According to statistics obtained from EliteProspects.com, 76 former NHL players will play in the Sweden Hockey League (SHL) this year. Although most of these skaters are not well known, 18 played at least 100 games in the NHL, and several others were first-round draft picks.
Of course, when someone doesn’t land a contract in North America, many other professional leagues across the globe have opportunities. Ultimately, one of the premier destinations is the SHL, which is about to start its 48th season of operations. Although most skaters in the league are from Sweden, many international players also play.
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Considering the number of former NHL players skating in professional leagues worldwide, we looked at some of the more veteran players who are dressing in the SHL in 2023-24.
10. Oscar Fantenberg (Linköping HC)
NHL statistics: 124 GP 5 G – 14 A – 19 PTS
Oscar Fantenberg was an undrafted defenseman who debuted in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017-18. After just 73 games, the team traded him to the Calgary Flames, where he played 15 games before signing as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks.
Eventually, Fantenberg left North America after the 2019-20 season to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with SKA St. Petersburg. Although his time in Russia was short (two years), he returned to the SHL, suiting up with Linköping HC, assuming the role of captain for the upcoming season. Interestingly, Linköping HC is his third SHL team, having previously played with HV71 and Frölunda HC from 2012 to 2016.
9. Joakim Ryan (Malmö Redhawks)
NHL statistics: 145 GP 4 G – 20 A – 24 PTS
The San Jose Sharks drafted Joakim Ryan with the 198th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After five seasons, he made his debut and played two seasons with the Sharks before leaving to play with the Kings and Carolina Hurricanes.
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Although Ryan spent most of his North American career bouncing between the NHL and the American Hockey League (AHL), he left the continent to join the Malmö Redhawks in the SHL for the 2021-22 season. Thus far, the New Jersey native, with Swedish lineage, has 46 points in 104 SHL games.
8. Jhonas Enroth (Örebro HK)
NHL statistics: 153 GP 50-69-16 2.84 GAA .909 SV%
Jhonas Enroth was a second-round pick (46th overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Eventually, he would debut with the club in 2009-10, playing six years in upstate New York before moving on to the Dallas Stars, Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Although his NHL career was brief, just 153 games, Enroth left North America to play with Dinamo Minsk in the KHL while spending some time (three games) in the ICE Hockey League (International Central European Hockey League.
During the 2018-19 season, he debuted with Örebro HK in his native Sweden, playing ten games before assuming the starting role in 2020-21. Since returning to the SHL, he’s played in 121 games with a 72-48-0 record, winning the Honken Trophy as Swedish Goal of the Year in his first season with the club.
7. Brandon Davidson (Rögle BK)
NHL statistics: 180 GP 9 G – 14 A – 23 PTS
Brandon Davidson is an Alberta native whom the Edmonton Oilers drafted in the sixth round (162nd overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. As a professional hockey player in the Western Hockey League (WHL), AHL, East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), and NHL since 2009, he’s played at all levels in North America, last dressing in the AHL with the Rochester Americans and Cleveland Monsters in 2022-23.
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However, Davidson hasn’t played in the NHL since 2020-21 with the Sabres, eventually opting to pursue opportunities in Sweden, playing seven games with Färjestad BK in 2022-23. Now, he’ll play with Rögle BK when the new season starts.
6. Anton Lander (Timrå IK)
NHL statistics: 215 GP 10 G – 25 A – 35 PTS
Anton Lander played his entire NHL career with the Oilers, suiting up for 215 games with the club that drafted him as the 40th overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. Eventually, he left North America after the 2016-17 season to play in the KHL, suiting up for two teams and winning the league’s championship in 2017-18.
After four years in the KHL, Lander played with EV Zug in the Switzerland National League (NL), winning the title in his only season there. Finally, after 11 years away from home, he returned to Timrå IK in 2022-23, assuming the captaincy of the team he played with at the junior and senior levels before leaving in 2011.
