Top 10 Swedes in the NHL Today

During the 2021-22 National Hockey League (NHL) season, a writer at The Hockey Writers tackled a complex list of who are the best Sweden-born players in the league. Historically, the country ranks among the best in international hockey, with a couple of Olympic gold medals and a boatload of World Championships.

Presently, eight Swedish players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with Henrik Lundqvist joining the group in November 2023. Meanwhile, current stars like Niklas Bäckström (Washington Capitals), and Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche) have the skill set to earn recognition; however, their enshrinement will eventually come down to the voting committee, despite the hardware in their trophy cases.

Related: Swedish Players in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Although these two are considered among the best Swedish players of their generation, recent seasons have not been kind to them. Since 2020, Backstrom has played only 149 games, and his career may be over, while Landeskog has yet to skate since winning the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2022. Moreover, the pair are not currently ranked among the country’s best players because a new wave of talent has taken over the scoring charts.

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Instead of listing Sweden’s most distinguished players, we tackled the country’s best players based on their 2023-24 numbers. Realistically, a handful of tenured players with solid resumes should be on the list; however, they were excluded for statistical purposes. Sadly, some have had down years, resulting in many new players picking up the country’s banner last year.

Mika Zibanejad – New York Rangers

By the 2023-24 season, there have been over 413 Swedish players in the NHL; however, Mika Zibanejad is in a class all by himself. After a night to remember in 2020, he became the country’s first player with a Golden Goal in an international competition (2012 World Junior Championship) and a five-goal game in the NHL.

Mika Zibanejad New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The sixth-overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft broke into the league with the Ottawa Senators in 2011-12 before becoming a regular two seasons later. Eventually, Zibanejad became a prolific goal scorer, averaging 20 or more in eight seasons and reaching a career-high 41 in the shortened 2019-20 campaign. Although his production dipped the following season, he scored 29 goals in 2021-22 and 39 in 2022-23 before reaching the 20-goal plateau for the ninth time in 2023-24.

Related: Revisiting Sweden’s World Junior Championship History

As the New York Rangers’ top center, Zibanejad found chemistry with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider as they frequently set each other up for goals. As usual, his totals ranked among the top Swedish players in the NHL, a spot he continues to occupy yearly. Although his best season may be in the past, he remains a lethal goal scorer, requiring additional attention when on the ice.

Adrian Kempe – Los Angeles Kings

Adrian Kempe is one of the few Swedish-born players who has found modest success in the NHL after being drafted in the first round (29th overall) in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. During his first season, he scored just two goals in 25 games before becoming a regular in the Los Angeles Kings’ lineup in 2017-18, where he scored 16 times.

Adrian Kempe Los Angeles Kings
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Slowly, Kempe has established himself as an elite goal scorer, netting 35 in 2021-22 before setting a career-high with 41 last season. Considering he plays half of his games on the West Coast, most fans who live in the Eastern time zones don’t get to see him in action, just catching the highlights.

Despite the Kings not playing up to their contender status in 2023-24, Kempe has over 20 goals for the third straight season and recently surpassed 150 in his career. With a solid finish to this campaign, he’s on pace to set a new career high in points at 67.

Gustav Nyquist – Nashville Predators

Gustav Nyquist scored 20 goals on three occasions as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted him as the 121st overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. However, he only scored over 50 points once in the Motor City, departing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019 to resurrect his career. Despite a respectable 53 points in 2021-22, he struggled with injuries, skating in just 53 games in 2022-23.

Gustav Nyquist Nashville Predators
Gustav Nyquist, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

In July 2023, the Nashville Predators took a chance on Nyquist. After battling various injuries, he’s finally healthy and found a team to excel with. While playing with fellow countryman Filip Forsberg, he’s set a career-high in assists and points with games to go. At 34, Nyquist has one season left on his current deal and has become an excellent depth player for the Predators, who have Stanley Cup aspirations.

Joel Eriksson Ek – Minnesota Wild

Joel Eriksson Ek is now an eight-year veteran with the Minnesota Wild, debuting as a 20-year-old in 2016-17. After being a first-round pick in 2015 (20th overall), he’s finally hitting his stride with a lineup that compliments him as the team’s top center, flanked by Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy.

Joel Eriksson Ek Minnesota Wild
Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Like Kempe, Eriksson Ek had a slow build-up to his goal totals, netting just 43 in his first 266 games. However, something changed in 2021-22 when he had 26 before netting around 23 in 2022-23. Although the Wild have taken a step back in the Western Conference standings, Eriksson Ek has stepped up his offensive production, reaching 30 goals for the first time, and will have a new career high in points at season’s end.

Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning

Victor Hedman is bound for the Hall of Fame when he retires. At 33, he’s won two Stanley Cup titles, a Norris Trophy, and a Conn Smythe Trophy. As one of his generation’s top defensemen, there were some questions about whether he lost a step or not in 2022-23, dropping to just 49 points in 76 games after netting a career-high 85 in the season prior.

Victor Hedman Tampa Bay Lightning
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So far in 2023-24, Hedman has laid to rest any claims that he could have lost a step, reaching double digits in goals for the ninth time in his career and collecting over 70 points for the third time. However, he’s also taken more penalties this season, racking up more than 60 minutes, totals unseen since his first campaigns in the league back in 2009 to 2012. No matter how the 2023-24 season wraps up, it will mark the eighth time he’s reached double digits in plus/minus over the past 10 seasons.

