games this year due to injuries and scored 38 points. He is a 6’6 defender that skates like the wind, rushes up in the offense at the right time and can shut down the best in the world. Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup Final has been a direct result of Victor Hedman’s shutdown ability. The guy is one of the best defenseman in the world and has been the Lightning MVP this playoff run.
2) Erik Karlsson
While OEL and Hedman are dominant defenseman, they are not yet on the level of the Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson. Karlsson may not have the defending ability of Victor Hedman or the physicality, but Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in hockey. His skating and passing are second to none. A lot of times when Karlsson is on the ice the Sens are up ice or in the opponent’s zone. Karlsson is known for his slapshot on the power play. He scored 21 goals this season with 6 being power-play goals.
He finished the year with 66 points in 82 games for the Sens. Ottawa had an incredible run to the playoffs the last two months of the year before falling in the opening round to rival Montreal. In 2011-2012 during Karlsson’s 3rd year in the NHL he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. He scored 78 points in 81 games. Not many defenseman in the NHL today have the ability to score at almost a point-per-game rate. When Karlsson is on his game that is what he is capable of.
1) Henrik Lundqvist
The top player on the top Swedes in hockey today go to Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is a goalie that is at his best when the pressure is highest. He plays deep in his crease and is excellent at reading the play and knowing where to be positionally. Lundqvist only played in 46 regular season games this year due to injury, but was excellent in the game he appeared in. Lundqvist was 30-13-3 with a 2.25 GAA and .922 save %. The stats were right around his career averages with the New York Rangers. In 620 games he is 339-208-65 with a 2.26 GAA and .921 save %. Lundqvist is a top 5 goalie in the world that has been the heart and soul of the New York Rangers for several years now. Lundqvist and the New York Rangers have played in a lot of playoff games the last four years and have three trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. The 2012 Vezina Trophy Winner still has one more trophy to win and the Rangers are going to be in position as a true Stanley Cup Contender the next few years.
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