This week's Top 5 is a quick look at why many consider Denmark to be a blossoming hockey nation. For a sport to take hold in any country or area of a country (like California or Texas), the residents have to have examples, successful people to take inspiration from. In Denmark, kids grow up playing soccer first and foremost but with the ongoing success of young hockey players like these... perhaps that country will start being included in the second tier of hockey powers alongside Swtizerland and Germany.
#5 - Morten Madsen
Madsen was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 4th round of the 2005 draft but the first time I'd heard of him was the season prior. I had been talking to a NHL scout about Peter Regin, another Dane who could have made this top 5 list. Regin was drafted by Ottawa in the 3rd round of 2004 and is now playing in the AHL for their farm team. Anyway, in that discussion about Regin the NHL executive told me that "next year's Dane is going to be the one to watch" and of course he was talking about Madsen.
Madsen moved to the QMJHL and scored 100 points as a 20-year-old with Victoriaville (pictured). Hopes were high for the forward and certainly his willingness to play junior in Canada was seen as a big positive by NHL watchers. However, Madsen struggled last year in the AHL under Kevin Constantine - no surprise there as the former NHL and WHL head coach is renowned for his defense-first slant. Madsen only managed 20 points but is still considered a potential NHL level talent although he might need a different organization to breakout offensively.
#4 - Frans Nielsen
The New York Islanders used a 3rd round pick on Nielsen back in 2002 and he's been a part of their minor league team in Bridgeport since the 2006-07 season. Nielsen has the distinction of being the first Dannish Citizen to play in the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers had a Dane named Poul Popiel play for them way back when but he had apparently become an American citizen by then.
Thus far in his career he hasn't been overly impressive from an offensive standpoint but he's got flash and teases with the potential of being able to deliver more than he has. Currently he's playing with the Islanders.
#3 - Jannik Hansen
Like Peter Regin, Jannik Hansen was also a 2004 draft pick but much later than his fellow countryman. The Vancouver Canucks took a 9th round flyer on the Dane but haven't second guessed that choice since then. Hansen played for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL and had 64 points in as many games. Thenext season it was off to Manitoba where he contiued to play well until the playoffs - because he was recalled to the NHL.
The Canucks were in injury trouble and recalled Hansen to help them out and he didn't disappoint. Although he wasn't an offensive weapon by any stretch of the imagination, he was very successful as a checking forward. It appeared certain that he'd stick with the team to start the following year however a training camp injury kept him from making the team and limited him to just 5 regular season games.
Hansen is currently in the NHL though with the Canucks and playing a key role with Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows.
#2 - Lars Eller
Casual hockey fans don;t know the name as of yet but certainly those who follow prospects and/or the St. Louis Blues will know who Lars Eller is. The Blues took him 13th overall in the 2007 NHL Draft making him the highest drafted Dane ever (didn't last long) and instantly drew comparisons to Anze Kopitar of Slovenia as potential impact player from an traditionally non-hockey country.
Eller is still playing in Sweden for Frölunda but is considered a NHL-caliber blue chip prospect for St. Louis. A contact I have in Sweden tells me that he'd guess Eller would be a 2-way forward in the NHL, more of a playmaker than a scorer but certainly one that can play an offensive role. When he'll come over is probably the bigger question right now.
#1 - Mikkel Bødker
Will he be the Wayne Gretzky of Denmark? Probably not but if Frans Nielsen is getting the rock star treatment back home for his thus far unremarkable NHL success, you can only imagine what awaits Mikkel Bødker (Boedker over here).
Phoenix drafted the speedster 8th overall this past June and confirming what then-Kitchener Rangers head coach Pete DeBoer told us on the show last May, Boedker made a quick transition to the NHL. He's already playing a second line role for the Desert Dogs and has contributed his first NHL goal in the process.
He was a standout in his brief OHL career potting 73 points in 62 regular season games for the Rangers but he tnook his game to another stratosphere in the playoffs. Boedker had 35 points in just 20 games for Kitchener in their trip to the Memorial Cup where, as hosts, they eventually lost a hard fought game to the Spokane Chiefs.
We started calling Boedker The Great Dane last year and so far I haven't come up with a better moniker to slap on him. He's terrific and with Kyle Turris, Kevin Porter, Peter Mueller, Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal and Viktor Tikhonov around him, the Coyotes might finally make a dent in their desert market.
There were a few others I wanted to mention other than Peter Regin. Goalie Sebastien Dahm didn't get drafted but played for 4 different OHL clubs in his 3-year CHL career... getting acquired by playoff bound teams twice so obviously he was of value. He's now playing in the AHL for the Syracuse Crunch, minor league affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Philip Larsen is a Dallas Stars prospect who they drafted in the 5th round of 2008. He's still playing in Sweden but was one of their better players at the 2008 WJC in Prague.
Finally, both Kirill Starkov and Slava Trukhno are Russian by birth but were raised in Denmark. Starkov was drafted by Columbus in 2005 (6th round) and Trukhno by Edmonton in the 4th round the same year. Both are currently in the AHL for their respective organizations. I know for sure that while Trukhno is proud of his Russian heritage, he prefers to spend his off-seasons back in his adopted home of Denmark.