-- The opening round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center certainly offered a "Swede" smell of success on Friday evening.
For the first time in draft history, four Swedish players were taken among the top 10 picks. On top of that, there were a record-tying six Swedes selected in the first round overall, equaling the total from the 1993 and 2009 Entry Drafts.
"I'm not surprised by it," Skelleftea defenseman Adam Larsson
told NHL.com. "Gabriel (Landeskog) is like a Canadian guy right now and we know how talented he is. Mika (Zibanejad) is really good also so not surprised by that. We have good coaching in Sweden and Swedish hockey has stepped it up over the last few years."
Over the last 15 years, no fewer than 14 players have been selected each year out of Sweden. No other European country comes close.
Landeskog, rated No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters, was one of only two Swedes among the six chosen to star in the Canadian Hockey League this past season. The 6-1/2, 207-pound native of Stockholm, the second overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche
, was named captain of the Kitchener Rangers in his second season in the Ontario Hockey League. While there's pressure wearing the "C," he still produced 36 goals, 30 assists, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes.
"As captain, sometimes guys expect you to step up," Landeskog said. "Obviously if you see a guy isn't ready, you have to go up to him and make sure he is. Sometimes on the bench you have to call out a guy too if he's not doing his job right. We're all friends, but when we're at the rink and playing games we have to take that aside and must do what's best for the team. I think sometimes you have to tell a guy what he's doing right or what he's doing wrong. You might have to say something you don't want to, but it's all for the team."
Following Landeskog, Larsson was picked fourth overall by the New Jersey Devils
, Djurgarden center Zibanejad went sixth to the Ottawa Senators
When asked what it would be like to have an opportunity to play in front of All-Star goalie Martin Brodeur
, Larsson smiled.
"Of course it would be an honor to play in front of him," he said. "I don't know what to say, but I'm looking forward to it."
Farjestad defenseman Jonas Brodin
went No. 10 to the Minnesota Wild
, and his blue-line partner, Oscar Klefbom
, was drafted 19th by the Edmonton Oilers
. Stockholm's Rickard Rakell
completed the Swedish invasion in the opening round when the Anaheim Ducks
selected him at No. 30.
Despite being regarded as the most improved European skater, it was a tad surprising to see Zibanejad taken relatively early. But he certainly justified the selection with his rugged style of play this campaign.
"I guess I was surprised," he said. "But I was in Ottawa and I got a good impression of them. I thought they liked me a little bit, but I was surprised. I wasn't ready for it, but I'm so excited."
He played a vital role with and against men for Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League this season. In 26 games with the Elitserien squad from the junior program since the start of December, the 6-foot-1 1/2, 191-pound Zibanejad posted 5 goals and 9 points. He had 12 goals and 21 points in 27 games with Djurgarden's junior team prior to his promotion.
Zibanejad, born in Stockholm but now residing in Huddinge, said he recently was out to dinner with Senators captain and fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson
"We got a chance to chat a little bit, so I'm really happy for it," Zibanejad said. "Most of the guys are very skilled in Europe. I try to add to my physical part of my game and play physical and try to add to my skill. That's the way the North American guys play, and that's why I compare to them."
Brodin and Klefbom were both born in Karlstad, are left-handed shots and have spent the last two seasons as teammates in Farjestad in Sweden's Elitserien. Brodin, who happens to be eight days older, is the two-way defender who happens to showcase tremendous poise and calmness in the heat of battle. Klefbom, meanwhile, is prone to take more risks with the puck and, unlike Brodin, prefers a free-wheeling style.
Brodin thought it was "cool" to be drafted by the hometown Wild and receive a nice ovation following the pick.
"It was a fantastic feeling to be picked by Minnesota in Minnesota," Brodin said. "It's really cool to see so many Swedish players go in the first round. They are really good players … Adam Larsson
, Landeskog, Mika Zibanejad
. I know those guys; they're really good guys. It's very good for Sweden."
Rakell could turn out to be another Brad Marchand
of the Boston Bruins
-- a player who performs bigger than his frame (6-1/4, 199), is willing to battle, offers decent speed and is just a pain in the neck to play against. After dominating the Swedish Under-18 Allsvenskan league in 2009-10 with 13 goals, 12 assists in 12 games, Rakell proved to be an energetic playmaker for the Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League. He wasn't overly physical, but certainly didn't shy from the contact either.
A high ankle sprain in February limited Rakell to 49 games in his first season in North America, but the 18-year-old native of Sollentuna, Sweden, still managed 19 goals, 43 points and a plus-14 rating in the regular season. He was also the youngest player for Team Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
"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."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale