Skelleftea IK is a Swedish league team playing in a small city of around 32,000 people — in a rink that holds just 6,000 — yet its impact on the NHL this year has been fairly large.
After winning its second consecutive SHL championship last season, Skelleftea became a virtual IKEA for general managers both in North America and abroad. Three of its key players were signed by NHL clubs — Melker Karlsson with San Jose, Joakim Lindstrom with St. Louis, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with Philly — while Nashville brought over d-man Johan Alm to play with AHL Milwaukee (and also selected his Skelleftea teammate, Viktor Arvidsson, at the ’14 Entry Draft).
Currently, it’s Karlsson stealing the headlines. He’s scored five goals in his last five games — tying a Sharks record for a rookie (with Jeff Friesen) — and now has 10 points through his first 14 games in the NHL.
“He’s a little bit older, and I think you can see his maturity level may be beyond some of the others we’ve called up in the past,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, per the Mercury News. “Sometimes it takes young players awhile to understand that they really do belong here, to give themselves permission.
“Not with Melker. He just goes and plays. His panic point is very low. His self-confidence in his own belief system is very high.”
Bellemare’s poise and hockey sense have won him similar accolades in Philly. He’s appeared in 42 of 43 games this season, scoring four goals and seven points, while emerging as a good penalty killer and one of the team’s most dogged competitors.
“He’s a hard worker,” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said, per The Sporting News. “He’s a hard-working guy.”
Lindstrom, who’s in his second NHL go-round — he spent time in Columbus, Phoenix and Colorado prior to his three-year excursion to Sweden — has experienced ups and downs in St. Louis. He has three goals and six points in 28 games, but has been parked recently as a healthy scratch. That said, bench boss Ken Hitchcock said the club is cognizant of Lindstrom’s abilities, adding the 31-year-old Swede should draw back in soon.
“[Lindstrom] seems to have really risen his level,” he explained. “I think we have a new appreciation having worked with him how smart he is defensively. I think he’s going to take advantage of the next situation because he’s got his wind back again.”
It’s worth noting that NHL clubs weren’t the only ones raiding the Skelleftea cupboard last summer. Jimmie Ericsson — brother of Red Wings d-man Jonathan — signed with KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg while another forward, former Kings draftee Bud Holloway, was nabbed by Swiss league outfit SC Bern.