Red Wings rolling behind Zetterberg

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The current edition of the Detroit Red Wings is known for its stable of grizzled veterans, but the team's best player is just beginning to come into his own.

Meet Henrik Zetterberg, a 27-year-old Swede who is tearing up the scoresheet this season and has been the biggest part of Detroit's stellar start to the 2007-08 season.

Through his team's first 14 games of the season, Zetterberg has been downright prolific, leading the league in both goals (12) and points (24). Zetterberg has recorded at least a point in every game this season to tie a Red Wings record for longest point streak to begin a campaign, along with Norm Ulman, who achieved the same feat in the 1960-61 season.

For his efforts, Zetterberg was named the NHL's No. 1 star for the month of October. His team has also drawn the spotlight for its play, as the Red Wings have begun the season with an 11-2-1 record and lead the Western Conference and NHL with 23 points.

Henrik Zetterberg
Henrik Zetterberg is tearing up the scoresheet this season.
Zetterberg's lightning-quick start to the season has some hockey pundits proclaiming that "Zata" (the letter Z in Swedish) is now the best player in the National Hockey League. While that may be a slight exaggeration, there is no doubt that Zetterberg is quickly becoming one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive weapons.

The rate at which Zetterberg's points are coming this season is astounding, but it's not like the forward was an unknown entity heading into the campaign.

Zetterberg's best season in the NHL came in the first year after the lockout, when he notched 85 points (39 goals, 46 assists) while playing in 77 games. However, last year was a bit of a disappointment, as he notched 68 points (33g, 35a) and missed a big chunk of the season due to back spasms. Yet, Zetterberg was still given the Viking Award, as the top Swede playing in North America.

If there is any knock on Zetterberg, it is that he is not big enough to endure the physical side of hockey on a game-to-game basis. At 5-11, 176 pounds, he relies more on his playmaking ability and unbelievable hockey sense to dominate the game.

Zetterberg's lack of size is likely one of the reasons the Red Wings were able to steal the native of Njurunda, Sweden in the seventh round of the 1999 draft.

After Detroit picked Zetterberg, it became increasingly obvious what kind of talent the franchise had on its hands. He played two years in the Swedish Elite League and was named the Rookie of the Year in 2000-01, and the league's Most Valuable Player for the 2001-02 campaign.

In 2002-03 Zetterberg headed to the NHL and had very little difficulty adapting to the North American game. Zetterberg's rookie year in the NHL was an unqualified success, as he became one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy by notching 22 goals and 22 assists in 79 games. He ultimately lost out on the Calder to St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman, but Zetterberg was named Sporting News Rookie of the Year, an award voted on by NHL players.

Still, for some reason, Zetterberg had been able to fly under the radar outside of Detroit up until this year's early-season scoring barrage. Perhaps the presence of NHL legends like Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios in Hockeytown have allowed the young Swede to avoid the hype associated with the Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins of the NHL world.

Speaking of Crosby and Ovechkin, it is difficult to compare Zetterberg with those players at the moment considering that the overall situation in Detroit is much healthier. Crosby and Ovechkin are called upon to do just about everything for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, respectively, while Zetterberg plays on one of the most-balanced teams in the NHL.

The strength of Detroit is the team's amazing defensive corps which features Lidstrom, who is Zetterberg's countryman and teammate on Sweden's Gold Medal- winning team at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

However, Zetterberg has led the team in the early stages of this season and could redefine the Red Wings in his own image. With the talented Swede at the helm, Detroit would no longer be a team of aging veterans who fail to inspire confidence at playoff time, but instead, a dangerous mix of experience and offensive potency.

Zetterberg is on his way to a breakout season for one of the league's most marketable franchises. He has a chance to be the next great Swedish player now that Peter Forsberg's foot problems have left his playing status in limbo.

Fans in Detroit have known for the past few years the kind of talent Zetterberg has at his disposal, and the time has now come for hockey fans everywhere to appreciate "Zata".

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Dan Di Sciullo
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