How Swede it is
Don Cherry’s recent rant to the contrary, the Maple Leafs continue to have success with Swedish players
What’s not to love about Sweden? They’ve given us so much: Ikea, the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show and a long line of fine hockey players, many starring on our hometown Maple Leafs.
Despite the ranting and raving of Don Cherry, who very clearly urged the Toronto Maple Leafs to stop concentrating their efforts on drafting European players, it looks like another Swedish player is a potential star. Although he didn’t stick with the big club this season, William Nylander had an impressive training camp and will soon join the ranks of star Swedes to lace up for the Buds.
The first Swedish hockey player in the National Hockey League was Gus Forsland, who suited up for a season with the Ottawa Senators back in 1932–33.
But two things really opened NHL teams up to the idea of European players making significant contributions: one, Russia’s performance in the ’72 Summit Series, and two, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Borje Salming.
Salming signed with the team in 1973 as a free agent, although the Leafs were originally interested in signing Inge Hammarstöm, who would also eventually be signed.
A six-time All-Star, Salming is easily one of the most popular players in team history. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
The other prominent Swedish player in history is, of course, Mats Sundin, who was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. Although he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, Sundin played the vast majority of his career in Toronto. A fan favourite, he holds Maple Leafs team records for career goals, assists by a forward, points and assists in a period.
When Cherry spouted off about European players, it was Sundin that responded in Nylander’s defence.
There are numerous other Swedish players who made significant contributions to the team’s success, including Mikael Renberg, Jonas Hoglund, Calle Johnsson, Carl Gunnarson and Jonas Gustavsson.
Hopefully, Nylander, as well as other Maple Leafs prospects from Sweden, such as Andreas Johnson, will prove Grapes wrong and take the team to the promised land.
Toronto Maple Leafs legends Mats Sundin (left) and Borje Salming are all the proof we need to continue drafting Swedish players
Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson
Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander