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Looking back at the original Swedish twin; a good player from a forgettable era.
Similar to the fine work nucksandpucks is doing counting down the top seasons in franchise history, over the coming weeks I will be profiling the top 10 Canucks draft picks of all-time. Researching this series has taken me down some dark alleys, such as the Wikipedia page of the team's draft history. Truthfully though, for a franchise often criticized for its performance at the draft, the Canucks have had their share of gems over the past 42 years...they just didn't always hold on to them for very long. Players on this list were selected based on both their impact on the franchise and their contributions to the game of hockey in general, with slightly more emphasis given to the former. Let's get started.
#10: Patrik Sundstrom from Skelleftea, Sweden
Drafted: 1980, round nine, 175th overall
Seasons with the Canucks: 5
Reason for Leaving: Traded by GM Pat Quinn to the New Jersey Devils for Greg Adams and Kirk McLean
People like to joke about the technicality of Daniel Sedin being drafted ahead of his brother Henrik. I'm sure Daniel has used it as leverage to win a few arguments over the years, too. But what may surprise fans who have mainly followed the team through the aughts is that while Daniel was the first Sedin taken, he wasn't the first Swedish twin to be drafted by the Canucks.
Patrik Sundstrom, twin brother to Peter, was a star for the Vancouver Canucks through most of the 1980s. An excellent skater and two-way player, Sundstrom was a pass-first player with a tremendous set of hands, similar to our current Swedish twin centreman. Unfortunately for Patrik, he didn't have the benefit of an elite team or a carbon copy of himself on his wing like Henrik does (Peter played for the Rangers at the time, and wasn't quite as talented as his brother).
Sundstrom was far from a sure bet to even make the NHL when the Canucks drafted him in the ninth round of the 1980 entry draft. He remained in Sweden, playing two seasons in the Swedish Elite League and appearing in two World Junior Championships (where he took home Gold and was named Best Forward in 1981), two World Championships and the 1981 Canada Cup. When he finally did make the transition to the NHL in 1982, it was a smooth one; he scored 23 goals and 46 points in 74 games.
Apparently they've never heard of the sophomore slump in Sweden, because it was in Sundstrom's second season when he really came into his own. Perfectly matched with sniper Tony Tanti, Sundstrom nearly doubled his rookie output, scoring 38 goals and 91 points. 38 goals remained a Canucks club record for goals in a season by a centre until Ryan Kesler scored 41 in 2010-11, and his 91 points was only recently broken by Henrik Sedin in 2009-10.
Also during the 1983-84 season, Sundstrom set a club record for points in a game with 7, lighting up the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 29. For his remarkable season, Sundstrom received the Viking Award as the best Swedish player in the NHL.
That season proved to be a bit of an outlier for Sundstrom, as he regressed to a steady 60-70 point player for the rest of his career. Still, he was arguably Vancouver's most skilled forward for much of the 1980s.
Sundstrom makes this list for the reasons mentioned above, but also because he played a critical role in building one of the most beloved Canucks teams of all-time. Coming off a 71 point season in 1987, Sundstrom was generating some interest from other teams. While GM Pat Quinn liked Sundstrom and wasn't actively shopping him, when the New Jersey Devils offered up two promising young players in BC-native Greg Adams and goaltender Kirk McLean, Quinn considered it too good of a deal to turn down. Adams and McLean would go on to help lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994, creating some of the most memorable moments in franchise history along the way.
It was a deal that ended up benefiting both teams. After putting up 51 points in his first year with the Devils — the lowest total since his rookie season — Sundstrom had a remarkable playoff run, scoring 20 points in 18 games. In Game 3 of the Patrick Division Final against the Washington Capitals, Sundstrom had the game of his life, setting a new NHL record for points in a playoff game with 8. EIGHT! That's 8 more playoff points than Jay Bouwmeester has in his entire life.
The record was tied by Mario Lemieux a year later, but still holds up today.
Sundstrom would play five seasons with the Devils, forming a formidable line with Brendan Shanahan and John McLean. He retired during the 1992 season and returned home to Sweden where he finished his career playing with Bjorkloven IF in the Swedish Elite League.
Patrik Sundstrom was one of the first in what would be a steady line of Swedish stars to suit up for the Canucks (by my count, no other team has received more Viking Awards). He was one of the few brightspots on a club that was horrendously bad for most of the 1980s, and he was a Swedish twin before being a Swedish twin was cool.
I've seen one fan refer to Sundstrom as "a good player from a forgettable era", which is an appropriate summation. Had he be given the opportunity to play on better teams, we could be talking about a Hall of Fame career. Instead, he's mostly remembered as the Swedish centre from those awful 80s teams that was traded for Greg Adams and Kirk McLean. While that's an important part of his legacy as a Canuck, it fails to give Sundstrom the respect he deserves as one of the most talented players the Canucks have ever had.