This week on The Canuck Way’s “Where are they now?” series, we focus on former Vancouver Canucks captain and club legend Markus Naslund.
Markus Naslund played 16 NHL seasons, half of which were with the Vancouver Canucks. During his time on the West coast, he became an idol among fans, and played a crucial role in the once-dominant line of Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison and himself. That line led the Canucks for nearly five seasons, and earned the name the “West coast express” for their hard-hitting, determined style of play.
Naslund began his career in Sweden, playing for MODO hockey club as a junior before beginning his professional career with their SHL team. Interestingly, he is not the only Canucks legend to suit up for MODO, as only a few years later, the Sedins would grace the ice for the Swedish club.
From the town of Örnsköldsvik, Naslund was drafted 16th overall in the 1991 NHL entry draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but would not make his NHL debut until 1993; after a legal dispute between the NHL and Sweden Hockey.
He would play nearly three full seasons with the Penguins, before being traded to the Canucks where his career really took off. Vancouver gave up Russian Alek Stojanov for Naslund, in what has gone down as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Stojanvov only went on to score two NHL goals and retired at 29 after being dumped into the minor leagues.
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Naslund went on to play for the Canucks until 2008, and led the blue and green to many playoff appearances. He was part of multiple cores as well, the first of which being made up of Messier, Bure and himself, the second being the aforementioned west coast express, and the third were the early days of the Sedins era. The Swedish superstar was known for his wicked wrist shot and stick handling during his playing days, where he scored 869 points through 1117 regular season appearances.
After nearly a decade with the Vancouver Canucks, he left as the clubs longest-tenured captain and points record holder. As a free agent, he signed a two year, eight million dollar deal with the New York Rangers to complete his North American hockey career. He retired after the 2009 season at age 35, and actually spent that season playing under future Canucks head coach John Tortorella. Naslund helped the Rangers to the 2009 eastern conference final, however, this was his last notable impact in the NHL.
Despite retiring from the North American scene, Naslund was not done playing just yet. He returned to where it all started in MODO and played alongside fellow Swedish legend Peter Forsberg for one more year, before finally hanging up his skates for good.
Other than his club hockey, he played many times for Sweden, winning two bronze medals and one silver medal at the world hockey championship, as well as a pair of world junior silver medals. He had one Olympic appearance which came in 2002, although the Swedes fell in the quarterfinals in that tournament.
After he finally ended his playing career, Naslund returned to Sweden and embarked into the world of philanthropy and hockey management. He founded a charity based out of his hometown which donated hockey opportunities and equipment to underprivileged children. He continues to run that organization today, and it has helped revitalize the hockey community in Örnsköldsvik.
During his time in Vancouver, Naslund got married and had three children. He expressed his desire to raise his children back in Sweden, and this led to some speculation that he may retire from the NHL early in order to have this happen. Of course, he did not return early, raising his kids early years in Vancouver. The family would return to Sweden in the offseason though, so the kids did get a very Swedish upbringing.
His son Alex Naslund, now 16 years old is playing for the MODO junior team and is looking to be drafted into the NHL in 2020. He has yet to play for the senior team, but this being his draft year, I would not be surprised if Alex Naslund sees the ice for MODO in the SHL.
Upon his playing retirement, Naslund remained very involved in hockey. He became the general manager of MODO and held that role for nearly three years. During that time, he returned to Vancouver on multiple occasions. One of which was very special.
Part way through the 2012 season he became the third of the Canucks players to have his number raised to the rafters. Later that year, seeing his success in his GM role in Sweden, there were rumours that Trevor Linden had approached him about a management job within Vancouver, however that never came to fruition.
One of the biggest challenges on returning to Sweden for the Naslund family was the transition from the big city of Vancouver, back to the Swedish small-town life. He said that technology has made the transition easier, although it was a bit of a shock for the kids to begin life in a small town. Since then the family has adjusted and has embraced life in the Swedish countryside.
In 2014 Naslund left his role at MODO and began to really distance himself from hockey. Since 2014 the former Canucks star has entered the world of real estate development. This was and continues to be an effort to bring his town into the modernity of the 21st century Sweden. He has invested in multiple housing and apartment developments, as well as a nearby ski resort.
Naslund was a legend during his time as a Vancouver Canuck and is thought of as one of the most highly regarded players in franchise history. His goal scoring and game-changing skill encapsulated the west coast fanbase for nearly a decade. Besides being a dominant force on the ice, he was a great personality off the ice and is one of the most caring players ever to play for Vancouver.