The 15 Best Swedish Hockey Players of All Time

a hockey player from Sweeden wearing a yellow and blue jersey, Peter Forsberg skating, he was one of the best Swedish hockey players

From the time ice hockey put down roots in Sweden around 1912, this Scandinavian country has continuously gifted the world with an array of extraordinary talents that the sport has been privileged to witness. Here, we’ll go through our list of the best Swedish hockey players of all time. Best known for their smooth and effortless skating ability, silky smooth hands, and dazzling finesse moves, the Viking nation has cemented itself as one of the elite countries in ice hockey!

In ice hockey’s long and storied history, Sweden has repeatedly emerged as a producer of some of the sport’s most legendary figures. The Swedish Hockey League (SHL) has become a pipeline to the NHL. This article will examine Swedish hockey’s history and its’ top players’ stories and accomplishments. We’ll uncover their achievements in the NHL and how they have helped shape the game’s development.

Who Was the First Swedish Player to Play in the NHL?

The pioneer who opened the National Hockey League doors for his countrymen was Ulf Sterner. Sterner stepped onto the ice for the New York Rangers in 1965 and became the first Swedish hockey player in the NHL and the first European-born player in the league. He demonstrated that Swedish players could not only compete but excel in the NHL.

His success laid the groundwork for the generations of Swedish NHL stars to come. He wasn’t one of the best Swedish players of all time, but it’s important to show respect for the man who started it all.

Swedish Olympic Hockey History

Sweden’s love affair with ice hockey is deeply entrenched, dating back to 1920 when the country made its Olympic hockey debut. Over the years, Sweden has become a dominant force, earning eleven medals, including two golds, and setting the stage for its players to take on the NHL.

Sweden’s first gold came in a triumphant 1994 victory in Lillehammer, Norway, through a dramatic shootout in which Peter Forsberg pulled off one of the most iconic shootout moves of all time. The move will be remembered forever as it was commemorated on a Swedish postage stamp.

a Sweedish postage stamp of a hockey play in the Olympics by Peter Forsberg one of the best Swedish hockey players of all time

Their second gold medal was in Torino 2006 against their bitter rival Finland. The game came down to the wire, but the mighty Swedes, led by Nicklas Lidstrom, pulled it out 3-2.

Another thing the Swedish have going for them are those fantastic jerseys; they are by far the best jerseys in all of hockey, in this writer’s opinion.

Our List of The Best Swedish Hockey Players

There is a lengthy list of great Swedish players, both past and present. It was a challenging task to narrow it down, but we did our best. Here is our list of the best Swedish hockey players of all time. We’ll tell you who the best Swedish defenseman and goaltender are and the bright up-and-coming Swedish stars who aspire to be Swedish hockey’s face for years to come.

Borje Salming

One cannot possibly begin this journey without celebrating the legendary Borje Salming. Affectionately referred to as “The King,” Salming was the trailblazer who paved the way for Swedish players in the National Hockey League. His career, which spanned over 17 seasons from 1973 to 1990, mainly with the Toronto Maple Leafs, saw him transcend the game and leave a lasting impact on it. 

Salming was a master of the defensive game, combining uncanny anticipation with excellent stickhandling to thwart many offensive threats. His durability, tenacity, and dedication to hockey earned him a rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, the first Swedish player elected to the Hall of Fame. 

Mats Sundin

Mats Sundin a hockey player celebrating with his arms in the air, wearing a blue Toronto Maple Leafs jersey
Photo Courtesy:

Mats Sundin is the all-time points leader for Swedish-born NHL players with an impressive 1349 points over his 18-year career filled with memorable moments. Sundin spent most of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he served as team captain and established himself as a leader both on and off the ice.

With an uncanny knack for scoring crucial goals and his strength in face-offs, Sundin was an invaluable asset to his team. As the first European player to be drafted first overall in the NHL draft, Sundin was a symbol of inspiration for future generations. While the Swedes are known more for their finesse than for being good fighters, Sundin was one of the toughest Swedish players.

Does being the highest-scoring Swedish player in the NHL make Mats Sunding the best Swedish hockey player ever? You’ll have to read to the end to find out.

Markus Naslund

Markus Nalund’s career was defined by a unique combo of leadership, talent, and determination that placed him among the great Swedish ice hockey players. Most of his career was with the Vancouver Canucks, where he quickly established himself as a fan-favorite, dazzling spectators with his scoring touch and offensive creativity.

Over his 12 seasons with the Canucks, Naslund served as the team’s captain for eight years, becoming the franchise’s longest-serving captain until fellow Swede Henrik Sedin surpassed him. Naslund’s number 19 jersey hangs in the rafters of the Cannucks’ arena, where he will be remembered forever.

Henrik Zetterberg

Henrik Zetterberg raising the Stanley Cup, wearing a white and red Detroit Red Wings jersey, he was one of the best Swedish hockey players
Photo Courtesy: SportsNet

Henrik Zetterberg’s legacy in the NHL is both profound and enduring, known for his masterful skill, exceptional leadership, lock-down defense, and relentless work ethic. To say that Zetterberg was an over-achiever is putting it mildly; he was drafted in the seventh round (pick 210) coming out of The Swedish Hockey League, so there weren’t a lot of expectations for him, but by the end of his illustrious 15-year career all with the Detroit Redwings at the famed Joe Louis Arena, he amassed quite a resume.

Zetterberg is a member of the prestigious “Triple Gold” club, which means he won a gold medal at the Olympics, a gold medal at the IIHF World Championship, and a Stanley Cup. Top that all off with a recent election to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I’d say that’s not too shabby of a career for the 210th player picked in his draft.

Zetterberg was an integral member of the 2008 Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings; his stellar defense against Sydney Crosby and clutch goal-scoring earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. He took over as captain of the Red Wings from fellow countryman Nicklas Lidstrom until back injuries ended his career in 2018. Zetterberg will go down as one of the best forecheckers and two-way forwards of all time.

Daniel Alfredsson

Daniel Alfredsson, the long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators, distinguished himself as a dependable scorer and a model professional ice hockey player. Known for his character and sportsmanship, Alfredsson is an iconic figure in Ottawa and a role model for Swedish players. He had incredible hands and some of the best dangles in the NHL.

Alfredsson burst onto the NHL scene in 1996, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, coming straight from the Swedish Elite League. He served as the Senator’s captain for 14 years, leading them to their only Stanley Cup appearance in 2007. He was recently elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame after his remarkable 19-year NHL Career. He finished second on the list of most points by a Swedish ice hockey player and won a gold medal in 2006 as a member of the Swedish National team.

Peter Forsberg

Now we’re getting into Swedish hockey royalty! One can’t help but wonder what could have been if Peter Forsberg had been able to stay healthy. His career was cut short by chronic foot and back injuries. But “Foppa,” as he was fondly known, was one of the most skilled players the National Hockey League has ever seen from any country.

His career points per game stats are up there with any hockey player in the history of the NHL. His unique blend of size, skill, and a little bit of a nasty streak is extremely rare, and his hands and stickhandling are as good as they come!

Another member of the “Triple Gold” club, Forsberg, won two Stanley Cups as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in the late 1990s and was part of one of the most bitter rivalries in hockey history against the vaunted Detroit Red Wings. Forsberg was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.

Forsberg’s ability to handle the puck, his vision on the ice, and his knack for timely scoring made him an unforgettable force in the sport, and he will go down as one of the greatest Swedish hockey players of all time!


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Daniel Sedin

We weren’t sure if we should combine these next two players as one, but we decided to give each one their individual section even though they were inseparable and often brought up as one. Of course, we’re talking about the Sedin twins.

Daniel Sedin remains a stalwart of the Vancouver Canucks, dedicating his entire career to the team. He was a beacon of incredible skill, steadfast reliability, and genuine passion for the sport. His prolific 17-season tenure with the Canucks saw him scoring a colossal 1,041 points over 1,306 games, an accomplishment that’s etched in the annals of the franchise.

