CANADIENS MAKE IT OFFICIAL – TWO SWEDISH DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (May 20- Headline)
In 1989, the Swedish scout for the Detroit Red Wings persuaded his bosses that they should use their second round pick on a defenseman from Vasteras named Niklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom became not only the cornerstone for a Detroit dynasty but also established a Red Wings philosophy that it’s possible to be champions with Europeans, especially Swedes, on your roster. While the rest of the NHL sat by year after year the Wings were free to mine the Swedish mother lode of talent.
The Canadiens, despite their 1980’s success with Mats Näslund, were as guilty as the others of paying only lip service to the skill set of Swedish hockey. In hindsight, that inattention can only be termed a colossal mistake.
In the years between 1999 and 2004 while the progressive Red Wings were pulling Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Eriksson and Johan Franzen out of the Swedish talent pool, the Canadiens were drafting Johan Engqvist and Christopher Heino-Lindberg. While Zetterberg, Kronwall, Eriksson and Franzen are in the process of giving the Chicago Black Hawks nightmares in the second round of this year’s playoffs, Engqvist and Heino-Lindberg have long disappeared into the mists of hockey irrelevancy.
Three years ago the Canadiens were afforded the opportunity to correct a serious organizational flaw. The result of that, at the time unheralded correction was the announcement Monday of the signings of forward Sebastian Collberg and defenceman Magnus Nyqvist to multi-year entry level contracts. Ovcr the last three drafts, along with Collberg and Nyqvist, the Canadiens have also taken left wing Erik Nystrom in the 6th round last year and left winger John Westin late in 2010 draft. Although Nystrom and Westin are considered outsiders to make the NHL, the fact remains they make up four of the total of seventeen Swedes drafted by the Canadiens over the last 34 years. By comparison, over the same period the Detroit has drafted forty-seven.
It’s not that the Canadiens completely ignored Swedish hockey. Since 1979 when they made Mats Näslund their first ever European pick, the Canadiens have drafted seventeen out of the Swedish system. Five managed to play for the team; Naslund, the last member of the Habs to have a 100 point season played 617 games for the team; Peter Popovic (303games) Kjell Dahlin (166), Patrik Carnback (6g) and Thomas Rundqvist (2g).
But most teams outside of the Red Wings have considered the likes of Forsberg, Sundin, Salming, Naslund, the Sedins, Lundqvist and a few others as a kind of one-off situation. In spades, Detroit has proved them wrong.
So now it’s time to fill in the blanks in this story.
Remember that scout who reoommended Niklas Lidstrom twenty-four years ago? His name is Christer Rockström. In 1985, Jimmy Devallano, in his role of GM of the Red Wings, hired Rockström to act as his European scout. It was on his recommendation that the Wings not only drafted Lidstrom but also Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov. During his five years with Detroit, Rockström was closely associated with Wings chief scout Neil Smith. In 1990 when he was named general manager of the New York Rangers, Smith brought Rockström along with him. In the ten years that Smith headed up the Rangers, the team drafted eight Swedish born players. Three, defensemen Matthias Norstrom, and Kim Johnsson plus leftwinger Niklas Sundstrom, played more than 700 games with New York. He also was responsible for the drafting of Alex Kovalev and Sergei Nemchinov. Smith was fired in 2000, and replaced by Glen Sather, who’s respect for European players seems to rank down on the Don Cherry level. Over the remaining 10 years Rockström was with the Rangers, his recommendations were mostly ignored. From 2000 to 2010 the Rangers picked six Swedes, two of them out of the 6th round, two from the seventh and one from the 8th round. Even so, the Rangers did wind up with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist out of the 7th round of the 2000 draft plus 2007 6th round choice Karl Hagelin.
In July 2010, the Rangers decided that Rockström wasn’t doing his job and after 21 seasons with the club, he found himself out on the street. For exactly one week, he was on the street. Trevor Timmins, always one to recognize talent whether it be on the ice or in a scout, added him to the Canadiens scouting staff. Of course Rockström is not limited only to Sweden. He has the rest of Europe to supervise as well. And Timmins is paying attention to his head European scout. After drafting only three out of Sweden in the previous fourteen years, there have been four taken the last three drafts, and inevitably more to come.
And now you have the rest of the story.
A total of eleven Swedish born players have played for the Canadiens
LW-Mats Näslund 1982-’1990 617 games ***
D – Peter Popovic 1993-1998 303 games ***
RW-Andreas Dackell 2001-2004 212 games
RW-Kjell Dahlin 2001-2004 166 games ***
RW-Niklas Sundstrom 2002-2006 154 games
LW-Jonas Hoglund 1997-1999 102 games
LW-Johan Witehall 2000-2001 26 games
C – Andreas Engqvist 2012-2013 15 games
LW-Patric Kjellberg 1992-1993 7 games
RW-Patric Carnback 1992-1993 6 games ***
C-Tomas Rundqvist 1984-1985 2 games ***
*** = Canadiens draft choice