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Super Swedes: The 10 Best Swedish Hockey Players of All Time

Mike SuggsContributor IJanuary 13, 2017

Super Swedes: The 10 Best Swedish Hockey Players of All Time

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    Sweden is a huge hotbed for hockey, and it has produced some of today's biggest stars. It has a rich hockey history and is highly regarded as one of the "Big Seven," one of the best hockey countries in the world.

    Its national team, "Tre Kroner," is always ranked with elite status, often considered one of the top three teams in the world, and has been competitive throughout its history. The first three members of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold) are from Sweden as well.

    A number of different things were determining factors in this list, and some may disagree with the order of my rankings, but this is just my opinion. I want to create some debate.

    This slideshow is an homage to a country that has graced us with some unbelievable talent on the ice. Here are my top 10 Swedish players of all time.

Future Greats

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    Henrik Zetterberg

    Zetterberg will go down as one of the biggest draft steals ever. Taken 210th overall in his draft year, he has developed into one of the most dangerous and complete players in the league.

    Zetterberg can dominate in every situation. He has the offensive prowess to put up 90 points (when healthy) and is one of the best two-way forwards of the post-lockout era.

    When paired with his Euro-twin linemate (Pavel Datsyuk), he can be unstoppable and can control the game. The man is a world-class player.

     

    Daniel/Henrik Sedin

    These twins give a new meaning to the word chemistry. Both drafted in 1999 by Vancouver, Daniel went second overall, and Henrik followed at third.

    Daniel is the goal scorer, while Henrik is the playmaker, but any way you slice it, this is a top tandem in the NHL. They are both a lock for at least 80 points a year, they carry their team on a nightly basis and at times they are almost unstoppable. They are still in their prime, so they look poised to sit atop the stat sheet for a few more years to come.

     

    Henrik Lundqvist

    King Henrik has been one of the best and most consistent goaltenders since he entered the NHL in the 2005-2006 season. He has won at least 30 games every year and has won at least 35 in four of his first five seasons. He has a career GAA of 2.32 and a career save percentage of .918. He has already won 21 games this year, so he should eclipse the 30-win mark yet again.

    The Rangers look like a playoff team this year, and Lundqvist has the talent to help them make some noise in the postseason. Lundqvist is the anchor for the Rangers, and he will continue to make a big name for himself throughout the hockey world.

10. Pelle Lindbergh

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    Lindbergh's legacy in hockey is one of both childhood passion and untimely tragedy. Lindbergh was always a Flyers fan growing up, so it's only fate that he would end up being their No. 1 goalie. He spent parts of five seasons with the Flyers, where he became a bona fide star.

    His best season was in 1984-1985, when he posted a 40-17-7 record and a 3.02 GAA. During his short stint with the Flyers, Lindbergh was elected to the All-Rookie team, three All-Star Games (one posthumously), won a Vezina Trophy and was a First-Team All-Star.

    Unfortunately for the Broad Street Bully faithful, on November 10, 1985, he was involved in a car accident that ended his life and one of the most promising young hockey careers of the time. Though his number is not retired, nobody has worn his No. 31 since his death. Lindbergh was also the first goalie to start bringing a water bottle with him out on the ice.

    One can only imagine how much better he would have gotten and what other legacies he could have left in the NHL. The Flyers have since named an award after him, given to the most improved player on the team.

9. Markus Naslund

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    Now that Naslund has had his jersey retired by Vancouver, he will be always be a source of some kind of debate. Did he really deserve to have his number retired? Well, I am not here to answer that question, but the fact that the conversation is even happening tells you that this guy was very good.

    Drafted by Pittsburgh in 1991, it wasn't until he got traded to Vancouver that he really hit his stride. Even after he arrived in Vancouver, it still took him until his fourth season to really start reaching his potential, but when he did, he was dominant.

    The peak of his career was as a part of the "West Coast Express" line with Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. His best season came in 2002-03, when he scored 104 points.

    He owns pretty much all of Vancouver's all-time scoring records, including goals, points, hat tricks, power-play goals and game-winning goals, and he is their longest-tenured captain.

    During the course of his career he was a five-time All-Star, elected a First Team All-Star member three times, nominated for the Hart Trophy and won the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly Lester B. Pearson). Whether you agree with the jersey retirement or not, there's no denying this guy had skill.