Jesper Bratt – New Jersey Devils

Jesper Bratt is a sixth-round pick (162nd overall) from the 2016 Entry Draft. Usually, prospects selected so late take a while to develop into NHL regulars if they ever make it all. Rarely do teams find hidden gems that become stars and eventually lead their team in scoring. Thus far, after seven seasons, Bratt continues to defy those odds.

The native of Stockholm, Sweden, routinely scored 30-35 points over his four seasons before a breakout campaign in 2021-22, with a career-high 73 points. Because he was a pending restricted free agent, the New Jersey Devils offered him a one-year deal, which led to him netting 32 goals and 73 points for the second consecutive season. Bratt inked an eight-year extension as one of the lineup’s core players.

Jesper Bratt New Jersey Devils
Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Although New Jersey took a step back in 2023-24 and will miss the postseason after advancing to the second round last season, Bratt is leading the team in scoring again with 73 points after 74 games. He’s battling generational talent Jack Hughes for the top spot but could win the Devils’ scoring title for the second time in three seasons.

Linus Ullmark – Boston Bruins

The Bruins had the most remarkable statistical regular season of all time in 2022-23, thanks partly to their goaltenders, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. After compiling a 40-6-1 record in 49 games, the native of Lugnvik, Sweden, became the country’s third Vezina Trophy winner behind Pelle Lindbergh and Lundqvist.

Ullmark debuted with the Sabres in 2015-16 before signing a massive contract in June 2021 to join the Bruins, a move many questioned because Tuukka Rask and Swayman were the main guys in Boston. However, after departing upstate New York with a 50-47-13 record, he’s currently 85-25-10 with the Bruins, highlighting his abilities to be a number-one goalie and serve as the backbone of a Stanley Cup contender.

Besides capturing the William M. Jennings Trophy and receiving votes for the Hart and Lady Byng Trophys last season, Ullmark has kept the Bruins at the top of the NHL standings in 2023-24 and is on the verge of winning 20 games for the third straight season. Despite a decrease in save percentage and an increase in goals-against average, he’s remained an elite goalie who is looking for a solid playoff run to solidify his spot among the best.

Elias Pettersson – Vancouver Canucks

Elias Pettersson is a former fifth-overall selection (2017 Entry Draft) who made his NHL debut at 20, collecting 66 points in 71 games to win the Calder Trophy. At the time, it seemed like only the beginning, and more important things were on the horizon.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sadly, Pettersson struggled to reach his potential due to size, 6-foot-2, and 178 pounds, plateauing around 66 points when he was healthy enough to play an entire season. However, things turned around in 2021-22 when the gifted center scored 32 goals and 68 points to set career highs in each category. Although the Vancouver Canucks struggled for most of the 2022-23 season, Pettersson finally collected his first 100-point campaign.

Related: Swedish-Born NHL Players with 100-Point Seasons

After a career year, Pettersson will not reach the century mark in points in 2023-24, but could finish with his second 90-point campaign. Moreover, he’s surpass 30-goals for the third straight season and has continuously ranked among the top 15 scorers in the NHL. As a pending unrestricted free agent, the Canucks locked up one of their franchise stars with a $92.8 million extension in March.

Filip Forsberg – Nashville Predators

Since becoming a regular player for the Nashville Predators in 2014-15, Filip Forsberg had never missed the playoffs until the 2022-23 season, when the team came just three points shy of advancing to their ninth straight postseason. In 2022-23, Forsberg finished fourth in team scoring with 42 points, his lowest total in an 82-game season.

Filip Forsberg Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season, Forsberg has powered the Predators back into contention, reaching the 40-goal plateau for the second time in his career and he will finish the campaign by surpassing his career high of 84 points. Interestingly, he hasn’t led Nashville in scoring since 2017-18 and could become the first forward in team history to collect 90 points.

William Nylander – Toronto Maple Leafs

Since the start of the 2023-24 season, when William Nylander set a franchise record with points in his first 17 games, it could be argued that he is the best Swedish player in the NHL today. Despite playing in the shadow of Auston Matthews and his 60 goals, Nylander has been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ leading scoring for most of the season.

Skating in the final year of his contract, many wondered if Nylander, whose career high was previously 87 points, would be able to cash in a deal worth $9 to $10 million he was seeking in the summer of 2024. So, under pressure to silent the doubters, he’s on the verge of reaching 100 points, something his long time teammate Mitch Marner has yet to achieve his in his career.

After an excellent start to the campaign, the Maple Leafs extended Nylander for eight years at $11.5 million annually. Since inking his deal, he’s tied a career high in goals (40) and collected 55 games in 74 games which is a new milestone for him. Even though Matthews is scoring goals on a level unlike anyone else in the league, the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be close to 100 points in the standings if it wasn’t Nylander’s career season.

Honorable Mentions

After ranking this year’s top ten Swedish players, the list did not include a handful of skaters who deserve recognition for their most recent efforts. Here are the names of those who didn’t make the list, including Lucas Raymond (Detroit Red Wings), William Karlsson (Vegas Golden Knights), Fabian Zetterlund (San Jose Sharks), Nils Hoglander (Vancouver Canucks), Erik Karlsson (Pittsburgh Penguins), and Mattias Ekholm (Edmonton Oilers).

Related: Swedish-Born Captains in NHL History

So far in 2023-24, 99 Swedish players (11 goalies) have skated in the NHL, which is a decrease from 106 from last season. Despite the career years from several players in 2022-23, many names on the list continue to do what they do best, score goals, collect points, and make saves, while representing Sweden to hockey fans across the globe.