Playing his whole life with his brother Henrik, to say The Sedin twins were on the same page is an understatement.  Watching them play together, one can’t help but think they had some telepathic ability, as they were always in tune with each other.  Daniel’s offensive contributions were significant, primarily known for his goal-scoring ability, complementing his brother Henrik’s playmaking talent.

The Sedin twins celebrating after a goal, they're wearing white Vancouver Cannuck jerseys, they are great Swedish hockey players

Henrik Sedin

Turning our attention to the second half of this duo, we meet Henrik Sedin, a player renowned for his discerning vision and prolific passing. He served as the perfect counterbalance to Daniel’s sharpshooting, forming a duo that became synonymous with excellence in the National Hockey League.

In the 2009-2010 season, Henrik’s efforts were rewarded with the prestigious Hart Memorial Trophy for being the league’s most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy for securing the most points. The subsequent season saw him leading the Canucks as captain to the Stanley Cup Final, where they fell to Boston in a hard-fought seven-game series.

Henrik’s remarkable career, spread over 17 seasons, culminated in a record-setting 1,070 points over 1,330 games, a feat that remains a Vancouver Canucks franchise record. Off the rink, Henrik was equally cherished for his work within the community, particularly his efforts toward children’s health. His legacy extends beyond the ice into the hearts of the people of Vancouver and hockey fans worldwide.

Best Swedish Defenseman of All Time

There have been many great Swedes to run the point as professional ice hockey defensemen. From Borje Salming up to the present day with Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson, the Swedes have always been known for their elite defensemen, but one player tops them all by a country mile.

Nicklas Lidstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom holding the Stanley Cup, he is wearing the white and red Detroit Red Wings jersey
Photo Courtesy: SportsNet

In recent times, few names shine as brightly as the Detroit Red Wings’ “The Perfect Human,” Nicklas Lidstrom. Renowned for his poise, intelligence, and exemplary defensive skills, Lidstrom dominated the NHL for two decades. His calm demeanor starkly contrasted with his fiercely competitive nature on ice. The great Scotty Bowman called him the best player he’s ever coached.

Lidstrom’s career, decorated with four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies, and an Olympic gold medal in 2006, resonates with his consistent excellence and unparalleled leadership. He was a player who could change the game’s dynamics singlehandedly, a true testament to his greatness. He also won a gold at the world championships in 1991, so he’s a member of the Triple Gold club.

You could argue that for the last 25 years, the best defenseman in the NHL has been from Sweeden (Until Cale Makar took over recently). From Lidstrom to Erik Karlsson to Victor Hedman, the Swedes sure know how to play some defense!

Best Swedish Goalie of All Time

Until recently, there haven’t been a lot of legendary Swedish goaltenders. Tommy Salo was good in the 1990s, and today there are some pretty solid goalies, like Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark, and the youngster Filip Gustavsson. Still, no one compares to “King Henrik.”

Henrique Lundqvist

Henrique Lundqvist a hockey goalie for the New York Rangers, he's about to make a save.

Henrik Lundqvist, known as “King Henrik,” is undoubtedly the greatest Swedish goalie to grace the hockey world! A stalwart in the New York Rangers’ net for 15 seasons, Lundqvist’s consistency, exceptional reflexes, and resilience set him apart, not to mention he could have a second career as a supermodel.

Lundqvist holds the Rangers’ franchise record for wins, shutouts, and games played by a goaltender. Like most Swedish players, he came up through the Swedish Elite League and went straight to the NHL at age 23.  His leadership carried the Rangers to The Stanley Cup Final in 2014. Although the formidable Los Angeles Kings overpowered them, his skill was undeniable and paramount, and he was arguably the best player in the playoffs because the Rangers certainly wouldn’t have gotten to the Final without him.

King Henrik recently received the honor of being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a fitting recognition for his remarkable consistency and prowess as a goaltender over the past 15 years. After retiring after the 2020 season, Henrik didn’t step away from the sport he loved. Instead, he shifted his role and became a familiar face in the broadcasting world, sharing his insights as a TV analyst during NHL games. His contribution to hockey transcends the rink, impacting and educating fans across the globe.