8. Mats Naslund

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    Naslund's nickname was "Le Petit Viking," and he sure fit that bill. Naslund stood just 5'7" and weighed about 165 pounds, but as the adage goes, big things come in small packages.

    Naslund was the first European player to play for Montreal, and he spent eight seasons with them as one of their key offensive cogs, twice leading them in scoring and helping them to a Stanley Cup in 1986.

    As a rookie he put up 71 points in 74 games, and as a result he was elected to the All-Rookie team. His best statistical season came in 1985-1986, when he scored 110 points; he is the last Montreal player to reach the 100-point plateau as of the start of this season.

    Naslund was known for his speed and his incredibly clean play. He even beat out Wayne Gretzky for the Lady Byng in 1988.

    In total he scored 634 points in 651 games in the NHL, was a four-time All-Star and was one of the first three members of the coveted Triple Gold Club. In 1990, he returned to Europe, where he continued to be a force for Malmo in the Swedish Elite League. His success doesn't stop there either; he was also the GM of the gold medal-winning team from Sweden in the 2006 Olympics. Mr. Naslund's résumé speaks for itself.

7. Hakan Loob

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    Loob started off his playing career in Sweden with Farjestads BK in 1979, and that is where he would play all but six seasons of his professional career. Those other six seasons were spent as a right wing for the Calgary Flames, where he would help them win the franchise's only Stanley Cup.

    Despite his short stay in the NHL, he was definitely productive while with the Flames. He scored at least 30 goals three times in six years and at least 25 goals four times in six years. He broke the 50-goal plateau in 1987-88, when he scored exactly 50 goals and 106 points. He owns the distinction of being the only Swedish player who has scored 50 goals in an NHL season.

    Like Mats Naslund, Loob was another guy who scored a lot in a short period of time. He piled up 429 points in 450 games, so we can only wonder how much more he could have done if he hadn't left to go back to Sweden.

    It should be noted, though, that as good as Loob was in the NHL, he was even better overseas.

    How good was he? Well, he had 501 points in 405 games, which was good enough to get the Swedish version of the Rocket Richard Trophy named after him. He is also one of the first three members of the Triple Gold Club. Loob's place in hockey history is set in stone.

6. Daniel Alfredsson

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    Daniel Alfredsson has been Mr. Franchise for the Ottawa Senators. He is currently in his 15th NHL season, and he has spent all of them in Canada's capital city.

    Drafted 133rd overall in 1994, he has turned into one of the league's top two-way forwards. He is the kind of player that leads by example and has been the guy that has thrown his team on his back whenever it is necessary.

    His best statistical season came in 2005-2006 while playing with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley on the "CASH" line; he scored 43 goals and 103 points. During the 1999-2000 season, he was named captain after the title was stripped away from Alexei Yashin; it is a post he still holds to this day.

    In 2007 he led his team to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the modern era. By doing so, he became the first European-born and trained captain to accomplish such a feat. He owns Senators franchise records for goals, assists and points and notched his 1,000th career point this season.

    Alfredsson has 1,021 points in 1,053 games. He is a four-time All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, has been a runner-up for both the Selke and Lady Byng awards and is one of the finer captains in the NHL today. Alfredsson deserves to have his jersey retired when he hangs up his skates for good...not too shabby for a sixth-rounder.

5. Kent Nilsson

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    Kent Nilsson was known as "The Magic Man," and he truly was magic on the ice. He played for Djurgardens in Sweden for four years before transitioning into North America in 1977, where he joined Winnipeg in the WHA (before the NHL merger).

    He exploded with back-to-back 107-point seasons before being claimed by the Atlanta/Calgary Flames when Winnipeg joined the NHL.

    During his six-year stint with the Flames he was an offensive machine, and his lowest point total was 55 in only half a season. His most dominant season was 1980-1981, when he scored 131 points.

    He was eventually traded to the Minnesota North Stars, where he continued his dominance for two years, before being traded to Edmonton and winning his only Stanley Cup in 1987.

    In the NHL, he had 686 points in 553 games, and he had a 1.24 points-per-game average throughout his entire hockey career.

    Nilsson was a two-time NHL All-Star, and he holds the record for most points in a season by a Swedish player. He also holds Flames records for most points and assists in a season. He is currently a scout for the Florida Panthers; maybe he can bring his "magic" back for the Cats in Miami.

4. Mats Sundin

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    Mats Sundin is one of the best Maple Leafs of all time. Some may say that's a stretch, given the franchise's storied history, but Sundin was a superstar.

