Monday

Pelle Eklund

In the 1980s Per-Erik Eklund, better known as Pelle Eklund, was a fantastic talent out of Stockholm. Blessed with skating, puckhandling and passing skills that, dare I say, at times rivaled everyone except maybe Wayne Gretzky.

Despite this, the Philadelphia Flyers and specifically head coach Mike Keenan were slow to exploit his talents.

Eklund was drafted by the Flyers 161st overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, surprisingly late for a player of his talents. Even more surprising, Eklund was passed over entirely in the 1981 and 1982 drafts.

1983-84 turned into one of the greatest seasons any Swedish player ever experienced. His unforgettable season included an Olympic bronze medal, a Canada Cup second place finish, a Swedish Elite League championship, a Swedish Golden Puck award as player of the year, and the nod as the Athlete of the Year in all of Sweden. He was already a legend in Sweden, particularly amongst the loyalists of AIK Solna.

Eklund broke into the NHL in 1985-86. His impact was enormous, becoming a power-play quarterback specialist from the half boards. Using incredible vision, uncanny anticipation and the softest of hands, Eklund powered the Flyers special team. His favorite target was Tim Kerr, a giant of a man who stood in the slot, impossible to budge. Kerr scored a NHL record 34 PP goals that season. Ilkka Sinisalo was another favorite target of Eklund's generosity. He scored 19 PP goals.

Eklund himself chipped in with 8, more than half of his 15 goals for the season. But his true value could be found in his team leading and league-wide rookie leading 51 assists, most of which came on the power play.

Most of Eklund's points came on the power play because of coach Keenan's unexplained reluctance to use him in any other situation. He was almost strictly a power play specialist early on in his career, sitting on the bench much of the rest of the time, or toiling on a rarely used 4th line.

Keenan was a tyrant of a coach who loved big, physical two-way players. Eklund was tiny at 5'10" and just 170lbs. He was never to be confused with a physical player, almost always operating from the perimeter. He also insisted Eklund had to shoot more. Though he was a good shooter with a career 13% shooting average, he remained a pass-first player all of his career, a common trait of Europeans of that era.

Though he never fit the Flyers stereotype, even Keenan could not deny Eklund's natural talents. Perhaps the most talented of all Flyers players (quite a claim considering the likes of Brian Propp and Mark Howe were around), Eklund was an elegant skater and was a surprisingly good defensive center and would become a good penalty killer. But playmaking was his forte.

Keenan was eventually won over when it came to giving Eklund a full opportunity to shine. That was best illustrated in the 1987 playoffs when the Flyers made it all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose a heartbreaker to Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers. Eklund scored 7 goals and 20 assists for 27 points that spring. Only Brian Propp, with 28, scored more points for the Flyers. And only Gretzky scored more assists. Eklund was especially dominant in the Wales Conference finals against Montreal.

Having finally won over Iron Mike Keenan, the sky seemed to be the limit for Pelle Eklund. But he would never get over the 70 point barrier that he should have passed by March 1st. Part of this was due to the Flyers surprisingly quick decline into one of the weaker teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was also bothered by a series of injuries, namely to his knees. He would play through the injuries, rarely missing a game, but rarely would he play at 100%. He also had to deal with personal hardships, as his wife divorced him and took their son back to Sweden.

Good times returned for Eklund as he helped the Swedes capture gold at the 1991 World Championships. But Eklund's productive days in the NHL were over. He was dispatched off to the Dallas Stars at the trading deadline in 1993-94, but after an unsuccessful run in the playoffs, Eklund opted to return to Sweden.

Eklund continued to play with Leksands IF until the end of the decade. Eklund returned to near-hero status in Sweden, despite his unpopular decision to play for Leksands, where his new wife lived, over AIK. Leksands had to pay $1M Swedish dollars to acquire his rights, but it was well worth it as Eklund won the Swedish Elite League MVP award. Eklund's legion of AIK fans even serenaded him with their own song.

He also remained a regular with Tre Kroner, the Swedish national team. In total he played in 126 international matches including 6 world championships and an Olympics.

In his 9 year NHL career, Pelle Eklund scored 120 goals, 335 assists for 455 points in 594 games.

2 comments:

Dave from Ohio 8:21 PM  

I've come across his blog a few times through the years while on a search for an entertaining Blackhawks blog. I've never really found his stuff all that interesting though to be honest but he seems make people talk, which I guess could be viewed as a succesfull blog. Thanks for bringing a little bit of light as to who he is.

Jayzin 11:40 PM  

The rumor blogger is not actually Pelle Eklund but Dwayne Kessel. He uses the Eklund name because he didn't want people to know who he really was.

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