5. Christian Folin (Frölunda HC)
NHL statistics: 244 GP 8 G – 36 A – 44 PTS
Christian Folin was an undrafted defenseman who debuted in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild after a successful college career, which included back-to-back Hockey East Championships. After bouncing between the NHL and AHL for several seasons, he left the Wild to play with the Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens.
Eventually, Folin left the NHL after the 2019-20 season, returning home to play with the Växjö Lakers HC in the SHL. Although his time there was short, 17 games, he joined Frölunda HC in 2021-22 and has been with the club since, serving as an alternate captain. So far, he has 26 points in 101 SHL games.
4. Oscar Lindberg (Skellefteå AIK)
NHL statistics: 252 GP 39 G – 40 A – 79 PTS
Oscar Lindberg came to the NHL as a second-round pick (57th overall) in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes. Interestingly, he never suited up for the team, getting traded to the New York Rangers, where he played for three seasons. After brief stints with the Vegas Golden Knights and Ottawa Senators, he left the NHL after 2018-19 to play in NL.
Eventually, Lindberg made his way to the KHL (Dynamo Moskva) and back to the NL (SC Bern) before returning home to skate with Skellefteå AIK this year. Before debuting in the NHL, he played within the Skellefteå junior teams, earning a promotion to the senior club, winning the Le Mat Trophy in 2012-23 and the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy as playoff MVP. Thus far, he has 68 points in 178 SHL games.
3. Magnus Pääjärvi (Timrå IK)
NHL statistics: 467 GP 62 G – 62 A – 124 PTS
Magnus Pääjärvi was a 10th overall pick of the Oilers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, who should been a vital member of the youth movement in the Alberta capital at the time. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in Edmonton, and they dealt him to the St. Louis Blues in 2013 before he finished his NHL days with the Senators in 2018-19.
Despite an impressive junior career, Pääjärvi has only won a gold (2018) and silver (2011) medal at the World Championships since making his NHL debut in 2010. After leaving the Senators, he played in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and the Dynamo Moskva before returning to the SHL in 2021-22. Since coming home, he’s skated with the Malmö Redhawks for a season before re-signing with Timrå IK, the same team he was a member of from 2008 to 2010.
2. Tobias Rieder (Växjö Lakers HC)
NHL statistics: 478 GP 64 G – 81 A – 145 PTS
Tobias Rieder last played in the NHL with the Sabres in 2020-21. Since then, the native of Landshut, Germany, has been skating in the SHL with the Växjö Lakers. Thus far, the 30-year-old has had 43 points in 76 games, including winning the Le Mat Trophy in 2022-23.
As a fourth-round pick (114th overall) of the Oilers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he eventually suited up for the team after stints with the Coyotes and Kings. However, after just 67 games in 2018-19, he left Edmonton to play with the Flames and Sabres.
1. Anton Strålman (Leksands IF)
NHL statistics: 938 GP 63 G – 230 A – 293 PTS
Anton Strålman is the latest Swedish-born (Tibro, SE) player to leave the NHL and return home to skate in the SHL. After 16 seasons in North America with seven different clubs, he most recently played with the Boston Bruins in 2022-23, suiting up for eight games.
Statistically, the 37-year-old leaves the NHL just 63 games shy of 1,000 and seven points short of 300. As a seventh-round pick (216th overall) of the Maple Leafs in 2005, Strålman returns to the SHL for the first time since the 2006-07 season, when he played with Timrå IK, where he had 26 points in 98 games.
Many Elite Players Call the SHL Home
As mentioned, there are many options for those pursuing professional hockey outside North America. Although 73% of players in the SHL are Swedish-born, eight different countries make up the other 27%. Even though every hockey player dreams of winning the Stanley Cup, the majority never get a chance. Ultimately, skating in the NHL is a privilege and the goal of many who seek professional hockey as an occupation. Luckily, the players on this list spent time in the world’s best league and will continue pursuing opportunities at the highest level in the SHL this season.