    He was drafted first overall by Quebec in 1989; this was the first time a European player was the top choice in the draft. He played in Quebec for four years, and he enjoyed his best statistical season while there, as he scored 114 points in 80 games.

    He was traded to Toronto in 1994 and became one of the most dominant players in the game. Sundin spent 13 seasons with the Leafs, and he led them in scoring for 12 of those 13 years. He was named captain during the 1996-1997 season and was the first European captain in team history.

    He holds Leafs records for goals, assists by a forward and overall points. In his career, Sundin scored 1,349 points in 1,346 games. He is the only Swedish player to reach 500 goals and the first to reach 1,000 points.

    He is a nine-time All-Star, elected as a Second Team All-Star twice, and he captained Team Sweden to a gold medal in the 2006 Olympics. He also received the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2008. He may not have won the Cup, but he did play well in the playoffs, and he did everything he possibly could to try to make it happen.

3. Borje Salming

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    Borje Salming, more aptly known as "The King," was one of the first European players to really make the crossover into the NHL. He was also key in changing the perception that Europeans lacked the toughness to play in North America.

    Salming began his NHL career in 1973 with Toronto, and he was a stalwart for the Maple Leafs blue line for much of his career. His defense was impeccable, he was a great shot blocker and he had the offensive smarts to make him one of the best defensemen of his era and of all time.

    Not only was he extremely talented, but he was tough as nails too. Case in point: He had his face cut by the skate of Gerard Gallant during a game in 1986. It required surgery and over 200 stitches...he was back in the game three days later.

    Salming racked up 787 points in 1,148 games, played in three All-Star games and was a Second Team All-Star five times and a First Team All-Star once.

    He holds Leafs records for most goals and points by a defenseman, most assists in franchise history and best plus-minus. He is also the only Swedish player in the Hockey Hall of Fame. "The King" was a trailblazer, and he certainly lived up to his nickname.

2. Peter Forsberg

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    No. 2 on this list was an easy choice. Forsberg's NHL debut was in the lockout-shortened 1994-1995 season, and he scored 50 points in 47 games, won the Calder Trophy and was named to the All-Rookie team.

    Throughout his career, he had a great two-way game and was considered the most complete player in the league during his career. When healthy, he was absolutely dominant.

    Unfortunately, his physical game led to a lot of injuries, and he missed a lot of game action because of it. Despite hampering foot problems, he was always well above a point-per-game player. His best season was 1995-1996, when he scored 116 points and helped the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup.

    In my mind his best performance was the 2002 playoffs. He missed the entire regular season, came back for the playoffs and led everybody in scoring in the postseason. When a guy gets his spleen removed, spends a year recovering and then elevates his game to top playoff form instantaneously, he earns points in my book.

    Forsberg has 885 points in 706 games, which ranks him 10th all-time in points-per-game ratios. He has won the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy, was a First Team All-Star three times, has two Stanley Cups and has won the "Triple Gold" twice (the only Swede to ever do so). "Peter the Great" is great indeed. Here's to hoping he succeeds in making his current comeback.

1. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Of all the great players to come from Sweden, Nick Lidstrom is in a class of his own. He has played for Detroit his entire career.

    Never a physical player, he relies on positioning, skating ability, an active stick and great hockey IQ to succeed. He is a poster boy for durability; he has only missed 28 out of a possible 1,490 games.

    The Red Wings named him captain in 2007 after Steve Yzerman retired. He is considered the best defenseman of his generation, and he has a trophy case bursting at the seams to prove it.

    Awards: Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, All-Rookie Team, 12-time All-Star, nine-time NHL First Team All-Star, two-time NHL Second Team All-Star, Triple Gold Club member, Conn Smythe Trophy, six Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups.

    Records: First European-born and trained player to win the Conn Smythe, first European-born and trained player to win the Norris, first European-born and trained captain to win the Stanley Cup, first European-born and trained defenseman to reach 1,000 points, most games played by any European, oldest player to record a hat trick, third all-time postseason games played (237), and the longest-tenured and highest-scoring defenseman in Red Wings history.

    Lidstrom has never missed the playoffs in his career, and that trend will continue this year. He is also making another bid for the Norris, and should he win, he would tie for second most all-time (seven). When he finally does retire, he should get his No. 5 raised to the rafters in Detroit. Lidstrom will arguably go down as one of the top three defensemen of all time.

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