Sweden’s Best NHL Players in 2020-21

According to the games played statistics on NHL.com, the league had 913 players suit up for at least one contest throughout the 31 teams. Sweden represented a small number of those players (96), equaling about 10.5 percent of all competitors who laced them up this past season.

Out of the 96 players, 36 were defensemen, 52 were forwards, and eight were goalies. Forty-eight forwards scored at least one point, with 33 defensemen finding their name on the scoresheet. All eight goalies earned at least one win, whether they started or came in as relief.

Today we will examine who the best players from Sweden were during the 2020-21 season. Some of the factors used to make decisions included points scored, impact on their team’s success, and career perspectives.

Center – Nicklas Bäckström (Washington Capitals)

2020-21 statistics: 55 games played, 15 goals, 38 assists, 53 points,14 penalty minutes, 22 power play points, even plus/minus

Bäckström has been one of the league’s best play-making centerman since his rookie season in 2007-08. He consistently ranks among the league leaders in assists, pairing his passes with craftmanship in the faceoff circle, thanks to a career 50.3 win percentage. 

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The native of Galve, Sweden, may never reach his career highs from 2009-10 (101 points), yet can be pencilled in for a minimum of 10 goals and 30 assists every season. He produced almost at a point-per-game pace in 2019-20, with 53 points in 55 games. 

Although Bäckström failed to reach 40 helpers for the first time in 10 seasons, his 38 assists did rank 16th overall in the league’s 2020-21 campaign. Despite scoring the eighth-most goals of all Swedish players, he did finish as the country’s leading scorer for the fifth time in his career. 

Honourable Mention: Mika Zibanejad, Elias Lindholm, William Karlsson

Left Wing – Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche)

2020-21 statistics: 54 games played, 20 goals, 32 assists, 52 points, 34 penalty minutes, 15 power play points, plus-14

The captain of the Colorado Avalanche may not be the biggest star on his team, as Nathan MacKinnon was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, but he is one of Sweden’s best players. 

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In 2019-20 Landeskog played 54 games and collected 44 points to go along with a -2 rating. One season later, in the same amount of games, the native of Stockholm scored eight more points and turned his plus/minus around to finish +14. 

Landeskog is a critical component in the Avalanche offence, which won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the best record. He can score goals, with at least 20 in eight of his 10 NHL seasons, while playing a physical game to slow down opponents. 

He has 512 career points to go along with 523 penalty minutes. In 2020-21 he ranked fourth among Swedish players in trips to the box. Of the top players in the category, Landeskog was the only forward. When you dig deeper into the numbers, Landeskog and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) were the only players amongst their countrymen to have a positive plus/minus rating to go along with their multiple infractions.

Honourable Mention: André Burakovsky, Victor Olofsson, Filip Forsberg

Right Wing: William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs)

2020-21 statistics: 51 games played, 17 goals, 25 assists, 42 points, 16 penalty minutes, 11 power play points, plus-10

The Toronto Maple Leafs have plenty of offensive talent with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, so it is hard for anyone else to catch some headlines. Despite his supporting role on a star-studded team, William Nylander is an impact player when he’s on his game. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Some could argue that Nylander didn’t have a solid season thanks in part to his tendency to be streaky, an aspect that often causes Leafs Nation a headache. In 2019-20, he scored a career-high 31 goals, so with just 14 lamplighters in 2020-21, many would argue that this past season was a complete disappointment.

One thing that may have gotten overlooked is his plus/minus rating, which was -2 last season (2019-20). In an attempt to round out his game, Nylander was a +10 in 2020-21. He also collected 11 power-play points, securing double digits for the fourth time in six seasons. 

These are not the kind of numbers people would expect from a guy making over six million a year, yet when you are adjusting your game to be a better overall player, some areas will take a hit while others will improve.

Honourable Mention: Patric Hörnqvist, Viktor Arvidsson, Jesper Bratt

Defense – Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)

2020-21 statistics: 54 games played, 9 goals, 36 assists, 45 points, 28 penalty minutes, 24 power play points, plus-5

The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner picked up right where he left off after the Lightning hoisted the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in September 2020. 

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

When the calendar flipped to 2021, Hedman was the fifth-best scorer from Sweden, first among defensemen, collecting 45 points in 54 games. This season’s totals broke up his streak of four seasons with more than 50 points, but if the league had played a full 82-game schedule, Hedman would have had no problem reaching that milestone again.

Whether it was statistically a great season or not, it didn’t matter as Hedman was still a nominee for the James Norris Trophy for best defenseman. The 2020-21 season marked the fifth straight campaign he was considered for the award, winning once in 2017-18. (from ‘Lightning’s Victor Hedman set the standard for defensemen’, Tampa Bay Times, 06/28/2021)

The 6-foot-6 rearguard already has a resume worthy of a future Hall of Fame induction, which now includes another Stanley Cup championship in July 2021. 

Defense – John Klingberg (Dallas Stars)

2020-21 statistics: 53 games played, 7 goals, 29 assists, 36 points, 23 penalty minutes, 17 power play points, minus-15

At first glance, most people may not even realize that Klingberg is from Gothenburg, Sweden. 

John Klingberg Dallas Stars
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Klingberg separates himself from others across the league in his ability to collect power-play points. This past season marked the sixth time he managed to score more than 15 points in extra-man situations. 

He was a plus player for the bulk of his career until things turned in 2019-20. He finished -10 that season and a career-worst -15 in 2020-21. He is a vital part of the Dallas Stars’ offence and was a huge factor in their journey to the Stanley Cup Final while in the Edmonton bubble. 

Teams love mobile defensemen who can contribute on both ends of the ice. Klingberg is only 28, closing in on 500 games, and remains among the top 15 at his position in the league. Outside of Hedman, he is one of Sweden’s best in generating offence and playing defense.

Honourable Mention: Oliver-Ekman Larsson, Jonas Brodin, Mattias Ekholm

Goalie – Linus Ullmark (Buffalo Sabres)

2020-21 statistics: 20 games played, 9-6-3 record, .917 save percentage, 2.63 goals-against average, 0 shutouts

It is no secret that the Buffalo Sabres were one of the worse teams in the NHL during the 2020-21 season. Once their captain Jack Eichel went down with a season-ending injury, it was the beginning of the end. Yet, one guy continued to keep the team afloat until injuries derailed his season and that was Linus Ullmark. 

Linus Ullmark Buffalo Sabres
Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A handful of other Swedish goalies played more games and surrendered fewer goals. Still, Ullmark was responsible for nine of the 15 wins the Sabres recorded on the season, which is a testament to how valuable he was. 

Ullmark had the best save percentage numbers (0.917) and second-best goals-against average (2.63) out of his countrymen who played at least 10 games. (Ottawa Senators rookie Filip Gustavsson was the leader in both categories; however, he only played nine contests, starting in seven.) 

Robin Lehner may have shared the William M. Jennings Trophy with Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas, but their team did just fine with either goalie between the pipes. Buffalo struggled without their number one, who is coincidentally a free agent this summer. 

Honourable Mention: Lehner, Jacob Markström, and Jonas Johansson

Final Thoughts

Every player on this list, winner and honourable mentions, had a case for being the best at their position, whether they were or not. Additionally, there might be players who didn’t make the cut that deserved recognition for their efforts. As someone who is heavily invested in fantasy hockey and built an entire team of Swedish players in 2020-21, I got to witness firsthand everyone’s ups and downs.

This list was pretty easy to compile but did require a more in-depth look into everyone’s careers. I needed to separate fact from fiction and observe career patterns to see how well everyone performed under the unique circumstances of this past NHL season.

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