The Vancouver Canucks have the NHL’s first Swedish general manager. Three members of their player development department have won Olympic gold with Team Sweden, two of whom happen to be the best players in Canucks’ history.
When you add 10 Swedish prospects at Canucks development camp this week, the ice is swamped with Swedes. For them, it must feel like they barely left home.
"Maybe it's better to have the camp in Sweden next time."
Led by first-round pick Jonathan Lekkerimäki, there are five Swedish forwards and five Swedish defencemen at camp, nearly matching the 12 Canadians, whose numbers are bolstered by several invitees. In terms of players actually in the Canucks' system, the Swedes carry the day.
It feels a little bit like the players on the ice should be wearing the blue and yellow Tre Kronor instead of the royal blue and kelly green of the Canucks.
“Maybe it’s better to have the camp in Sweden next time,” joked defenceman Filip Johansson, recently signed as a free agent. “It’s fun, a few guys are good friends from before, but at the same time, you’re trying to get to know all the other guys here too, Canadians or wherever they are from.”
Johansson has a couple of key connections to the other Swedish prospects at camp, particularly winger Lucas Forsell, the Canucks’ seventh-round pick from 2021.
“Filip Johansson is a childhood friend of mine, we come from the same hometown,” said Forsell. “I’ve known him my whole life. We’ve played street hockey together and I’ve been at his home eating breakfast when I’ve slept over.”
“He’s my brother’s best friend,” said Johansson with a slight eyeroll. “He was always the little kid.”
Then Johansson laughed: “It’s fun. We’re from a small town, my dad coached both of us. To be able to go to the same camp, it’s special.”
Johansson also has a connection to centre Nils Åman, who was also signed as a free agent.
“Me and Filip Johansson, we are almost from the same city,” said Åman. “We played when we were younger seven years together. Then I started to know Linus Karlsson in the national team, so I know him well too.”
"We are many Swedes here."
Those aren’t the only Swedish friends at camp. Well, besides Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Sedin, and Henrik Sedin, who are obviously old pals.
“We are many Swedes here, so I know them, especially my friend Jonathan Lekkerimäki,” said Elias Pettersson — the 18-year-old defenceman, to be clear. “We played on the national team together and we met each other at home in Sweden.”
Pettersson was swarmed by the media and, without a solid wall behind his back, slowly migrated about two feet backward during his media scrum. It could have been overwhelming, but he managed it well and even cracked a deadpan joke when asked about the media attention.
“I haven’t been in media so much like here and in Montreal,” he said. “But it’s fun. I think.”
It's tough to intimidate Pettersson at his size, of course.
"He's a big defenceman, so he's tough to play against," said Lekkerimäki.
"It's been nice to have some Swedes to speak Swedish."
For many of the Swedish prospects, having so many familiar faces gives them a comfort level on the ice. That includes Karlsson, who was acquired via trade from the San Jose Sharks for fellow Swede Jonathan Dahlen. This is the first Canucks camp that he’s actually been able to participate in after an injury kept him out of a 2019 camp and COVID-19 kept him away after that.
“It’s much easier to come when there’s many Swedish guys. We have each other and help each other,” said Karlsson.
Some of that helps comes in dealing with the language barrier for some of the players who are still working on their English skills. When it comes to explaining drills, getting a quick translation can keep things running smoothly.
“It’s helpful for me,” said Åman. “I’m not the greatest at English, so it’s good for me to have some Swedish.”
Lekkerimäki, who kept his answers short in his media scrum, agreed: “It’s been nice to have some Swedes to speak Swedish.”
Defenceman Viktor Persson, the Canucks’ 7th-round pick from 2020, can be some help. Persson was the only one of the Swedes who didn’t play in Sweden last season and there was a hint of a Canadian accent picking at the edges of his voice from spending last year with the Kamloops Blazers.
