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The Great One praises Wings' captain

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

This week, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky said that Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg is, "The best Swedish player they've ever put into the National Hockey League." (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – Friday night the hockey world got to see what The Great One has seen over the last decade – that Henrik Zetterberg is one of, if not the, best player in the NHL.

Though Zetterberg battled a high fever and sore throat for two days leading to Friday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Detroit’s captain showed a superhuman desire when he matched a career high with five points, including three goals, in a 5-3 win at Joe Louis Arena.

In an interview earlier in the week, hall of famer Wayne Gretzky praised the 32-year-old Zetterberg for his skill and toughness, and said the Wings’ center has been his favorite player to watch over the past 10 seasons.

“I think Zetterberg is the best player in the game (at his age),” Gretzky told “He’s been so physically beat up from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Olympics – all that goes with that – but he’s just very special.”

Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, then took his admiration for Zetterberg to another level by saying, “I think he’s the best Swedish player they’ve ever put into the National Hockey League, and there has been a lot of great ones, from (Borje) Salming to (Nicklas) Lidstrom.”

Zetterberg is ninth in all-time scoring (257 goals) among Swedish-born players, trailing Mats Sundin (564), Daniel Alfredsson (417), Markus Naslund (395), Ulf Dalhen (301), Daniel Sedin (281), Tomas Steen (264), Kent Nilsson (264) and Lidstrom (264).

After Friday’s game, Zetterberg said that he was aware of the comments made by Gretzky, who hosted his annual fantasy camp in Las Vegas this week. But that didn’t stop the sleuth in Zetterberg from back-checking the authenticity of Gretzky’s statements.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Zetterberg, who leads the Red Wings with five goals and seven assists this season. “I had to go to Goggle to make sure no one was pulling a prank on me. But it is nice. He’s one of my first big idols, and if he’s happy with the way I’m playing then I’m happy. … It’s a great honor.”

In agreeing with Gretzky, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland added that for years, fans have come to expect the majesty that players like Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk demonstrate each night.

“We get to watch Henrik every day. I know that Lidstrom is special and Datsyuk is special,” Holland said. “But when you see these players every day I think sometimes people don’t always appreciate how special they are.

“Then, when you hear that a guy like Gretzky makes a comment about one of your players, it reminds everybody that we’re pretty lucky to have a special player like Henrik Zetterberg.”

Zetterberg said he’s heard Gretzky’s complimentary comments before.

“When he coached in Phoenix, Pavel and I had a few good games down there, and he had some comments back then too,” Zetterberg said. “I heard it before, and I’m definitely proud of it.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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