With the NHL joining the other sports leagues on hiatus, we thought it would be a great time to take a look at how an international presence has changed the game for the Vancouver Canucks. We’ve spent enough time on this side of the pond, so let’s take a look at the ocean-going set. It’s a tough one today, trying to decide who the Canucks best ever Swede is.
Canucks Best Ever: Swede
Here’s the big one! No country has produced more high-end talent for Vancouver than Sweden. A 23-man team here wouldn’t just be finding the Canucks best ever Swede, but a rival for the best Canucks lineup possible. It is almost shocking to discover that only 32 Swedish players have skated for the Canucks given the outsized effect they’ve had.
Looking at their team construction over the last 25 years it is a bit surprising that they were a bit late to the game. However, when they decided to look overseas for help, the Canucks jumped in with both feet. Three Swedish free agents were signed before the 1978-79 season, and another traded for. If we’re talking firsts, it comes down to two of the free-agent defencemen signed the same day, Lars Lindgren and Lars Zetterstrom. Neither made a huge impact, though Lindgren played 335 games with Vancouver. Roland Eriksson, signed two days later, was released that January.
The fourth, Thomas Gradin, joined the team from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a second-round pick in 1980. Gradin played in Vancouver for eight years, getting 197 goals and 550 points in 613 games. He was also part of the Miracle Run in 1982, scoring 19 points in just 17 playoff games that year. He had a perfectly good career with the Canucks, but has since been completely overshadowed by his countrymen.
Officially drafted one spot behind his brother, he finishes just ahead. Henrik Sedin ended his career the team leader in games played (1330), assists (830), and total points (1070). His single-season records of 83 assists and 112 points stand as team highs. In fact, seven of the ten highest assist totals in team history are his. Even in his final NHL season, eighteen years after his first, he had 47 assists. Henrik won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2009-10 and NHL MVP.
He brought a quiet confidence to his role as captain, and under his direction, the Canucks had a very successful eight-year stretch. Between 2010-11 and 2017-18 they hit 100 points or more three times and would have had a fourth in the lockout-shortened 2012-13. His principal rival for the title of Canucks Best Ever Swede is close to home.
Henrik was the one to officially wear the “C” but Daniel Sedin was just as much a part of the leadership group. He as the team records in career goals (393), power-play goals (138), and game-winning goals (86). He’s second in games played, assists, and points trailing only his brother. He also won the Ted Lindsay Award as league MVP chosen by the players in 2010-11. Daniel’s final year was highlighted by 23 goals and 55 points at 37 years old.
Since it is hard to describe the one without the other, let’s talk about the impact they had together.
The biggest feature of their play was their ability to simply know where the other would be at all times. They took Wayne Gretzky‘s “go where the puck is going to be” advice and turned it on its head. Instead, they put the puck where their brother was going to be – every time. Their control of the puck was astounding, leaving more than one announcer at a loss to describe how the play they just witnessed happened. Go ahead and type “Sedinery” into whatever search engine you like and watch what comes up. They are the first and only brothers to each hit 1,000 points in the NHL, each winning an Art Ross Trophy.
Off the ice was much the same. They took their role as leaders in the community seriously, being incredibly generous with both their time and their money. Even what could have been an acrimonious fight as free agents in 2009 turned into an excuse to give more back to the city. It’s a generosity that continues today.
The Vancouver Canucks’ first non-Canadian captain, Markus Naslund was the man Daniel passed in nearly every scoring record. Naslund played 884 games for Vancouver, 558 of them as captain. He was voted a first-team All-Star three times, and the first Canuck to win the Lindsay award in 2002-03.
In twelve years with the Canucks, Naslund scored 346 goals to go with 756 points in 884 games. He is tied with Tony Tanti at 10 hat tricks with Vancouver, making him an underrated though dynamic scorer. Underrated because outside the city he is perhaps best known for one of the most lopsided trades in league history. It wasn’t quite so easy to decide at the time, though. Vancouver was looking for secondary scoring, and the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted toughness. Naslund had been a bust with the Penguins, showing up out of shape and not producing despite All-Star linemates. Injuries derailed his next season, then he requested a trade. Eventually, he ended up in Vancouver… just in time for the ridiculously tumultuous Mike Keenan/Mark Messier era.
It was a trial, but he came through it an essential part of the team in scoring and as captain in 2000-01. He led the team in scoring seven seasons in a row, from 1998-99 (the year after Keenan was fired) through 2005-06 when the Sedins took over.
As far as stats are concerned, the only “Canucks top-ten” list you’ll see Mattias Ohlund on is games played with 770. After coming in second to Sergei Samsonov in Calder voting, Ohlund quickly established himself as a rock for Vancouver’s D corps. From 1998-99 to 2005-06 he never fell below 25 minutes in average ice time. Even then, he dropped to 24:47 in the 2006-07 season. Though his regular-season numbers were never the highest (93 goals and 325 points) he could step up when it mattered. His playoff point totals for Vancouver were 9 goals and 28 points in just 52 games, averaging over 26 minutes of ice per game.
There were always much flashier defencemen on the team, but Ohlund was The Man. You could tell who the Canucks’ coach was most concerned about by seeing who Ohlund matched against. The 6’4″ defender was a beast to get through, and he was a central figure in reigniting the Vancouver Canucks-Calgary Flames rivalry in the early 2000s. His battles with Flames legend Jarome Iginla are worth a highlight reel of their own.
Want to Mention…
It’s impossible not to mention Elias Pettersson somewhere on this list, though he has only played two seasons. It’s hard to see what will stop him from becoming one of Vancouver’s best scorers, but not just yet. Jacob Markstrom‘s future remains a mystery, but should he stay a few more years he might have a spot here. Patrik Sundstrom, though he only stayed in Vancouver for five seasons, was a very good scorer in his own right. He was the first Canucks to reach 90 points, getting 91 in 1983-84. Alexander Edler has successfully inherited Ohlund’s role, though he’s lasted 100 more games.
Even when we included the twins as separate players limiting the selections to just four was hard! Sweden has given the Canucks their three top-scoring forwards, two top-scoring defencemen, two more scoring stars, a goaltender who has been their anchor for three seasons… At one point the joke was the Canucks’ third jersey should the Tre Kroner, and not without reason. Even with Pettersson graduated to the NHL, a Swede remains one of the team’s top prospects.
But for now, and for a few seasons yet, the Canucks best ever Swede is the previous captain, Henrik Sedin.