Zetterberg Enroute to Stardom

By Peter Westermark

Young Henrik Zetterberg led Timrå offensively last year when his newly
promoted team surprised and finished ninth in the Elitserien, a 12-team
league. This year, the points have been harder to come by both for
Zetterberg and his team. Timrå is currently last in the league with only
five wins after 33 games, and they are trailing 11th place Linköping by
eleven points. After coming off a point-a-game campaign last season, the Red
Wings prospect has a disappointing five goals and 14 assists in 32 games.
Still, Zetterberg was among the players named to the Swedish Olympic team,
and few hockey people are surprised.

First of all, observers refuse to put any blame on Zetterberg for his team’s
struggles. “He’s a loyal player and he has assumed a more defensive role
this year,” said coach Peo Larsson who resigned due to the team’s poor start
after four successful years at the helm. “The points will come for him. He
hasn’t performed badly.”

That Zetterberg, who plays centre for Timrå, has a ton of offensive ability
was evident in the last game of the Sweden Hockey Games where Zetterberg
suited up in a more offensive role. He scored four goals against the Finns –
one of them after a beautiful move that gave Swedish fans a déjà vu of Peter
Forsberg’s famous “stamp goal”. Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken
Holland was in attendance and praised his prospect in the Swedish press
right after the game, stating “I think he’s good enough to play in the
Olympics right now.”

Perhaps there’s a personal agenda reflected in those comments, but
apparently General Manager Anders Hedberg and Head Coach Hardy Nilsson
agreed. The fact that he is on pace for an 29 point sophomore season after
scoring 46 as a rookie doesn’t seem to be of any concern to anyone near the
game of hockey.

Former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, who worked as an analyst for Swedish
TV during the Sweden Hockey Games saw Zetterberg play for the first time in
the tournament and was impressed: “Oh, I’ll think he’ll make it in the NHL.
A few extra pounds is always helpful, but he’s good enough right now.”

If anyone knows about how demanding the physical part of the North American
game is, it’s Samuelsson who spent 15 years dishing it out on opposing

Zetterberg, 21, should certainly have a bright future. After overshadowing
the heralded Sedin-twins in the 2000 World Junior Championships in Sweden,
he has steadily improved. Two seasons ago, he led his hometown Timrå to the
Elitserien after a sparkling 30 goals and 14 assists over the course of the
season. Last year in the Elitserien, he put of points that compared well to
star forwards Jörgen Jönsson and Mikael Renberg who finished the season with
46 and 54 points, respectively. It should be noted that both Jönsson and
Renberg had stronger supporting casts than Zetterberg did in Timrå.

He also won rookie of the year honours, far ahead of any competition. It’s
highly probable that he will suit up for the Detroit Red Wings next season,
and he could be the heir apparent to Igor Larionov. Henrik is smallish, only
5´11, 180, prompting some to put a question mark around his future in the
NHL, but he is quick and smart enough to be one of the little guys who makes
it. He is level-headed and appears focused, although that does not always
include the score of the games he’s playing in; in an interview with Swedish
TV, former coach Peo Larsson chuckled; “In a game against Malmö last season,
Henrik suddenly looked up at the scoreboard in the second period and said
‘Have they only scored two?'”

The apparent inability to sometimes know the score of the game doesn’t stop
him from scoring the important goals. He has been credited with twelve
game-winning goals so far in his career.

Zetterberg displays a ton of hockey sense on the ice, almost always making
the right decision with his passes. He also has a good scoring touch and the
ability to finish off plays with finesse as well as powerful shots. He is a
good skater and loyal to the team concept. The only question mark left about
the 1999 7th round pick is when, not if, he’ll grow into the costume that
suits a player of high international calibre. He sometimes looked lost and
in awe when playing for Sweden at the World Championships in Germany, but
still managed to score four points in nine games.

The lack of experience will probably mean that Zetterberg is used merely as
a spare part on the Swedish Olympic team. Red Wings faithful might get a
first look of Zetterberg’s finesse and flair in February, but it will
certainly not be the last one as he is headed for a long and productive
National Hockey League career.