OTTAWA -- If Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson could chisel out his own personal hockey Mount Rushmore, you'd likely find the images of Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson as his top picks.
[RELATED: Senators acquire Matt Duchene | Avalanche need big payoff from Duchene trade]
While former Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Borje Salming generally is regarded as the first Swedish player to leave his lasting fingerprint on the NHL, Karlsson is quick to acknowledge that it is Lidstrom, Sundin, Forsberg and Alfredsson who made the deepest impression on him during his formative hockey years in Sweden.
With his Senators preparing for the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series regular-season games against the Colorado Avalanche Friday (2 pm ET; NHLN, ALT, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; SN, NHLN, RDS, ALT, NHL.TV) at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Karlsson will be in the public spotlight as he returns to his home country.
As he prepares for the onslaught of interviews and fan adulation that awaits him when he steps back onto his native soil, the Senators defensemen took time to reflect on the Swedish hockey icons that stoked his burning desire to one day make the NHL.
A two-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the League's top defensemen, Karlsson, 27, recently received the ultimate compliment when, Lidstrom, a Hall of Fame defenseman from Sweden who played 20 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings, described him as "a complete player."
"I think you always try to evolve as a player and be better in every aspect of your game," Karlsson said. "One thing that's helped me a lot is experience. That's something you can't teach.
"I've been through a lot in my career to this point, whether it be injuries, successes, all of it. And after working hard, I always try to be better, to improve. So when you hear something from someone like (Lidstrom), obviously I hold it high. I have so much respect for what he's done in his career and what he still does for hockey, especially Swedish hockey."
Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner was part of Sweden's 2006 Olympic gold-medal wininng team, which also included Alfredsson, who played 17 seasons for the Senators and one with the Red Wings, and Hall of Famers Sundin and Forsberg.
"(Lidstrom) was one of the front-runners along with Daniel Alfredsson, Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg," Karlsson said. "Growing up in my era and playing for the national team, those were four guys who led the way and had all the success with the national team that we got to watch for the most part.
"Nicklas, him being a defenseman, he's obviously someone I watched growing up a lot, followed a lot. We never got the chance to be teammates because he retired from the national team before I had the chance to play there. But I've been fortunate enough to play against him and be around him a lot. Definitely he's the type of player you try to emulate."
Karlsson was born in Landsbro, about a four-hour drive from Stockholm. He will be playing in Sweden for the first time as an NHL player.
"I think it's going to be great," he said. "It's going to be a special occasion. I think we have an outstanding fan base over there. There's a lot of hockey players and a lot of fans over there who watch us over here. So I think it's going to be great to watch us over there firsthand.
"To play regular-season games well into the season is really good. And obviously for me having my family and friends there to watch is going to be great. It's going to be unique for them too -- they'll be able to watch it at a normal hour.
"I'm not counting on playing here too many times so I'm going to cherish the opportunity and soak it all in."
It will be a busy week for Karlsson, who understands he has become one of the marquee faces of Swedish hockey. He is comfortable in his position as a role model, especially for younger players.
He recalls how his father Jonas always stressed that the enjoyment of the game should be paramount. It is a message he wants to convey to Swedish kids just starting out in the sport.
"The most important thing was that I played hockey because I wanted to, not because someone else did," Karlsson said. "No one pushed me. It was that way for me. It was that way for most of my friends. And I think for most of the people who play hockey in Sweden right now, it's still that way.
"I think the problem with today's young players is that they're forced to do things they don't want to and a lot of guys end up quitting without reaching the potential that they have. I was fortunate that that was never the case for me in Sweden. And I'm fortunate that my dad never pushed me -- he just advised me to go in the right direction.
"I think I've been there for a long time now, someone that kids look up to. It comes with responsibility but I embrace it. At the same time, I have to be me. I think that's one thing that's important -- don't try and impress people by being something that you're not."