They're everywhere in the NHL these days. Simply watch the morning highlights or scan the boxscores and you'll see their names.
In Anaheim on Wednesday, you may have seen Ducks rookie defenceman Hampus Lindholm catch teammate Matt Beleskey in full flight with a brilliant behind-the-back pass for the game's opening goal.
At the same end of the rink in the third period, it was Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson's turn. He quarterbacked the Senators power play and started a scoring play that resulted in Milan Michalek's game-tying goal midway through the third period.
Karlsson also happens to lead all blue-liners with seven goals and 22 points through the first seven weeks of the season.
What do Karlsson, Brodin and Lindholm have in common? They're part of a wave of young Swedish defencemen who have been influenced by the great Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom has not played a game in the NHL since the Nashville Predators eliminated his Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs on Apr. 20. But the seven-time Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champ has left quite a legacy with a bevy of 23-and-younger Swedish blue-liners currently flourishing in the NHL.
The 23-year-old Karlsson won the 2011-12 Norris Trophy and will be in the mix for the defenceman-of-the-year award again this year. So will Phoenix Coyotes blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 22, who already will hit the 200-game career milestone on Thursday.
Many felt Brodin, 20, should have won the Calder Trophy a year ago. Lindholm, 19, has himself in the early rookie-of-the-year picture.
There are others making their mark, like the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman, 22; Adam Larsson, 21, of the New Jersey Devils; 22-year-old Alexander Urbom of the Washington Capitals; and the Predators' 23-year-old Mattias Ekholm.
"Nick obviously was a superstar and anytime you have a superstar, a guy who wins Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and all the Norris Trophies, young players take notice," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "Without a doubt, Nick has had an impact."
Lidstrom has made the sort of impression on future Swedish defencemen that Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin did for the next wave of standout forwards like Henrik and Daniel Sedin as well as Henrik Zetterberg.
"He's the best defenceman from Sweden," Brodin said. "I looked up to him when I was younger. A lot of d-men in Sweden did. Even here [in North America], I think."
Brodin remarked that, for his generation, the four most famous Swedish hockey players were Sundin, Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Lidstrom.
Wanna be like Nick
What parts of Lidstrom's game does Brodin and others particularly like to study? Well, take your pick. There were many idyllic components to his play.
"His skating and how he always seemed to make the right play at the right time," Brodin said. "I also like his good stick."
A good stick in hockey refers not to the make or model, but rather to the way Lidstrom had an uncanny ability to come away with the puck in a battle along the boards or in the corner. He also had excellent eye-hand coordination to knock down chip-ins and chip-outs from opponents.
His shot would usually find its way to the net. He also was known for his passing skill and leadership.
"I like the way he wasn't flashy. He just did his job so well," Ekholm said. "He was so consistent. He didn't make mistakes. He was a winner.
"I've never met him, and because he was over here I didn't get the chance to see him play [live]. But when the Olympics were on I would watch him on television. We all wanted to be like him."
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