I wrote an article discussing the biggest draft day steals for the Vancouver Canucks, and while I was researching for that article, I noticed how many great Swedish players the team has been able to acquire. Two of the five players listed in that article were Swedes and have been a big part of the franchise. Four of the top 10 players in franchise scoring history are Swedish players as well as three of the six players to have their jerseys retired by the team.
Thomas Gradin is the first great Swede in Canucks history. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted him with the 45th-overall pick in the 1976 NHL Draft. The Canucks acquired Gradin’s rights in June 1978 for a draft pick.
With the team, he hit the 20-goal mark in 7 of his 8 seasons in Vancouver and had three 30-goal seasons as well. He led the team in points during the 1981-82 Stanley Cup Final run with 9 goals and 19 points in 17 games. He left Vancouver as the highest-scoring centreman with 550 points in 613 games, which was an all-time high at the time, but his former teammate Stan Smyl surpassed him shortly.
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He ranks sixth in all-time points for the Canucks — one of four Swedes in the top 10. In the 1980’s he was one of the four Swedes that helped the team adapt to a different style of play (from ‘Ben Kuzma: Swedish players found pro, personal connections to Vancouver’ The Province,’ 02/10/2020).
“Thomas thought the game so well — he was always a step ahead,” said Smyl. “I learned so much watching him on-and-off the ice, just the way he thought the game. And going into a game, he would say let’s try certain stuff — hanging on the puck a little longer — and it was that part in learning puck possession that would make you a better team.”
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Gradin now serves as an Associate Chief Amateur Scout and has been the reason the team has drafted great Swedes including the Sedin twins, Alexander Edler and Elias Pettersson. He became the third member of the Canucks’ Ring of Honour in 2011.
Patrik Sundström is one of the greatest draft steals in franchise history. They drafted him in the ninth round with the 175th-overall pick in the 1980 NHL Draft. He played five seasons with the Canucks and replaced Gradin as the top offensive weapon, which led to Gradin leaving in free agency. He is the second Swedish player to dominate as a Canuck, teaming up with winger Tony Tanti to lead the team’s offense.
After five seasons in Vancouver, he had 342 points in 374 games. His 91 points in 1982-83 were the all-time team high until Bure passed it in 1992-93. His seven points in a single game is a record that he still holds and is the only Canuck to pull it off. The team traded him to the New Jersey Devils for Greg Adams and Kirk Mclean; both played key roles in the team’s 1993-94 Stanley Cup Final run. Although he spent a short time in Vancouver, he made an impact and set the tone for what to expect from upcoming talent.
After the departure of Gradin and Sundstrom, the next great group of elite Swedish talent joined the Canucks in the 1990s. They drafted Mattias Ohlund with the 13th-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Draft. Four years after being drafted he signed a contract with Toronto Maple Leafs, which was matched by the Canucks. In his rookie season, he tied Jyrki Lumme for most points by a defenseman on the team with 30 in 77 games. He finished second in voting for the Calder behind Sergei Samsonov.
He spent 11 seasons in Vancouver totaling 92 goals and 325 points in 770 games. He ended his time as a Canuck with the most points by a defenseman in franchise history, a record that would be passed by fellow Swede Alex Edler. He is arguably the best defenseman in franchise history thanks to his consistency while with the team. The Canucks added him to the team’s Ring of Honour to celebrate his great career with the team.
The Canucks acquired Markus Naslund in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. The Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to Vancouver for Alek Stojanov. Stojanov played 107 games, scoring 2 goals and 7 points. Naslund spent 12 seasons with the Canucks, 8 as the team’s captain, and ended with his jersey being retired.
After his 12-season tenure with the team, he led in goals (346) and points (756). He led the team in scoring for 7 seasons, scored 30 or more goals 6 times, and had three-straight seasons with 40 or more goals. Along with Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison, the trio formed the West Coast Express line. The line was the primary reason the franchise was successful in the early 2000s. The 2002-03 season was the best example of their domination as Naslund scored 48 goals and had 103 points, while Bertuzzi scored 46 goals and 97 points. Morrison hit a career high as well with 25 goals and 71 points that season. At 35, he signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers, retiring after his first season with the team.
“Probably the fondest memory I have is we had a bunch of guys that were the same age that grew up together in the early 2000s,” Naslund said. “We created a pretty strong personal bond with each other because we had a lot of fun together.”
The Sedin Twins
The era led by Naslund and Ohlund slowly transitioned into the Sedin era. The Canucks drafted the two greatest players in franchise history in the 1999 NHL Draft. They drafted Daniel with the second-overall pick and Henrik with the third. Both spent their entire 17-season NHL careers with the Canucks.
Henrik finished with a franchise-high 1,070 points, 830 assists, and 1,330 games played. Daniel surpassed Naslund for most goals with 393, leads in all-time game-winning goals and power-play goals. He finished second to his older brother in games played (1,306), assists (648), and points (1,041). They represented their country at the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014, winning gold in 2006 and Daniel won silver in 2014. Henrik is the only Canuck to win the Hart Memorial Trophy and both are the only players to win the Art Ross Trophy, doing so in back-to-back seasons. The Canucks retired both their numbers during the 2019-20 season.
The Canucks continued their success in finding great Swedish talent in the 2000s. Edler is the second Swedish player to be featured on the biggest draft steals list. They drafted him with the 91st-overall pick in the third round of the 2004 NHL Draft.
Edler has been a long-standing member of the Canucks d-core, already in his 14th season with the team. He will be with the team for at least another season since he signed a two-year contract before the season started. He leads all Canucks defensemen in franchise history in goals (99), assists (302), points (401), and games played (873).
Markstrom and Pettersson Leading the Future Core
With the Sedin twins and Edler playing large roles for the Canucks during the late 2000s and a majority of the 2010s, they added a few more Swedes to lead the team into the future. They traded Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers in 2014 to acquire Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom spent seven seasons with Vancouver, with the 2019-20 season being his best.
Like Markstrom, Elias Pettersson is a Swedish player that will continue the legacy of the players who have come before him. Initially, people around the NHL were worried about his size entering the NHL, but he has proven all the doubters wrong (from ‘Jason Botchford: Canucks at 50: In picking Pettersson, the player with ‘the most offensive upside’ The Province,’ 03/26/2020).
He won the Calder Trophy and set the Canucks’ rookie scoring record with 66 points. He led the team in goals and points in his rookie season and tied the team lead in goals this season as well. His career will likely see the same success as the Sedins and Naslund had statistically, featuring a few 100-point seasons and ending it in the top 10 in all-time team points.
More Swedish Talent to Come
Following the footsteps of greats such as the Sedin twins, Naslund, Ohlund, and Gradin, future Swedish players have big shoes to fill. Canucks fans are hoping both Pettersson and Markstrom can bring success to the team moving forward as the Swedish players before them have done.
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With success in drafting Swedish players in the past, it will likely continue in the future. A great example of this is Nils Hoglander, who was drafted in the second round in 2019 and is another player that Canucks fans will be excited for. Hoglander, alongside 2019 first-round pick Vasili Podkolzin, is at the top of the team’s prospect pool. Canucks fans are hopeful that Hoglander can join Markstrom and Pettersson in leading the team to the promised land together.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.