March 03, 2015

Swedish Grit: Samuel Pahlsson

In the spring of 2007 Samuel "Samme" Pahlsson was the toast of the National Hockey League. That's pretty amazing considering much of his career up to that point was spent in relative anonymity.

Born in Ange, Sweden, Pahlsson, the son of teachers Olle and Inger, played his junior hockey with Modo where he was overshadowed by teammates Henrik and Daniel Sedin. While the twin brothers were tagged for NHL stardom from an early age, Pahlsson had to work hard for a chance. The Colorado Avalanche drafted him 176th overall in the 1996 NHL draft.

Yet nobody really knew this Pahlsson kid was. They certainly never would have guessed he would one day be packaged in a trade for Raymond Bourque. And no one ever expected him to blossom into a NHL star in a Stanley Cup playoff run that ended with him getting consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Not to mention he would be runner up for the Selke Trophy as the league's defensive forward.

Before Pahlsson left Modo the Avalanche traded the unheard of Swede, along with Brian Rolston, to Boston in the deal that saw Ray Bourque join the Avalanche and cap his career with a Stanley Cup.

The following season Pahlsson came to North America but the Bruins only used him for 17 games before sending him to Anaheim in a deal for Andrei Nazarov and Patrick Traverse. Pahlsson finished the season with 59 more games with the Mighty Ducks, but remained an unknown entity. He scored just four goals in his first NHL season but was quietly hinting at becoming a good shutdown center.

Pahlsson spent the 2000-2001 season in Anaheim but continued to underwhelm. He had six goals and 20 points -- nothing spectacular. The following season he was initially cut by the Ducks new coach Mike Babcock, and demoted to the minor leagues.

Pahlsson was not happy with this turn events. He actually packed his bags and flew home to Sweden. He felt he was good enough to play in the NHL.

"It wasn't the best time of my life," he said.

Little did he know good times were not that far away. But he needed the time at home to reflect on his situation.

Pahlsson returned and reported to the AHL. Soon enough he was recalled to Anaheim. He
He had four goals and 11 assists in 34 regular-season games. He then quietly helped the Ducks surprise with a trip to Stanley Cup final, where they eventually bowed to the New Jersey Devils.

Pahlsson was setting his status as one of the league's better checking centermen that spring. He not only accepted his role, but he relished in it.

"I would love to score 50 goals every season but I can't do that," he said. "I have a role out there and I try to do my best at that."

The Ducks returned to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. Pahlsson flourished under coach Randy Carlyle. Still an unknown player in many parts of the league, Pahlsson held a coming out party of sorts that spring. Playing on a hard checking line with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen and played an instrumental role in helping the Ducks win their first Stanley Cup championship.

Though voting results are never revealed, Pahlsson was said to have landed strong consideration as the Conn Smythe trophy winner as playoff MVP. He played more average minutes than any other Ducks forward except Ryan Getzlaf. He also finished with a team high +10 rating. He only scored 3 goals that spring, as he was too busy preventing goals instead, but he did score the Western Conference championship clinching goal against Detroit as well as the game winning goal in game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.

When all was said and done the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators to win their first Stanley Cup championship.

To cap off that magical 2007 season Pahlsson was runner-up to Rod Brind'Amour in balloting for the Frank Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward. It should be noted Pahlsson actually had more first place votes than Brind'Amour but still finished second in overall voting.

Incredibly strong on his feet with a surprising first step of acceleration, Pahlsson was far from a flashy player. But he was well respected a tenacious worker and an intelligent defensive player.

Mind you, Pahlsson said the secret to his success was pretty simple.

"You try to scout every player to get a sense of what they like to do," he said. "I always want to be in their face. You want to get some hits in to stir things up. You don't want them to have a good time out there."

"Samme's a Swede, but he thinks he's from Red Deer," said the always quotable Ducks general manager Brian Burke. "He's gritty and tough as nails to play against. A definite impact player."

That 2007 playoff did toll a high price for Pahlsson. He played through a sports hernia that never healed on it's own in the summer. He required surgery early in the next season, causing him to miss a lot of time. Try as he might, he never returned to the same celebrated status in the NHL again.

With his contract set to expire the Ducks traded Pahlsson to Chicago for James Wisniewski in 2009. He helped Chicago reach the Western Conference finals as a playoff rental that spring, but then was off to return to relative anonymity in Columbus for three years. After a brief appearance with Vancouver he quietly returned to Sweden in 2012 to continue playing overseas.

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