More than a few hockey fans mistook Johan Garpenlov as a Russian born player. After all, the Swedish winger arrived in the NHL in the early 1990s around the same time as so many Soviet trained athletes. And seemingly all of them had names ending in "ov."
“For me, I had so much fun there,” said Garpenlov. “My first year was tough and the second year was better. Then after that we took a step up and went from a bottom team to the playoffs.
"For me, it was a great move from Detroit and I got to play a lot in San Jose. I have to thank San Jose a lot for my years.”
In 1994 San Jose upset the Red Wings in the playoffs, and nearly did the same to Toronto. Garpenlov famously hit the post in overtime in game six, otherwise they just might have.
“Unfortunately we got beat by Toronto, but we should have won that series,” said Garpenlov. “We were better. Some years you click and go further than anyone thinks you are going to go.”
Garpenlov was able to experience that again in 1996. Now in Florida, Garpenlov helped the third year Panthers surprise the NHL on their amazing run to the Stanley Cup final. He had a career best 23 goals that season, but injuries would sideline him for much of the next three years with the Panthers.
Garpenlov was a strong skater despite repeated knee injuries. He had good speed and excellent balance which allowed him carry the puck through checks, making him seem bigger than he actually was. He had a great wrist shot, especially when coming off the wing with speed, but he was a playmaker at heart. His speed allowed him to be an effective forechecker, looking for turnovers more so than hits.
Garpenlov would play in Atlanta for one final season before he returned to Sweden at the turn of the century. He has worked as a coach, manager and broadcaster in Sweden.