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Franzen blown away by his success

by Larry Wigge

Johan Franzen has scored 11 goals in 10 playoff games.
Watch Johan Franzen highlight video
Johan Franzen's reputation is growing in Paul Bunyanesque proportions.

The 28-year-old relative newcomer to fame and fortune on an already talented Detroit Red Wings' roster had nine goals in Detroit's recently completed four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche, matching Colorado's output as a team and breaking a franchise record for goals in a playoff series set by Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, who had eight goals in a seven-game series back in 1949. Franzen also became the first player to get two hat tricks in the same series since Edmonton Hall of Famer Jari Kurri tricked Chicago twice 23 years ago.

"I have to pinch myself to believe it's true," said Franzen who scored on 9-of-23 shots against Colorado. "I don't think I'll ever have the kind of success I had in this series again."

Maybe. Maybe not.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder from Landsbro, Sweden, has 11 goals in 10 playoff games. Moreover, since being given a shot at playing in some offensive situations with injuries to power forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary, Johan has 26 goals in his last 26 games dating to March 2. He had just 26 goals in 173 games in his first two seasons with the Red Wings, counting the playoffs.

There are those in “Hockeytown” trying to compare Franzen's burst onto the scene with another Swedish power forward some 10 years ago. But Tomas Holmstrom, known for his infamous tactics of screening goalies and tipping in shots and scoring on rebounds, never had the speed and skills Franzen does.

Holmstrom broke through for the Red Wings when they won the Stanley Cup in 1998, scoring seven goals and 19 points. The seven goals were two more than “Homer” had in 57 regular-season games.

Veteran center Kris Draper said he's seen a lot in his three Stanley Cup seasons in Detroit, enough to know when he's looking at someone pretty special.

"I played with a bunch of Hall of Famers -- Stevie Y (Yzerman), Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull -- what ‘The Mule’ did was unbelievable," Draper said. "But in some ways it's not surprising because he's working hard at both ends of the rink and he's getting tough goals, going to those areas where you have to score at this time of year."

Pretty head stuff for Franzen to assimilate, being talked about in the same terms as Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, eh?

But this late bloomer who never had a hint that an NHL career might beckon him until European scout Hakan Andersson called in June 2004 to tell him the Red Wings had selected him in the third round, 97th overall, of the Entry Draft.

"I figured I could make a good living playing in the Swedish Elite League. Never gave the NHL a thought until that day in June in 2004 when I got a call from Hakan Andersson to tell me that Detroit had picked me in the draft," Franzen recalled. "I was 25 at the time. I didn't know exactly what it meant, but everyone back home knows about the success of the Red Wings because of Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and the rest of the players they've picked from Sweden and around the world. So, that made me wonder if I had a chance."

Yzerman is the one who first began calling Franzen "Mule" when he appeared at his first training camp. You know, big, slow-moving, stubborn.

"To be honest," Franzen says today, "I didn't know what he meant. But who's going to question Steve Yzerman, huh?"

The big and stubborn part of that nickname make sense because of the stubbornness he has in front of and around the net, where a lot of players refuse to tread.

But Franzen looked around the Wings locker room as a rookie in 2004 and saw the skills of guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Heck ... everyone.

"That's when I decided to use my size and be more physical," he remembered.

And it’s worked out pretty well so far.

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