With the conclusion of the 2019-20 season as uncertain as ever, we thought it would be a good time to take a step back and look at some Rangers history. On a team filled with European stars, two of the biggest storylines of the year were centered on Swedish-born players.
There is a chance that we have seen Henrik Lundqvist play his last game with the Rangers. There’s also some who think that Mika Zibanejad may be on the brink of becoming one of the best centers in the game — and maybe even a superstar.
With those two storylines wetting your collective beaks, it’s time to look back at the five greatest Swedish Rangers in franchise history.
Nylander centered the most dynamic Rangers line in recent memory with Jaromir Jagr on one his wings and Martin Straka on the other. The smooth-passing journeyman center joined the Rangers at the age of 33 in the 2005-06 season. That year he received votes for the Lady Byng and the Selke trophy and finished the season with a career-best 83 points (26 goals, 57 assists).
In his two years with the Rangers, Nylander amassed 162 points in 160 games, making him one of the Rangers’ best free agent signings of at least the past two decades. The wood stick-wielding former Hartford Whaler was close to automatic in the shootout and was able to get the puck to Jagr like few players ever have.
Sandstrom was the Rangers’ 36th overall pick in the 1982 Draft. Before he won a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, he scored 380 points in 407 games with the Blueshirts. He is the greatest Swedish-born Rangers goal-scorer (173), edging out Anders Hedberg by a single goal. He was a two-time winner of the now defunct Viking Award (winning his first with the Rangers in 1987), which was awarded to the best Swedish player in the NHL.
Although Sandstrom’s career was stymied by injuries, he piled up 857 points in 983 games — making him the 10th highest-scoring Swedish skater in NHL history. The fearless 6-foot-2 winger won a gold medal at the 1987 IIHF World Championship and a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics. The 88 points that Sandstrom scored with the Rangers in the 1988-89 season are the most by any Swede in franchise history.
The Rangers dealt Sandstrom and Tony Granato to the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 20, 1990 in exchange for Bernie Nicholls. Ten months later, Nicholls was a key piece in the package that the Rangers sent to the Edmonton Oilers to acquire Mark Messier.
Some might think it’s too soon to include young Mika Zibanejad on this list, but consider the fact that the team’s current top center is one of only four Swedish skaters to score 70 or more points twice in a Rangers jersey.
Before the suspension of the 2019-20 season, Zibanejad was well on his way to his first 50-goal season and set a record for the most goals in a single season by a Swedish Ranger (41) in just 57 games. It’s a shame that we might not see Zibanejad have a chance to continue his record-breaking year, because he was beginning to finally get the respect he deserves from media outside of New York.
Zibanejad has scored 233 points in 267 games since the Rangers acquired him from the Ottawa Senators. What a steal.
Hedberg, one of the first European players to play pro hockey in North America, broke into the NHL with the Rangers in 1978-79 after posting four consecutive 100-point seasons in the WHA with the Winnipeg Jets.
The former WHA star played his entire NHL career with the Blueshirts and retired a Ranger in 1985. When Hedberg hung up his skates following a terrifying eye injury, he had 397 points in 465 games and 46 points in 58 games. He is the highest-scoring Swedish-born skater in Rangers history.
The 5-foot-10 winger won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1985 and the Viking Award in 1980. He was inducted into the IIHF Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Swedish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. He spent eight seasons in the Rangers’ front office as the Director of European Scouting and was the team’s assistant general manager for a year after his playing career was over.
Is Lundqvist a Top-5 goalie of all-time? Maybe Top-3? That is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is that “King Henrik” is the greatest goaltender and Swede in Rangers franchise history. Really, it’s not even a competition.
Hank has more than twice as many wins (459) as the second-winningest Swedish goalie in NHL history (Tommy Salo, 210). As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he is sixth all-time in career wins among all NHL goaltenders and is third all-time in save percentage (.918) among all goaltenders who played in at least 700 games. The only two goaltenders ahead of him are Dominik Hasek, who many consider to the best goalie ever, and Roberto Luongo, who many consider to have the best Twitter game in NHL history.
Honorable Mentions: Ulf Nilsson, Jan Erixon, Jesper Fast, Ulf Dahlen