Swedish Men's National Team
Sweden has consistently been among the top countries at producing NHL worthy talent over the past couple of decades, and their gold medal at the 2006 Olympics proved that they may have the best talent in the world.
Despite a disappointing loss to Slovakia in the 2010 Olympic playoffs, Sweden remains one of the biggest threats to medal in tournaments at all levels.
With an honorable mention to Victor Hedman, Daniel Alfredsson, Alexander Edler, Niklas Kronwall, and Patric Hornqvist, here's a look at the top Swedish hockey players in the game today.
No, your eyes have not deceived you: I chose a non-NHL player for the top ten.
Mattias Weinhandl deserves the recognition, even after a mediocre four year NHL career with the Islanders and the Wild from 2002-2007. Weinhandl was far from exceptional during his NHL career, which ended poorly with a demotion to the AHL in 2006-07.
However, since his departure to Europe in 2007, Weinhandl has excelled on the larger ice surfaces of the Swedish Elite League and the KHL, where he has finished in the top ten in scoring the past two seasons.
Weinhandl led Sweden’s Men’s National Team in scoring at the 2008 and 2009 World Championships on rosters including other established NHL forwards such as Nicklas Backstrom, Loui Eriksson, and Patric Hornqvist. He also represented Team Sweden at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, managing 2 assists in 4 games with a plus-2 rating.
It’s unknown whether Weinhandl’s international success would translate well to the NHL’s smaller ice at this point in his career, and I doubt we will ever get the chance to see, but he certainly has the offensive skills to match some of Sweden’s top players. Let the debate begin.
Selected to his first NHL All-Star game this season, Enstrom is an offensive force for the Atlanta Thrashers, with 8 goals and 40 assists this season, including 26 points on the power play. He averages over 24 minutes per game on the Thrashers top pairing with Dustin Byfuglien.
While Byfuglien has been receiving most of the credit with his 19 goals from the point, it is Enstrom who has been setting him up all season. One of the crispest passers in the NHL, the twenty six year old defenseman has some of the best offensive awareness in the game.
Playing in Atlanta may make Enstrom one of the lesser known names on the list, but his numbers speak for themselves.
The Red Wings are like a factory for Swedish ice hockey, with three players on this top ten list alone and many more who deserve an honorable mention. I was sold on Franzen the moment he had a four goal and six point playoff performance last season, but he sealed it even more so with his five goal performance earlier this year.
He may not be the most consistent Swede in the NHL, but the 6’3” power forward has game changing talent and a great shot to go along with it. He is one of the best power forwards that Sweden has to offer, so expect “Mule” to be a lock for the Olympic team in 2014.
However, if he keeps playing for the Red Wings, he probably won’t be getting an opportunity to play in the World Championships any time soon.
Eriksson is a relatively new name to Swedish hockey, as he has really only started to come onto the scene in the past two seasons and played in his first Olympics for Team Sweden in 2010. His great hands and reliable play have made him a fan favorite in Dallas, where the Stars are making a convincing push towards the playoffs.
Though he could stand to bulk up a little more, Eriksson has a great blend of skill and size at 6’3” and 193 pounds. Like Enstrom, Eriksson was named to his first all-star game this season with 61 points through 65 games thus far.
At only 25 years of age, he figures to be a crucial component to Sweden’s continued prominence in international hockey.
Nicklas Backstrom tends to be a bit overrated playing with Ovechkin, but his talent is undeniable. Though typically a setup man, Backstrom managed 33 goals while playing all 82 games last season. In fact, his durability is one of his main assets, as he has never missed an NHL game of his four year career with the Washington Capitals.
Backstrom had high expectations as the fourth overall pick in 2006, and he has silenced the critics by becoming Washington’s first line center of the present and the future. He was also one of Sweden’s main offensive threats at the Olympics last year in Vancouver, with 6 points in 4 games.
Even though Backstrom may look like he’s 12 years old at times (though I’m not one to talk), he is still an offensive force on the ice.
Zetterberg has never once been a minus player in the NHL, and he has led Detroit to the playoffs seven consecutive seasons, soon to be eight. The former seventh round draft pick has far exceeded expectations and has been on his game once again this season with 69 points in 66 games.
He is one of the hardest players to knock off the puck despite being just 5’11” and 195 pounds. He is reliable in all three zones and can play in just about any situation he is put into.
The three-time Olympian’s effortless blend of offensive skill and defensive awareness embodies Red Wings and Swedish hockey.
Plus his wife is hot.
Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the world, as he consistently keeps an overmatched Rangers team in the hunt for the playoffs. At the age of just 23, Lundqvist led Team Sweden to the gold medal in the 2006 Olympics.
Henrik is one of the highest paid goalies in the NHL, but deservedly so. He has posted at least 30 wins and nothing higher than a 2.43 goals against average in each of his six NHL seasons.
Lundqvist’s value is almost as present off the ice as it is on. In the media frenzied city that is New York, "King Henrik" manages to handle himself with a level of professionalism not seen in many athletes today.
Also, he apparently dresses really well according to lots of magazines.
The Red Wings captain continues to excel in the NHL, leading the Red Wings in ice team with nearly 24 minutes per game. His 54 points are tied for first among all defenseman.
However, it is not only Lidstrom’s offensive play that is so impressive, he is known as one of the toughest defenders to play against, and is always given the task of shutting down the opponents top forwards. Lidstrom has spent his entire 18-year NHL career with the Red Wings, and has been a fixture on the men’s national team, winning the gold medal in 2006.
The six time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman looks to be headed towards number seven at the age of forty.
Daniel comes in at a close second and deserves almost as much recognition as the #1 player on the list. Though Daniel failed to impress at the 2010 Olympics, he is currently leading the NHL in points while Vancouver is positioned comfortably at the top of the league.
One of the best finishers in the league, Daniel is also near the top of the league with a 16.4% shooting percentage and 14 power play goals. He is one of those players you rarely see make a mistake, as evidenced by his plus 22 rating.
In all honesty I wanted to just include the Sedins as one entity, but I figured I would get all kinds of complaints about technicalities in how it wouldn’t really be a top ten list and whatnot.
It’s really a tossup, but I am going with Henrik ahead of Daniel for now because he was able to excel last season even in the 19 games that Daniel was injured. Henrik Sedin is the NHL’s defending Hart Trophy winner for league MVP, and he may be the best set up man in the world.
The chemistry between the twins is uncanny as they almost always seem to be able to locate each other on the ice. Henrik is more of the playmaker between the two, while Daniel is the finisher. With an MVP and Olympic gold medal already under his belt, all Henrik needs to solidify his legacy now is a Stanley Cup ring.
Well, there you have it. Henrik Sedin is the best Swedish hockey player in the world.