When I say Swedish hockey what is the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe it’s Nicklas Lidström, the recently retired Red Wing who is widely considered to be the best defensemen to ever play the position. Maybe it’s Peter Forsberg who was the complete package, blending offensive prowess and defensive determination into one single player. Maybe for the younger generation it’s the Sedin twins who continue to tally points with their incredible understanding of how to play with one another. Or maybe it’s goaltending…. Or maybe not.
Of the countless things that are associated with Swedish hockey goaltending is far from the top of the list. The number of Swedish goaltenders that have made an impact on the NHL can be counted on a single hand. There is Pelle Lindbergh, who had already become the country’s best goalie before his tragic death in 1985, Tommy Salo who appeared in two NHL All-Star games in his career and Henrik Lundqvist has already emerged as one of the best netminders in the NHL, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2012, and is well on his way to becoming the best Swedish goalie of all time.
Outside of those three names the list of impactful Swedish goalies drops off. For a country that is so rich with hockey history it’s surprising to see such a glaring weakness at an important position. Was there a lack of talent that caused the absence of NHL caliber goalies or did the scouts disregard the position and focus on the ultra skilled forwards? We’ll never know the answer but whatever the problem was it has been fixed.
With the emergence of Henrik Lundqvist a door has been opened for Swedish goaltenders. A fresh batch of Swedish netminders are on the cusp of cracking rosters across the NHL and it’s only a matter of time before the superbly talented prospects are given the opportunity to show why Sweden should no longer be overlooked when it comes to drafting NHL caliber goalies.
Amongst the collection of Swedish goaltending prospects there are three that have set themselves apart from the rest. Here is a closer look at the trio:
Weight: 196 Pounds
Organization: Florida Panthers
2011-2012 Team: San Antonio Rampage
Drafted: 2008, 2nd Round, 31st Overall
Markström is easily the most experienced goalie amongst the three. In his three seasons with Brynäs IF he compiled a 2.51 GAA and a .912 SV% while tallying 8 shutouts. His first season in North America was a rocky one as he struggled with the Panthers minor league affiliate, the Rochester Americans, managing a .907 SV% and 2.98 GAA in 37 games. His season was also cut short by a knee injury that required surgery and took him out of action until the start of the 2011-2012 season.
He rebounded nicely in 2011-2012 with the San Antonio Rampage, accruing a 2.32 GAA and .9.27 SV% throughout the season. He also appeared in seven games with the Panthers, garnering attention for his brilliant play in a game against the Canadians and his veteran like confidence.
One thing that Markström has over the rest of the field is an abundance of international experience. In 2009 he led the Swedish squad to a silver medal in the World Junior Championships while topping the tournament in SV% with an impressive .946 mark and winning the Best Player Award for goaltenders. He made his senior debut in the 2010 World Championships and recorded a shutout against Switzerland as well.
At 6’6” he is the tallest of the trio and is the most NHL ready. He has shown the ability to be consistent and has proven that he has adapted well to the North American style of play. If there is one thing that must be worked on it is his recovery speed. Luckily for Markström his size can cover that deficiency effectively so it’s not as big of a weakness as one would expect.
Chances are Markström will not see the NHL this season unless Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen is injured. The Panthers are dead set on allowing Markström to grow in the AHL so that he is at the pinnacle of his game when he does inevitably emerge in the NHL.
Hockey’s Future Outlook: http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/jacob_markstrom/
Weight: 183 Pounds
Organization: Vancouver Canucks
2011-2012 Team: Chicago Wolves
Drafted: Undrafted 2009
Läck is the least experienced amongst the trio despite being the oldest. After playing just 14 games with Brynäs IF in 2009-2010 he was signed by the Canucks and made the jump across the pond in order to play for Vancouver’s minor league affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, in 2010-2011.
It was in Manitoba that Läck’s stock began to rise. He quickly cemented himself as the starting goalie and was selected to the AHL All-Rookie Team after posting a 2.26 GAA and .926 SV%. In 2011-2012 he continued to impress scouts and fans alike as he compiled a 2.31 GAA and .925 SV% in 46 games with Vancouver’s new minor league affiliate the Chicago Wolves.
Despite being inexperienced compared to Lehner and Markström he is viewed by some to be the top goaltending prospect. While all three are very large netminders Läck is considered to be the most mobile and agile of the trio. He also plays a hybrid style of goaltending while both Markström and Lehner opt to play the traditional butterfly.
The one thing that stands in Läck’s way is Corey Schneider. With Roberto Luongo’s imminent departure, Schneider will be given the starting role while Läck either plays second fiddle or spends another season in the AHL. At 26 Schneider is still considerably young and has already shown that he is a solid NHL caliber goalie. Läck will have to prove that he is the more promising of the two if he wants to man the net for the Canucks in the future.
Hockey’s Future Outlook: http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/eddie_lack/
Weight: 224 Pounds
Organization: Ottawa Senators
2011-2012 Team: Binghamton Senators
Drafted: 2009, 2nd Round, 46th Overall
Lehner may be the least talked about amongst the trio but he may be the most talented. Unlike Markström and Läck, Lehner never played in the Elitserien league. Instead he opted to play with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL after being drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2009.
Lehner made his AHL debut with the Binghamton Senators in 2009-2010, triggering what would be an up and down first few seasons with the minor league team. In 2010-2011 he played in just 22 games and managed a 2.70 GAA and a .912 SV%. He really showed promise during a Calder Cup title run with Binghamton where he won the Most Valuable Trophy player during the playoffs. He also made his NHL debut with the Senators at the age of 19, making him the youngest Swedish goaltender to play in the NHL.
The 2011-2012 regular season was a step back for Lehner as he struggled with his consistency, leading him to have a horrific 3.26 GAA in 40 games. He was also impressive during his short stint with Ottawa where in five games recorded a shutout and a .935 SV%.
Lehner may be the least talked about amongst the trio but he may be the most talented. The only thing that seems to be holding him back is his consistency. He has shown the ability to raise his game when need be but he must keep his game elevated throughout the entire season. At 6’4” and 224 pounds he is a mammoth in the net and has learned a lot from his father, Michael Lehner, who coached fellow Swedish netminders Henrik Lundqvist once upon a time.
Lehner will have competition for the Senators future goaltending spot with fellow prospect Ben Bishop. Bishop will most likely debut before Lehner considering he is further along in his development but Lehner has the skills to jump ahead of him. It all depends on his consistency.
Hockey’s Future Outlook: http://www.hockeysfuture.com/prospects/robin_lehner/
Adam is based out of White Bear Lake, MN and covers the Minnesota Wild for THW.