PITTSBURGH - No player has ever come from further away than Henrik Zetterberg to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The Detroit Red Wings didn't select the Swede until late in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL draft and that decision has never looked better than right now.
Zetterberg led his team in scoring on the way to capturing the Stanley Cup for the first time Wednesday and received the Conn Smythe Trophy from commissioner Gary Bettman afterwards. His 27 points also set a new playoff scoring record for the Red Wings and tied him for the post-season lead with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
However, it was his defensive play more than anything that earned him the award.
"I think all the great players that end up playing at this time of the year (have to be good defensively)," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "They have to be because your team doesn't get (this far) - in order for you to set something like Hank just did, your team has to play a long time. In order to play a long time, you have to be good without the puck."
If anyone at that 1999 draft in Boston believed Zetterberg would become half the player he is now, they surely would have selected him well before 210th overall.
The only other Conn Smythe winner to be selected outside the top 100 is Ron Hextall, who was drafted 119th by Philadelphia in 1982 before being named playoff MVP in a losing cause for the Flyers five years later.
Only one European had previously won this award and that was teammate Nicklas Lidstrom back in 2002.
"It's great to have that with him," said Zetterberg.
He was named MVP despite scoring just once in six games during the Stanley Cup final. That didn't stop him from making a mark.
One of the turning points in the series was the 5-on-3 disadvantage that Detroit was able to weather in the third period of Game 4 and Zetterberg displayed all of his skill on that penalty kill. He tied up Crosby at the side of the net before carrying the puck and killing about 15 seconds on his own.
Zetterberg was on the ice for the majority of another long two-man disadvantage Wednesday and the Penguins were again kept from scoring.
Those efforts didn't go unnoticed by his teammates.
"He's so determined," said defenceman Niklas Kronwall, who has known Zetterberg since they were teenagers. "Anything he does, he does it full on.
"He's one of the hardest working guys on our team and other guys follow that. They look up to that. We're blessed to have him on our team."
Added veteran forward Kris Draper: "He made a big statement during these playoffs."
Zetterberg was partly responsible for helping keep Crosby in check during the series.
Babcock did his best to have him and Pavel Datsyuk on the ice whenever Crosby's line was out. Both players are finalists for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward and they did a fabulous job containing the Penguins star.
"He played well," Crosby said of Zetterberg. "He's a complete player. He showed it this series. He's a big part of their team."
European scout Hakan Andersson can take credit for recognizing the immense talent a teenaged Zetterberg had hidden within. At the time he was drafted, the Red Wings were being criticized for trading away top draft choices but the faith they had in landing solid players in later rounds has clearly worked out.
This championship team was full of guys who had already won the Stanley Cup but Zetterberg wasn't one of them. He attended a couple games during Detroit's Cup run in 2002 but didn't join the squad until a year later.
He's steadily improved over the years and has developed into one of the league's premier two-way players.
"It's been a long journey," said Zetterberg. "We finally made it.
"It's going to be a great summer."
While the soft-spoken Zetterberg still doesn't have the profile of some of the NHL's other top players, his teammates have certainly come to see him as one of the best.
He's not flashy but he's totally effective.
"I've been telling people for three years how good Zetterberg is," said Babcock.
There won't be any need to spread the word now. The 27-year-old was far from alone in helping the Wings to this Stanley Cup but they might not have done it without him.
You can't get much better redemption on all the people that looked you over than that.