Best Swedish Players in the NHL Today

The current crop of Swedish talent in the NHL continues to uphold the legacy of excellence set by their predecessors. If we ever see NHL players in the Olympics again or another World Cup of Hockey Tournament, Sweden will definitely be one of the favorites. We’ll go through the best Swedish players in the NHL today.

Victor Hedman

A hockey player skating, Victor Hedman playing for Sweeden, he has a yellow and blue jersey

Victor Hedman, the towering 6’6” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman, combines size and an impressive array of skills in a way few players can. Someone this big shouldn’t be able to move and skate the way Hedman does, and mix in superior puck handling, a rocket for a shot, and an uncanny hockey IQ, and you have the perfect defenseman.

His contributions were instrumental in securing the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victories in 2020 and 2021. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 2020 and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy five times, winning once in 2018.

Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson a hockey player wearing a red jersey, he is one of the best Swedish players in the NHL
Photo Courtesy:

Carrying forward the legacy of Swedish excellence in the NHL is Erik Karlsson, an offensive defenseman known for his speed, agility, and creativity on the ice. Despite ongoing injury struggles, Karlsson’s puck-moving prowess and ability to control the game’s tempo make him one of the finest Swedish players of his generation and a future Hall of Famer.

And if you thought he was old and his best days were behind him, he just turned in a season for the ages in 2023, earning him his third Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman. Karlsson might not be the best Swedish player, but he has the best hockey flow (hair.)

Adrian Kempe

One of the bright young Swedish stars in the NHL is the Los Angeles Kings’ Adrian Kempe. Hailing from the small town of Kramfors, Kempe has that scoring touch many hockey players dream about but few can attain. He has hit the 40-goal mark twice in his short but productive career.

Playing alongside the great center Anze Kopitar, Kempe has flourished and continues to grow. He has made some All-Star games and is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. Kempe still has a long way to go before he’s mentioned with some of the other great Swedish hockey players, but he’s well on his way!

Filip Forsberg

Filip Forsberg, following in the footsteps of Peter Forsberg (no relation), has shown immense skill and potential as a forward for the Nashville Predators. Best known for his goal-scoring ability and dazzling stick-handling, Forsberg has a knack for creating plays and finding the back of the net. Will his career come close to that of his namesake? Only time will tell.

Best Swedish Player of All Time

There are so many fantastic Swedish hockey players that it was difficult to pick the best overall; just kidding, the decision was easy. Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, and Henrik Lundqvist were all incredible hockey players, but when you think of hockey players from Sweden, one man comes to mind, Nicklas Lidstrom.

Nicklas Lidstrom isn’t just the best Swedish defenseman; he’s the best defenseman since Bobby Orr, regardless of nationality. And one can make the case he’s better than Orr, it was different eras, so it’s hard to compare the two. If Lidstrom isn’t the best defenseman of all time, he’s undoubtedly on the Mount Rushmore of defensemen. 

His composure was unmatched, and combined with his off-the-chart hockey IQ, his silky smooth skating, lightning-quick hands, and you have the makings of one of the greatest hockey players to ever strap on their skates!

Final Thoughts on Swedish Hockey Players

The influence of Swedish players on hockey is undeniable. From pioneers like Ulf Sterner and Borje Salming to current stars like Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson, Sweden has and will continue to shape the game. Each player, in their unique way, contributes to the rich tapestry of the sport, underlining why ice hockey remains such an integral part of Sweden’s cultural fabric. Through their skill, leadership, and dedication, they’ve inspired the next generation of players, ensuring the flame of Swedish hockey remains ablaze.

The torch passed down by these legends continues to burn bright, illuminating the path for the current crop of Swedish talent. With rising young stars such as William Nylander, Rasmus Dahlin, Elias Pettersson, Filip Gustavsson, and many more, it’s safe to say the future of Swedish hockey is in good hands!

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