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
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.
THOUGHTS ON SWEDISH FINALS
After having contributed nothing to Hockey’s Future during the last two months because of a huge amount of work thrown my direction, I now have a couple of hours free to write a column.
The finals in the Swedish Elitserien ended earlier tonight after an exciting best-of-five series where the fifth and deciding game crowned the champions – and it was the underdog team Brynäs that won 4-2 in the end after stellar play by big New York Rangers goalie prospect Johan Holmqvist. Holmqvist proved at the age of 20 that he could handle the pressure extremely well, and that he is capable of coming up with the key save at the key-moment. Hype is now running high on Holmqvist, but I think it’s deserved. Not that it’s saying that much, but Holmqvist will surely become a better goaltender than Tommy Salo. He is in my opinion the best Swedish NHL-prospect currently drafted by an NHL-club.
Through the series it became quite clear that MoDo had superior talent on their team, but Brynäs beat them with a big heart and an excellent goaltender. Brynäs are worthy champions.
MODO LIKELY TO REMAIN AS ELITSERIEN POWERHOUSE IN 99/00
With MoDo running away with the number 1 spot in the regular Elitserien-season and them probably having the among the largest number of NHL-drafted players on their team, one has to wonder whether they will remain as strong next season, or if NHL-teams will sign MoDo’s keyplayers and have them take a shot at the NHL.
The players that have proven themselves in the Elitserien, and could make it to the NHL even next season are the following:
Hans Jonsson, D, 25, 6’2, 190, 32-3-3-6, +11, 38 PIM. Pittsburgh – 286th 1993.
A defenseman without any obvious weaknesses who is strong in his own zone. Not patricularly physical, but mature and calm with the puck. Could be able to step right in, in the NHL and be a solid 4th- to 6th defenseman. Only question is how big his desire to play in the NHL is, and how big the Penguins desire is to bring him over.
Samuel Pahlsson, C, 20, 5’11, 200, 41-14-25-29, +15, 38 PIM. Colorado – 176th 1996.
Was hyped during the summer and the pre-season as the next big star in Sweden, but started out the season struggling to score. He regained his touch after winger Magnus Wernblom returned from suspension, and is now on his way to putting up respectable numbers. He is ready physically, and can throw the occasional hit. He won’t hesitate to take a beating in front of the net either. He won’t be more than average in the NHL, but he will likely make it as a third- or fourth liner.