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2011 NHL Entry Draft
2011 NHL Entry Draft Hats

Young Swedes have shot to duplicate Sundin's feat

Monday, 06.20.2011 / 9:34 PM / 2011 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Young Swedes have shot to duplicate Sundin's feat
It's been 22 years since Mats Sundin became the only Swedish-born player to be the first player picked in the draft. Could that streak come to an end at the 2011 Entry Draft?
For the last 15 years, no fewer than 14 players have been selected each year from the hockey factory known as Sweden.

No other European country comes close.

"Out of all the Europeans invited to the Scouting Combine this year, 10 out of the 18 were Swedes and last year it was the same, and next year will be the same again," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "It's unbelievable how they're producing young players now."

Despite all that talent, only once has a player from Sweden had the honor of hearing his name called first in the history of the Draft. That would be Mats Sundin in 1989 to the Quebec Nordiques.

"He will always be our No. 1," Swedish defenseman and 2011 draft hopeful Oscar Klefbom told NHL.com. "He's a big guy with powerful skating and all-round good leadership. He's our Swedish star."

Sundin, who spent 18 seasons in the NHL with Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver, played in eight NHL All-Star Games. He is the all-time leading Swedish-born scorer in NHL history with 564 goals and 1,349 points. Even though he never raised the Stanley Cup, he did captain Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006.

Most importantly, however, Sundin helped lead a parade of Swedish stars to North America -- among them Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Markus Naslund and Daniel Alfredsson. Now the next generation of Swedish players hopes to keep the tradition going when the 2011 Entry Draft is held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24-25.

Coincidentally, the year Sundin was chosen first was the last time the draft was held in the state of Minnesota -- that year at the Met Sports Center. Is it possible Sweden could make it 2-for-2 in the Twin Cities?

Ten players currently starring in Sweden are rated among the top 15 European skaters eligible for the draft in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, including No. 1 defenseman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea, No. 2 center Mika Zibanejad of Djurgarden and No. 3 defenseman Jonas Brodin of Farjestad. Additionally, two others already honing their skills in North America are rated among the top 30 North American skaters -- No. 2 Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers and No. 30 Rickard Rakell of the Plymouth Whalers.

"It wouldn't surprise me if (Larsson) was taken first overall," Stubb said.

The two Swedish players with the best shots at going No. 1 this year are Landeskog and Larsson.

"This whole year has been kind of a whirlwind, since I've been running around and doing a lot of thinking," Landeskog told NHL.com. "You try to just relax and enjoy the whole thing, even though it's hard to not count down the days. But I've been advised to enjoy the whole thing and just kind of take a step back, relax and have fun with it.

"I'm pretty sure I'm ready (to play in the NHL). I'm ready, not only physically, but mentally. Obviously, I have a lot to work on as a player and that's the type of work I'll be doing over the summer. By the end of summer, I'll be ready."

If he does make it, he would, in a way, surpass Sundin. After he was taken by the Nordiques, he spent an extra season in Djurgarden before coming to the NHL and beginning his evolution as a role model.

"Mats Sundin is a great player … a role model for us," Zibanejad told NHL.com. "I admire him a lot and he's a great guy outside the rink, too. He's someone I've always looked up to."

Landeskog might be No. 2 on Central Scouting's list, but most scouts agree he could be the most NHL-ready player in the draft.

"(Sundin) will always be our No. 1. He's a big guy with powerful skating and all-round good leadership. He's our Swedish star."
-- Oscar Klefbom

"Will Landeskog play in the NHL next year? I say yes, he'll play," Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke said. "Is he NHL-ready? I'll leave that up to the team that drafts him."

The 6-foot, 207-pound left wing had 36 goals, 30 assists, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes for the Kitchener in 2010-11.

"(Being selected first) is probably more important for fans than I think it is for the players," Landeskog said. "It would be an honor for anybody to go first overall, but like Cam Fowler (Anaheim, No. 12) and Jeff Skinner (Carolina, No. 7) showed last year, it doesn't matter what number you go, it's what you do afterwards."

If he is selected, first Larsson could return to Sweden for one more season.

"Mats might be the biggest player ever from Sweden, so it would be huge to be drafted as the No. 1 pick," Larsson told NHL.com. "I think my game is pretty much the same as Nick Lidstrom, so I look up to him and watched him play many times. He's a really good player."

The 18-year-old blueliner represented his country at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championships. He was the team's highest scoring defender at the tournament this past season, with 1 goal and 4 points.

"Larsson played a big role on Skelleftea, which went as high as the Swedish playoff finals, so in a way he's (NHL) ready, yes. He could play here (in 2010-11)," Stubb told NHL.com. "I think what he wants really is having a big role when he comes over, so it's perhaps better for him to stay one more year at home. It's always in the individual. Some say it's good to come over, others say it's not good."

"(The Draft) is big for me and my family and all the people back in Sweden," Larsson said. "To be drafted No. 1 would be great. I won't be disappointed if I'm not, though, I'd just be glad to be drafted."

When he was just a toddler, Rakell and his family moved from Sundbyberg to Sollentuna, the town where Sundin grew up.

"It was the same little village that Mats grew up in and it was good to me," Rakell said. "I had my brother growing up. My father didn't play, so I watched my brother and learned from him. I'd watch video clips of Mats on the computer and get so excited … you get goose bumps every time you see that stuff."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale