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Swedes set record with seven first-round picks

Saturday, 06.27.2009 / 12:12 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- There was a Swedish smell of success wafting through the Bell Centre on Friday night after the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft was completed.

When all was said and done, Sweden had produced seven of the 30 players selected, one more than the previous record set in 1993.

"There's a lot of Swedes right now," said Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, who third Swede selected -- at No. 10 by Edmonton. "I know them all really well and they are a great bunch of guys. I think all the guys developed a lot -- especially in the (Swedish) Elite League.

"I wish them all luck as they really deserve it and hopefully we can do something great in the NHL."

There's little doubt that this crop of Swedish players will do some great things in the NHL.

Defenseman Victor Hedman was taken No. 2 by the Tampa Bay Lightning; he is expected to step right into the NHL lineup next season to begin what many believe will be a long and successful career as a elite two-way defenseman.

Phoenix took another defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, at No. 6.

"He's just a very good hockey player," Phoenix GM Don Maloney told NHL.com. "We don't expect him to play in Phoenix last year -- unless he really wows us. I think this kid is going to be a tremendous hockey player, though."

Paajarvi-Svensson went next at No. 10, followed by defenseman David Rundblad (No. 17, St. Louis), center Jacob Josefson (No. 20, New Jersey), defenseman Tim Erixon (No. 23, Calgary) and Marcus Johansson (No. 24, Washington) to round out the Swedish contingent.

So why the run on Swedes this draft? Especially after only three Swedish players were selected in last year's first round -- none before defenseman Eric Karlsson went to Ottawa at No. 15.

"Something in the water in Sweden 18 years ago?" guessed Maloney. "I don't know."

"I don't know the reason; maybe something in the blood," Paajarvi-Svensson offered to NHL.com.

Rundblad placed the credit with the recent willingness of the Swedish Elite League to embrace teenagers as integral members of the league's teams, something that was not all that common before the past two years. All seven drafted Swedes played at least part of this past season in the SEL.

"We are a talented group," Rundblad told NHL.com. "I think the Swedish Elite League is a really good league and they have let some young guys play in the league and that is really good."

NHL European Scouting Director Goran Stubb says much of this year's Swedish success rests in a meeting that the Swedish Hockey Federation conducted in 2002 to reorganize the way the game was taught to the country's young players.

A run of poor results in international play, particularly at the World Junior Championships, forced Sweden to reassess its ways. As a result of the soul-searching, Sweden moved away from teaching systems in youth hockey and concentrated more on teaching individual skills.

"You can see the result of that meeting today," Stubb said.
"We are a talented group.  I think the Swedish Elite League is a really good league and they have let some young guys play in the league and that is really good."     -- David Rundblad
David Conte, New Jersey's scouting director, believes this crop of Swedes benefitted from the competition between the players that were selected.

"Good begets good," Conte told NHL.com.

So does that mean that we will see another run of Swedes next June at the 2010 Draft?

Not necessarily.

"It's cyclical," Maloney told NHL.com. "Next year, Russia is very deep. There's a lot of Russian players that look tremendous and for a while it was pretty spotty. There's a couple of Finns that look pretty strong next year, and right now the Czech and Slovaks, they're barren right now, a wasteland. It just goes in cycles."