SEL: Swedish Elite League Preview

SLOWLY BUT SURELY THE SWEDES ARE HEADING HOME

BY JEFF ANGUS

After the KHL, the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien, or SEL) is the most well-known European league to North American hockey fans.

It is the most attended professional hockey league in Europe, and features much more parity than comparable leagues in Russia and the Czech Republic. 12 teams compete each season for the Le Mat Trophy, awarded at the end of the postseason each spring.

The Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg, Loui Eriksson, and Henrik Lundqvist all got their starts in the SEL. There is no shortage of talent leaving the SEL for North America each offseason. This summer was different, though, as the talent was heading the other way due to the NHL lockout.

At the beginning of the NHL lockout, the SEL teams agreed not to sign NHL players to “lockout” contracts (ones with “out clauses” that would allow the player to return to the NHL in the event the lockout were to end). However, that rule/ban was lifted a few weeks ago. Matt Duchene of Colorado has been the first North American player to sign a lockout contract (with Frolunda).

The SEL hasn’t experienced the influx of NHL talent like the KHL has, but that may change in the coming weeks and months. That being said, most of the 12 rosters are full of former NHL players or future NHL stars.

HV71
The 2009-10 champs are coached by former San Jose Shark Ulf Dahlen. Former AHL scoring star Jason Krog is their most recognizable forward. They have lost in the quarterfinals in consecutive years.

Skellefteå AIK
Kings prospects Oscar Moller and Bud Holloway are two of the best players in the league. It is a bit of a puzzle as to why Moller never clicked in the NHL – he was one of the best forwards in the WHL during his time there, and he is a very talented and tough forward. They have developed some impressive young defensemen in recent years, including Tim Erixon, David Rundblad, and Adam Larsson.

Lulea HF
The northernmost club in the league, Lulea is a consistent middle-of-the-pack team in the SEL. They haven’t won the championship since 1996, though. Twin Canadian forwards Cam and Chris Abbott lead the offensive attack.

Brynas
Brynas captured the Le Mat Trophy as league champion last year. Ottawa prospect Jakob Silfverberg won the league MVP trophy last year, but he has left to play hockey in North America. Brynas has another young phenom on the roster – Detroit prospect (yes, another talented Swede for the Red Wings) Calle Jarnkrok.

MoDo
The hometown club of the Sedin twins, Peter Forsberg, and Markus Naslund (now the general manager), MoDo has signed Alexander Steen for the duration of the lockout. Sammy Pahlsson also signed to play with MoDo for the entire season before injuring his Achilles training this summer. Former NHL winger Ladislav Nagy is on MoDo, as well. The club has been through tough times recently, hoping to turn things around under Naslund’s leadership.

Farjestad
Farjestad has two league titles in the past four years (and four since the year 2000), and their roster is deep and talented. There aren’t many recognizable faces for North American hockey fans, but they are one of the best in the SEL.

Linkoping
Forward Carl Soderberg is one of the SEL’s finest players. He would undoubtedly be playing in the NHL right now if he had decided to come over. The 27-year-old center was drafted in the second round back in 2004 by the St. Louis Blues, but he has never left Sweden.

Frolunda
Matt Duchene has signed a contract with Frolunda for the duration of the lockout. He joins former NHL prospect Fabian Brunnstrom, who never lived up to the immense hype in either Dallas or Detroit.

Timra
Timra has been saved by relegation in consecutive years. They have no notable players on the roster right now, but some pretty good players have passed through the Timra system in previous years, including Henrik Zetterberg and Magnus Paajarvi. They are one of the weaker SEL clubs this season with only one regulation win through nine games.

Rogle
NHL veteran Martin Gerber is one of Rogle’s goaltenders. Former Ottawa Senator defenseman Tom Preissing is a member of the defensive group as well. Rogle played in the Allsvenskan last year (the second tier Swedish hockey league) before earning a promotion up to the Elitserien. They are currently holding down 10th place in the league with only three wins in 10 games.

AIK
Canucks 2011 1st round pick Nicklas Jensen is AIK’s most recognizable player. Jensen left the OHL for the SEL in order to face a higher level of competition. AIK isn’t a very good team, but Jensen wanted to go somewhere where he would play a lot in all situations. After a promotion in 2009-10, they have lost in the semi finals in consecutive years. Don’t expect them to make the playoffs this season, however.

Vaxjo
Vaxjo has played the past season and a bit in the Elitserien after a promotion up from the Allsvenskan. They missed the playoffs last season, and have only one regulation win through the first 10 games of this season.

Several other NHL players – including Anze Kopitar, Mikael Backlund, and Gabriel Landeskog – have signed lockout contracts with the league just below the SEL – the Allsvenskan.