In English, the name Örnsköldsvik means “Eagle Shield’s Bay.” To hockey fans, it means something else; the home of MoDo Hockey’s now-legendary junior development program. To date, MoDo Hockey has had 28 of their players selected in the NHL Entry Draft. Among Swedish clubs, only Färjestad BK (29) has had more.
The MoDo draft legacy began in 1976, when the NHL draft did not draw nearly as much attention as it does today, especially not in Europe. While European players in the NHL were still relatively few in number, however, the trend was starting to grow by 1976. Following the success of Börje Salming (and to a lesser extent, Inge Hammarström), NHL teams had begun to look more seriously to Sweden as a talent source for the league. This was a radical departure from the days when even the weakest NHL teams gave no consideration to trying to sign top Swedish stars like Sven “Tumba” Johansson and Leif “Honken” Holmqvist. The NHL success of Salming and the strength of the Soviet hockey machine forced NHL teams to sit up and take notice. There were 5 Swedes chosen in the 1976 NHL draft, including Björn Johansson, who became the first European to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft. 1976 was also the year that MoDo had their first player chosen, when Thomas Gradin became the third pick (45th overall) of the Vancouver Canucks. Gradin went on to become a scoring star for Vancouver, making a lot of NHL teams kick themselves for having been beaten to the punch by the Canucks. Today, Gradin heads the Canucks European scouting department.
Below I’ve written some words about a few Swedish prospects of very shifting talent and quality. I’ve chose five players; one center, two wingers and two defenders all located or born in the northern part of Sweden. The selection of the players is more or less random, but I wanted to get as many different types of players as possible represented.
JOHN WIKSTRÖM, 6’5″, 205 lbs, D, 300179, Luleå – 129th 1997, Detroit
HF Comments: John finished the past season in Mörrum (SWE 1st division) after a less successful attempt to play in North America. The season before, he tried out in Piteå HC, also 1st division, but didn’t make it so he was sent back to Luleå juniors. Already at the age of 17, he made his first appearance on the Luleå bench in the Elite League, but it seemed like he never got a chance to step out on the ice. Maybe if he would have, Detroit would have never drafted him, because Wikström has never made it in a senior team. Among juniors, such a big player may appear as dominating, but despite of his size, he is not a very physical player and not very trustable on his own blueline, concerning passing and quick change of play. I don’t know where John will play next season, but I do know that it is highly unlikely that he’ll ever make it to Detroit. Probably not even to the Swedish Elite League. Maybe he’ll be a solid defender in the Swedish 1st division one day.
PIERRE HEDIN, 6’3″, 200 lbs, D, 190278, MoDo – 239th 1999, Toronto
The top three picks by the Carolina Hurricanes in last months NHL Entry draft were surprised, and not always for the best. David Tanabe, Brett Lysak, and Brad Fast were taken in the first, second, and third rounds, respectively.
Carolina made Tanabe their first pick, 16th overall. The pressing need for an offensive defenseman surpassed the available players ranked higher. The Hurricanes had the worst powerplay in the NHL during the 1998-1999 season. The 11 defensemen who skated for the Canes last season combined for 15 goals in 82 regular season games. Of those 15 goals, only three came on the power play. Tanabe, on the other hand, scored ten goals in 35 games. Three of his goals won games and one came on the powerplay. This came in his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the third highest scorer. He has stated that his development is up to the Hurricanes organization and the Minneapolis native will either return to college or sign a contract and go into the Canes system. The combination of his great skating, hard shot, and superior passing caused Carolina to pick him as the third defenseman taken in the draft, when in fact, he was ranked eighth in that category.
In the 6th round of this year’s entry draft, the AIK defender Jan Sandström was picked by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. If 21-year-old Sandström makes it to the NHL, he will also be the 6th player from a small town in northern Sweden called Piteå to join the league.
Piteå is a small town located in northern Sweden. The city with it’s suburbs has about 25 000 inhabitants and the whole county about 40 000. There is no logical explanation to why this particular town should be such a good place for hockey players to develop, but apparently, it is. The city only has two indoor rinks. Pitea’s arena only has room for 1920 spectators and is ready to be torn down. Piteå Hockey has also suffered a lot because of their economy in the past years, but despite of all this, the town seems to develop talented hockey players in a very rare and interesting way.
The first Piteå player to play in the NHL was the Islander defenseman Stefan Persson. During his NHL career (1977-86), he was fortunate to win three Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Persson played 622 NHL regular season games, and scored 369 points and 574 PIM. In a recent voting among journalists he was nominated to be the 6th best Swedish defenseman ever to play the game of hockey.
I know it seems a bit early to be looking ahead to the 1999-2000 OHL season, but the way I see it, it’s never too early to look ahead to next season. The 1998-99 season was a very exciting one for the OHL. The Ottawa 67’s won the Memorial Cup and put together a 14-game winning streak, while the Barrie Colts went undefeated in 31 straight home games.