Sweden: a land of meatballs, IKEA and vikings. Oh yeah, and also a land of elite-level hockey players. Yes, ever since Borje Salming joined the league as the first ever Swede to make it to the NHL in the ‘70s, Sweden has produced a large number of cup-winning NHL all-stars. This probably culminated in a surprising gold medal victory at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
Up-and-coming Swedes in the NHL such as Gabriel Landeskog, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jonas Brodin and Elias Lindholm aren’t on this list due to their entry-level contracts falling short of the top 10. More surprisingly, seasoned vets like Daniel Alfredsson don’t make this top 10 list either, as Alfie is only making $3.5 million this year. Regardless, there are still plenty of NHLers in all different positions and roles on the ice that prove that Sweden is still very much a superpower in the hockey world.
A number of these players have won the Stanley Cup, while others have been lucky enough to receive individual accolades such as the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Viking Award. Haven’t heard of the last one? That’s not surprising. But it’s a trophy voted on by Swedish players in the NHL and it's associated minor leagues for the best Swedish player of that NHL season. In other words, Sweden is continuing to produce top quality NHLers, and it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon. With the Olympics in Sochi coming up, the Swedes are certainly a force to be reckoned with on the international stage – just look at their gold medal win eight years ago in Torino.
Below are the 10 players from the Scandinavian country that are among the best their country has to offer the NHL. Let’s take a look.
10 Loui Eriksson (Boston Bruins - $4.6 million)
After seven seasons in Dallas with the Stars, Loui Eriksson is now plying his NHL trade with the Bruins as a result of his involvement in the Tyler Seguin swap. Eriksson, who makes $4.6 million this year, competed in the 2011 All-Star Game and has played for Sweden regularly at the IIHF World Hockey Championships, winning gold last year in the tournament his native country co-hosted with Finland. A free agent in 2016, Eriksson has seen a bit of a decrease in production over the past couple seasons, and his 2013-14 campaign has seen him spend a fair bit of time on the Bruins’ IR with a concussion.
9 Johan Franzen (Detroit Red Wings - $5 million)
He may not be the flashiest player in the league compared to other NHLers of his ilk, but for a guy now in his mid-30s, Johan Franzen has certainly kept up consistent point totals in most of his NHL career to date. The Red Wings forward is making $5 million this year, and his excellent play at both ends of the ice as well as his puckhandling skills have been rewarded with a contract going through the 2019-20 season. Franzen has also played for his country on a number of occasions, last playing for Sweden at the 2012 World Championships, as well as at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
8 Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers - $5.125 million)
This Rangers goalie has consistently been referred to as one of the best in the game at his position, and it’s not hard to see why. Henrik Lundqvist has led Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006, won the Vezina Trophy in 2012, and has made it to the All-Star Game three times. With a contract this year of about $5.125 million, King Henrik will see his salary more than double next season with the Rangers, as he will be making about $11 million in New York in 2014-15 – making him the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL.
7 Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators - $5.5 million)
What’s most remarkable about Erik Karlsson’s NHL career thus far is that he’s already one of the league’s elite defensemen at the ripe young age of 23, having won the Norris Trophy in 2012. This offensive defenseman struggled with injuries last season, but continually puts up a point per game over the past three seasons – a rare ability for a defenseman of any type. Karlsson, who makes $5.5 million this year, has also played in the All-Star Game twice, and won the “Viking Award”; an award given to the best Swedish NHL player every season voted by all Swedish players in the NHL and minor leagues.
6 Tobias Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets - $5.75 million)
A former eighth-round draft pick in 2003, Tobias Enstrom has accomplished what many players taken many rounds before him in the NHL Entry Draft could not: becoming a top-pairing defenseman in the best hockey league in the world. Enstrom’s salary this year comes up to about $5.75 million, and his play with the Jets has been consistent. He has continually logged big minutes despite the team’s mediocrity on the ice. Enstrom also competed in the 2010 Olympics with Sweden in Vancouver – sadly however, he won’t be doing the same this year in Sochi as he pulled his name out of the running for their roster.
5 Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals - $6 million)
His style of play was compared to that of Swedish hockey great Peter Forsberg upon being drafted into the league by the Capitals. While that’s quite high praise, Nicklas Backstrom’s elite playmaking skills have translated ever so smoothly to the NHL over his six years in the league. Not to be confused with the similar-named Finnish goalie in Minnesota, Backstrom – who makes $6 million this year and has a contract running through 2019-20 – played in the All-Star Game in 2008-09, and he and Alexander Ovechkin have formed a rather dynamic duo in Washington. The only thing that’s left for both of them now is winning a cup.
4 Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings - $6 million)
Known league-wide as one of the strongest hitters in the NHL, Niklas Kronwall has had a pretty decorated career with the Red Wings at the age of 33, at least in terms of awards won. He and the Red Wings went all the way to the Cup in 2008, and Kronwall won an Olympic gold medal in 2006, and a gold medal in the IIHF World Championships that same year – making him a member of the exclusive “Triple Gold Club”. With a salary this year of $6 million, Kronwall is under contract in Detroit until 2018-19.
3 Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks - $6.1 million)
Known as the playmaker as opposed to his more goalscoring twin brother Daniel, Henrik Sedin continues to put out excellent performances for the Canucks even deep in his 30s, and he’s showing no signs of truly slowing down. His point production may have slipped a little bit over the past couple years, but the $6.1 million-making Henrik has had a career that has seen plenty of accolades – with the exception of a Stanley Cup – come his way: an Olympic gold medal, a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross trophy, and three trips to the All-Star Game. On top of that, he’s the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer; something his brother can’t brag about.
2 Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks - $6.1 million)
He’s got more goalscoring prowess than his twin brother Henrik, but Daniel Sedin’s array of accolades as a Canuck and as a Swedish international are just as impressive as his brother’s. He’s won the Ted Lindsay Award, the Art Ross Trophy (one year after Henrik won the same award), has been to the All-Star Game twice, and has an Olympic gold medal to boot. His salary is the same as his brother’s this season ($6.1 million), and his contract runs through 2017-18. He and his brother’s ability to play off each other seamlessly has reaped massive rewards for both the Sedins and the Canucks ever since Brian Burke made sure Vancouver drafted both of them together in 1999.
1 Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings - $7.5 million)
At 33 years of age, the Red Wings captain may still have quite a few years left in the tank, but not too much left to prove. Henrik Zetterberg has won a Stanley Cup in 2008, has played in the All-Star Game, has won an Olympic gold medal (and will compete for Sweden in Sochi this February) and has a Conn Smythe trophy to his name as well. His salary of $7.5 million this season is proof of Zetterberg’s deadly abilities with the puck and as a playmaker. To do all this after being drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 entry draft – arguably the weakest of all time – is quite simply remarkable.