After being passed over in the 1980 NHL Draft, the New York Rangers selected Jan Erixon 30th overall in the 1980 NHL Draft. Erixon's strong play at the 1981 World Juniors where Sweden won their first championship title.
Back in those days Swedish players were not immediately available to come to North America as they had to complete mandatory military service. Erixon continued to play hockey at the highest level while doing so. He represented Sweden at the 1981 Canada Cup, despite his young age, and at the 1982 and 1983 World Championship.
Erixon was immediately recognized for his strong defensive play. He would only score five goals that first season, but added 25 assists for a career high 30 points.
Erixon would never become an offensive threat. He played with the Rangers through 1993, only scoring 57 goals in 556 career games. The most he scored in a single season was just 8. Remember, this was the 1980s when third liners were 25 goal scorers.
But Erixon remained a valuable player. In 1988 he was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league. Nicknamed "The Shadow," he was an excellent penalty killer and had evolved into a very versatile forward, able to play either wing or center. Bottom line - any team's top offensive players playing against the New York Rangers would have to face Jan Erixon, their top shutdown player.
There was no secret to Erixon's success. His work ethic was respected by teammates and opponents alike. Though he was far from a bone-cruncher, he was a very physical player, always outworking opponents to turnover the puck. Once he got the puck he was more than capable of making strong plays. He just rarely scored goals. He was almost too unselfish.
Skating was the key to his game. Blessed with great balance on his skates he was hard to win battles against. He tirelessly pursued the puck with good speed, and uncannily understood when to zip into a an opponent so that his momentum made up for his lack of size.
Erixon was also extraordinary at reading the play from the defensive side and he was always aware of his positioning. His intelligent approach to the game was truly beautiful for the very well trained eye. And his value to the team was far more important than most ever gave him credit for.
Back and neck injuries started slowing down Erixon as the 1990s began. After 1993 he returned home to Sweden to play one more season and be close to his family.
In retirement Jan Erixon became very active coaching his son, Tim, as a youth. Tim Erixon, a defenseman, would make it to the National Hockey League, too.