Sweden has always had a knack for producing some top-level defensemen and having them had a prominent role in the NHL. From Börje Salming to Nicklas Lidström, Swedish defensemen in the league are looking to continue that great legacy. Here are the top five Swedish defenseman in the league this season.
1. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes)
OEL has blossomed out to a real star in the league, and he’s finally starting to receive the recognition that he deserves among the general hockey public. If you listen to the opposing teams broadcasters, they always highlight the threat that Ekman-Larsson poses. He’s having a great year offensively, leading all defensemen in scoring with 17 goals so far. OEL is already having a career year in terms of scoring as his previous personal best was the 15 goals he scored last season.
Ekman-Larsson is a player that you can roll out in any situation, and he’s not just the best Swedish all-round defenseman, but one of the better ones in the whole NHL. He has a great hockey sense and his poke check has bugged forwards since day one. At just 23 years of age, he still has a lot of great years ahead of him, and he’s one of very few players that can hold their heads high in the Coyotes locker room these days. Has been compared to Nicklas Lidström on several occasions as he definitely has the potential to become a super star.
2. Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
Karlsson is definitely the most flashy player on this list. He puts up points like a top forward and currently has 44 points (13 goals and 31 assists) in 56 games, which is tied for third in scoring amongst NHL defensemen. He’s now the captain of the Senators and a big burden rest on his shoulders as he tries to lead a team that is lacking in offensive fire power.
He’s gotten flack throughout his career that he’s not great in the defensive end, but Karlsson continues to develop in that area of the game and has improved significantly since breaking in to the league in 2009. He’s one of four Swedish captains in the NHL, and he’s growing as a leader on the ice with each game.
Also he has the best hair flow in the league, no doubt.
3. Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings)
The Kronwall Of Pain has been a mainstay on the Red Wings blue line for about a decade now, and he’s a great leader for kids like Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith. He put up solid numbers throughout his career and has a great shot. Despite his smaller frame (6’, 190lbs) he’s become know for his big hits and physical play. His skating and agility helps him to achieve the big hits without them becoming dirty.
Kronwall was lucky to have Lidström mentoring him when he came into the league, and it seems like a lot of those leadership qualities rubbed off. With 31 points in 55 games, Kronwall is fifth on the Red Wings in scoring and has 10 more points than the next defenseman on the team. At 34, Kronwall still is a top-pairing defenseman and it looks like he can go on for several more years.
4. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
If Hedman had played more games, he would most likely be number one on this list as he was on fire at the start of the season before getting injured. He still has managed an impressive 26 points in 39 games. He got his breakthrough last season when he played extremely well and produced 55 points in 75 games.
Hedman is unique in the fact that he is a big-sized guy (6’6”, 234lbs) but still has tremendous speed. He can muscle his way through when joining the rush and creates a lot of space for his teammates. It was really surprising to see that Hedman was left off the Swedish squad for the Olympics, and a lot of people wondered what the coaching staff was up to going with Alexander Edler instead of Hedman.
5. John Klingberg (Dallas Stars):
Klingberg hasn’t missed a beat since coming into the Stars this season. He doesn’t look like a rookie that only played 13 games in the AHL before getting a shot with the big guys. He’s been a scoring machine and has 30 points (10 goals and 20 assists) in 43 games.
Klingberg was loaned out from the Stars to Frölunda in the SHL last season. Klingberg returned to Frölunda where he had spent his teenage years. The role he was given (assistant captain) and the amount of minutes he played seemed to have sped up his development significantly. He’s been called the new Erik Karlsson and Klingberg sure has some of the same qualities as the Senators captain.
Heck of a slap shot by the Captain. But check out the Blues all watching Klingberg on the set play off the faceoff. #SwedishDecoy
— Bruce LeVine (@BruceLeVinePuck) February 18, 2015
Conclusion: The future of Swedish hockey is looking extremely bright on the defensive side as four of these players are under 25 years old. I’m sure that several of these players had posters of Lidström growing up, and it’s nice to see that Sweden continues to produce elite-level defensemen.