Markus Naslund
Last season, the Vancouver Canucks' captain led all NHL players with 12 game-winning-goals, 54 power-play points and was voted by his peers as the most outstanding player in the League.

Naslund proves worth the wait
By Karl Samuelson | NHL.com
February 19, 2004



Markus Naslund has won his share of honors. The five-time All Star enjoyed a career season in 2002-03, establishing personal highs with 48 goals, 56 assists and 104 points. Last season, the Vancouver Canucks' captain led all NHL players with 12 game-winning-goals, 54 power-play points and was voted by his peers as the most outstanding player in the League, bringing home the Lester B. Pearson Award for his efforts. He often is mentioned with Peter Forsberg, Sergei Fedorov and Ilya Kovalchuk as one of the most dominant players in the game. But unlike the other three who made immediate transitions to the NHL, Naslundís emergence as a superstar took a different course.

After being chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round (16th overall) of the 1991 Entry Draft, Naslund led MoDo of the Swedish Elite League with 22 goals and 39 points in the 1991-92 campaign and followed up the next year by leading all scorers in the World Junior Championships with 13 goals, 11 assists and 24 points. His 13 goals established a record for most goals in tournament play and his ability to score goals impressed all scouts who attended the heralded event.

Expectations were high when the young Swede joined the Penguins for the 1993-94 campaign, but Naslund never got his game together in Pittsburgh.

"It was a case of unreasonable expectations," says Canucks assistant coach Jack McIlhargey. "The expectation that everybody puts on first round draft choices is to be stars right away and it just doesn't happen. You've got to give guys time, especially for the Europeans coming in. It's a different game. The (NHL) rinks are smaller, and it takes more time for a lot of the young Europeans to adjust to our hockey."

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It certainly took time for Naslund.

"It takes longer for some guys than others," explains Naslund, who like Forsberg hails from the town of Ornskoldsvik. "Not only are you expected by others to step in and play right away, but I thought that coming over from Sweden, having success throughout my career, that it was going to be an easy adjustment. But it was tougher than I thought. It's a better league here. You have to adjust to living in a different country and everything that comes with that. It is a big adjustment. I think that patience is the key for young players. Not only do you need patience but you also need people working with you to teach and develop young guys."

The opportunity to develop was afforded the talented, but insecure, forward after he was dealt to the Canucks on March 20, 1996, for Alex Stojanov. The change in scenery suited Naslund as the Canucks showed tolerance for the occasional mistake and allowed him time to hone his skills in the North American game.

"Markus Naslund did not have a lot of self-confidence when he first came to the NHL," offers Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith, who spent several seasons coaching elite hockey players in Sweden. "It was a brand new situation. He was in and out of the lineup and finally the Penguins traded him. Naslund always had the skill, but he had a hard time showing it at the right time. People thought perhaps that he didn't compete hard enough physically, but now he's doing all those things and he's a leader."

Naslund put in two solid, if unspectacular, campaigns with the Canucks, but the big payoff came in the 1998-99 campaign when the fleet-footed winger led the Canucks in goals (36), points (66), shots on goal (205) and shooting percentage (17.6).

Markus Naslund
Expectations were high when the young Swede joined the Penguins for the 1993-94 campaign, but Naslund never got his game together in Pittsburgh.

"Markus didn't adjust right away when he came to Vancouver," says McIlhargey. "But he kept improving as time went along. He has really come into his own the last few years. Markus has adjusted to being the leader of the team and he has done a great job for us."

"That speaks volumes about how (Naslund) has turned himself around," continues Smith. "He could have gone home. With his skills he could have played anywhere, but he was determined to make it happen over here in the NHL. He stuck with it and that speaks very well of his perseverance."

The combination of confidence, skill and an untiring work ethic has paid huge dividends for Naslund. One of the top players in the League at finding openings in the goaltender's armor, Naslund has excellent vision and is very quick to snap the puck.

"Skill was never an issue with Markus," says Canucks Director of Hockey Operations David Nonis. "When it comes to ability, Markus Naslund has a ton of it. He has put it all together now. Markus is in very good condition, works tremendously hard and has been our most consistent player. He is also a better two-way player than he gets credit for. This is a guy you can rely on in the last minute of the game."

Naslund's meteoric rise with the Canucks was rewarded on Sept. 15, 2000 in Stockholm when he was given the captain's jersey, filling the void created when Mark Messier signed with the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. Interestingly, it was Messier who had the greatest impact on the rising star.

Markus Naslund
Naslund's grace under pressure combined with his ability to lead by example -- both on and off the ice -- made him the clear choice to succeed Mark Messier as team captain.

"I think my biggest influence has been Messier," says Naslund. "Watching him prepare for games and how seriously he still took everything at his age. A lot of the qualities that he had helped me get better."

Naslund's grace under pressure combined with his ability to lead by example -- both on and off the ice -- made him the clear choice to succeed a hockey legend as team captain.

"We did that during training camp in Sweden," recalls McIlhargey. "Markus is very calm. He is very competitive but he is very level. He keeps everything under control. We thought that he could handle the pressure and he definitely has done that. The coaches talked about it and we felt that Markus was at the point in his career that we could see him really starting to come on. We thought that he was the one guy who could be the catalyst to move our club where we wanted it to go."

They were right.

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