Just in case you were wondering if the NHL is now worldwide in it's reach, consider this: Of the 26 players on Team Sweden's roster for the 2004 World Cup of hockey, 24 of them are NHL'ers.
In fact, it wasn't that long ago that any team Sweden put together for international competition would be made up mostly of stars from the Swedish Elite League.
Now, the Swedish roster boasts not just players that earn a living with NHL teams, but bona-fide NHL superstars like Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Nik Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson.
Peter Forsberg put simply, is the best player Sweden has ever produced. Despite being limited to just 580 NHL games, Forsberg has been lighting up NHL goalies for almost a decade now. In his first season, he scored 50 points in 47 games, and he's scored at better-than-a-point-per-game every year since.
He has twice collected over 100 points, scored 25-or-more goals six times, and has won two Stanley Cups. He's also a three-time First Team All-Star and a Calder, Art Ross, and Hart Trophy winner.
As if the centre position wasn't good enough, joining Forsberg down the middle is Mats Sundin. Sundin has been one of the most consistent performers in the NHL for the past decade. He has regularly put up 30-goal, 70-point seasons and has always answered the phone when his native country has called. This past season, his 10th with the Maple Leafs, he scored 30 goals for the 11th time in his career, and once again led Toronto in points with 75.
|Mats Sundin will look to lead the Swedes to the gold. |
Team Sweden's top-two wingers are two of the best in the world in Markus Naslund and Daniel Alfredsson. Going virtually unnoticed for the first four or five years of his career, Naslund has been making up for lost time. After three straight seasons of 40 or more goals, Naslund settled for 35 this past season, bringing his career total to 10 shy of 300. Since the '97-'98 season he hasn't scored fewer than 27 goals in a season and his high was 48 two years ago.
Daniel Alfredsson has spent each of his nine NHL seasons with the Senators in Ottawa and is a big reason why they have risen from pretenders to contenders in the NHL. Seven times Alfredsson has scored 20 or more goals; he's collected at least 70 points in each of his last four years, and is the Senators all-time leader in career goals, assists, and points.
The Swedish defence will be anchored by Nik Lidstrom, who is, hands down, one of the best rearguards in the NHL.
He's a three-time Norris trophy winner, equaled only by his three Stanley Cup rings in '97, '98, and 2002. Only twice in his 13 NHL seasons has he not scored at least 10 goals; and that includes a stretch of six straight years of at least 14 goals from '96 to 2001.
The Swedes weakest link might be in goal, where Tommy Salo, Henrik Lundqvist and Mikael Tellqvist will share the duties. The assumption going in, is that the starting job goes to Salo, but considering how he's played on the international scene lately (see goal against Belarus from the Olympics) that's far from a guarantee.
Tellqvist proved this past season with the Maple Leafs that he's ready to play at the NHL level, while Lundqvist has been playing in the Swedish Elite league for the last four seasons.
Other notable NHL'ers rounding out the Swedish roster include recent Cup winner Fredrick Modin who finished the playoffs with eight goals including two game winners, and the Sedin twins who struggled through their first couple of seasons with the Canucks, but have since rounded into the players Vancouver expected when they were taken back-to-back in the '99 Entry draft.
Throw in tremendous talents like Henrick Zetterberg, Nils Ekman, Tomas Holmstrom and P.J. Axelsson up front, along with Kim Jonsson, Dick Tarnstrom and Mattias Ohlund on the back end, and the Swedish lineup could be a force to be reckoned with at World Cup 2004.