“Living with Canadians, everyone’s talking Canadian,” he said with a grin. “I had one guy that was half-Swedish so I could talk Swedish sometimes, but mostly Canadian.”
"You can't have better teachers than that."
It’s not just teammates, of course — the Swedish prospects have a little bit of help on the ice from some big names in Sweden: Samuelsson and the Sedins.
“Two Hall of Famers and Mikael Samuelsson as well — it couldn’t be better,” said Forsell. “You can’t have better teachers than that.”
“They are icons in Sweden and over the whole world,” said Pettersson. “Having them as a trainer is awesome…you always watch them as a kid and they have been your stars out in the world.”
“It’s so cool to be on the same ice with the Sedins,” said Åman enthusiastically. “To get taught by them — so cool.”
While Johansson was enthusiastic about getting coached by the Sedins, he also pointed out the practical benefits.
“Seeing them when we were young and now getting to work with them, it’s pretty cool,” said Johansson. “But also, they have a lot of experience, like for a Swede coming over here for the first time, what it’s like and how to change your game to this ice.”
"You Canadians love hockey."
The smaller ice was one of the key challenges that Persson highlighted about coming over to North America to play in the WHL last year.
“The size of the rink — less time, you’ve got to make quicker decisions,” said Persson. “You Canadians love hockey and are really passionate about it. Totally different game from what I’m used to, so intense, so fast, but it was a good year.”
Some of the Swedish prospects will be returning to Sweden next season, including Lekkerimäki, while others will be in North America. Åman and Karlsson will be challenging to make the Canucks out of camp and are willing to do what it takes to get there.
“I was in the World Championship with Sweden and there I played on the fourth line and took a lot of faceoffs in the defensive zone,” said Åman. “I want to bring that here too.”
“I want to do as many things as I can,” said Karlsson. “If I’m going to play PK or five minutes every game in the NHL, I’m gonna do that. I play where the coach tells me to play.”
For those returning to Sweden, they'll get some personal attention from Samuelsson, who will be handling the Canucks' player development in Europe.
"He checked in and informed me what his job will be," said Forsell. "When the season starts, we're gonna get into my game more. For now, we've just had small talk."
As for Persson, he's still unsure where he’ll be in the coming year.
“Not decided yet. I’m still waiting it out to see what happens. I’m not too worried about it,” said Persson. “I’m too old for the Blazers now. I don’t want to know too much — my agent is doing that stuff. I just want to focus on getting ready for the season — when there’s a paper to sign, I’ll sign it.”
"There's one Finn here that talks Swedish."
It’s not all Team Sweden at development camp, of course. Finland has a bit of representation as well.
Sweden has a storied rivalry with Finland but the two lone Finns — goaltender Aku Koskenvuo and defenceman Joni Jurmo, are badly outnumbered. Fortunately, there’s no bad blood.
“There’s a lot of Swedes here but we’re getting along with them,” said Aku Koskenvuo. “They speak pretty good English and they’re really nice guys.”
In fact, Jurmo caught some of his fellow Canucks prospects off guard.
“Actually, there’s one Finn here that talks Swedish,” said Åman. “Jurmo — he’s really good at Swedish, so that’s fun.”
“I got surprised!” said Johansson “We were on the bus and he started to talk Swedish to me. Like, ‘Oh, are you not Finnish?’ A few of the Finnish guys know Swedish — I don’t know, maybe they want to be like us. So we have 11 Swedish-speaking guys, plus all the staff.”
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising Jurmo is attempting to look a little more Swedish. It might get him a little bit more attention.
Given the Canucks’ history with Swedish stars, perhaps this new wave of Swedish prospects will provide the foundation for some future success.
Swedish Prospects at Canucks Camp
- Nils Åman
- Arvid Costmar
- Lucas Forsell
- Hugo Gabrielsson
- Filip Johansson
- Linus Karlsson
- Jonathan Lekkerimäki
- Jonathan Myrenberg
- Elias Pettersson
- Viktor Persson