New York Islanders: How Swede They Were

Every NHL team has had its share of players from around the world. The New York Islanders are no exception, with 20 players from Sweden since their inception. Here are five who have stood out. Let’s review the impact they made in an Islanders jersey over their careers.

Kenny Jonsson – 1996-2004

Jonsson came to New York in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in March 1996 after being drafted by the Maple Leafs 12th overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. This move was one of maligned general manager Mike Milbury’s best trades.

Jonsson was a bright spot during a bleak period in the team’s history. Long Island suited his quiet demeanor and he was able to blossom into an excellent defender with offensive skill. During the 1999-2000 season, he was named captain of the team but stepped down following the 2001 season.

One of Mike Milbury’s best moves during his tenure as New York Islanders general manager was trading for Kenny Jonsson. (THW Archives)

Jonsson played in 597 games for the Islanders scoring 57 goals with 175 assists. He also played in 15 playoff games scoring one goal and chipping in three assists. During the 2004-05 lockout, he returned home to Sweden to play where he decided, post-lockout, he would remain there to finish his playing career.

Anders Kallur – 1979-85

Anders Kallur’s arrival on Long Island coincided with the Islanders’ rise to Stanley Cup champions. During his six-year NHL career, all with the Islanders, he played in 383 games, scoring 101 goals and 110 assists. He also played in 78 playoff games scoring 12 goals and 23 assists. During the 1980-81 season, he scored 36 goals and 28 assists, his best regular season point production.

Long time Islanders fans will remember he filled a number of roles, including slotting in on the top line if necessary and was a dogged penalty killer who played responsible hockey. He was one of 16 Islanders to have played on all four Stanley Cup-winning teams. During the 1982-83 championship season he scored 3 goals and 12 assists.

Retiring after the 1984-85 season, he became a head coach in Europe before returning to the Islanders from 1989-2013 as a European scout.

Stefan Persson – 1978-1986

It’s hard to imagine a 14th round draft pick, the 214th player taken in the 1974 NHL Draft would be a key cog on the Islanders’ Stanley Cup championship blue line. Persson was all that and much more.

Stefan Persson New York Islanders
Stefan Persson, New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Like his fellow countryman Kallur, Persson was a four-time Stanley Cup champion. He played a responsible defensive style with excellent puck-moving skills. Often overshadowed by teammates Denis Potvin, Ken Morrow and Dave Langevin, his contributions were immense over his career.

Persson played in 622 games with the Islanders scoring 52 goals and 317 assists. He played in 102 playoff games with 7 goals and 50 assists. In Game 1 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final, his late third-period goal sent the game to overtime, a game the Islanders won, and helped launch their dynasty.

Persson received strong consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1980 after scoring 15 points from the blue line. Incidentally he repeated his playoff scoring heroics with 15 points during the 1981-82 Stanley Cup championship.

Unfortunately, his Islanders career came to an end when he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets late in the 1985-86 season in a cash-saving move. He abruptly retired and never played a game for the Jets. He returned to Sweden to play several seasons with Boras HC and works with the team in an administrative capacity.

Tomas Jonsson – 1981-1989

The Islanders drafted Tomas Jonsson in the second round, 25th overall, in the 1979 NHL Draft. After making the trek from Sweden to Long Island for the 1981-82 season, he provided freshness and an injection of youth on the blue line. His arrival helped the Islanders continue their dynasty, winning a pair of Stanley Cup rings with the team.

Jonsson was a smooth skating defender who also contributed offensively. In 532 games he scored 84 goals and 249 assists. He also played in 76 playoff games adding in 9 goals and 26 assists.

He was a model of consistency during his playing career with the Islanders, recording over 30 points per season during his tenure, including when he was traded during the 1988-89 season to the Edmonton Oilers.

Jonsson returned to Sweden to play for Leskands from 1989-98 and retired after one game at the start of the 1998 season with Falu IF. Following his retirement, he continued to work in hockey as a coach in Sweden and Denmark and is now the general manager of Falu IF.

Bob Nystrom – 1972-1986

Mr. Islander was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1952 and emigrated to Canada with his family when he was four years old. In Islander country he is immortalized for scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of the 1980 Final, sealing the Islanders’ first title.

Bob Nystrom 1973 (By New York Islanders (eBay front back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Like fellow Swedes Kallur and Persson, Nystrom won four Stanley Cup rings. All three were also the first European-born players to win the Stanley Cup.

Nystrom, the 33rd overall pick in the 1972 NHL Draft, was a scrappy, hard-working player who played with an edge. He consistently elevated his game in the playoffs, scoring four overtime goals over his career.

He was one third of the Islanders’ famed Banana Line along with John Tonelli and Wayne Merrick. The trio picked up the moniker for their yellow practice jerseys, but it was also a nod to the line’s relentless hustle, forechecking ability and offensive contributions.

Nystrom appeared in 900 games for the Islanders, scoring 235 goals and 278 assists, and notching 1248 penalty minutes. He played in 157 playoff games with 39 goals and 44 assists with 236 penalty minutes.

During his final season, Nystrom suffered a severe eye injury that effectively ended his career at 899 games. He worked as an assistant coach for the remainder of the season, and on the final home game of the regular season, coach Al Arbour suggested that he play one last game to get to 900. He took the opening faceoff in front of an appreciative crowd and played one five-second shift before calling it a night.

John Tonelli
John Tonelli played alongside Bob Nystrom on the Islanders’ famed Banana Line. Tonelli assisted on Nystrom’s Stanley Cup overtime game-winning goal. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

In 1991, the Islanders began presenting the Bob Nystrom Award to the player who best exemplifies leadership, hustle, and dedication. Nystrom’s number 23 was retired in 1995. He worked in various roles with the Islanders over the years and remains active in the Long Island community.

Will They Be Swedish

The next wave of Swedish players to arrive on Long Island includes 2019 first-round pick Simon Holmstrom and prospects Sebastian Aho and Linus Soderstrom. If they can replicate the success of the previous players mentioned, Islanders fans will rejoice.