Watching the Prospects
Apparently the Stanley Cup triumph of the Detroit Red Wings is still reverberating throughout the hockey world.
You may recall that the Wings won the Cup with a team loaded with Swedish talent, including captain Nicklas Lidstrom, centre Henrik Zetterberg, winger Johan Franzen, winger Mikael Samuelsson, winger Tomas Holmstrom and defenceman NIklas Kronwall. No team had ever won an NHL championship with so many Swedish-born players or a European captain, let alone a Swedish one.
The North American version, predictably, had John Tavares at the top, while the Euro list predictably had Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman rated first.
No surprises there.
What was surprising, however, is that on the Euro list, the next seven highest rated players are also Swedes, including speedy winger Magnus Svensson Paajarvi, a star on the Swedish national junior team at the recent world junior championships and a player seen as superior to Hedman in some quarters.
That's unprecedented for one country. In all, 11 of the top 15 European prospects are Swedes, and 16 of the top 25. The top Euro goalie is also from Sweden.
It's a domination of European prospects list that's even greater than Canada's domination of the North American list, a remarkable accomplishment given that Swedish hockey had seemingly been downgraded in the minds of NHL talent hunters over the past decade. Since the Sedin twins went second and third in the 1999 draft, Swedish teenagers had been largely absent from the top 10 draft NHL draft picks every year, with only a couple of exceptions.
Last year, there were no Swedes drafted until defenceman Erik Karlsson went 15th to Ottawa - Senators fans should be happy with that one, because Karlsson looks like a beaut - and only three in the first round.
"I'm not sure what they're doing, but they're obviously doing something right," said Canadian Olympic executive director Steve Yzerman in assessing the Swedish junior team at the world juniors.
Maybe this is just a blip year for the Swedes, and certainly, there will be no shortage of those who will note that the Swedish juniors were no match for Team Canada in the world junior final. But while the Russians, Czechs and Finns seem to be less attractive in the eyes of NHL Central Scouting this year, and Switzerland and Germany have all but dropped off the radar screen altogether as far as NHL prospects, the Swedes are all the rage. Perhaps others are starting to see what the Red Wings have been seeing, and benefiting from, for years.