Q&A with Markus Naslund
Benched by Iron Mike Keenan, tutored by the Moose and starstruck by Super Mario, Markus Naslund has seen a lot since being drafted into the NHL 15 years ago.
Twice falling just short of a league scoring title, the 32-year-old Canucks winger has been on the cusp of superstardom.
In this edition of Facing Off, the Swedish sensation discusses what might have saved his NHL career, why Todd Bertuzzi is misunderstood and what it was like growing up in the same town as Peter Forsberg.
Question from David Amber: You were drafted by the Penguins in 1991. What was your first impression of Mario Lemieux?
Answer from Naslund: He was the most skillful player I have ever seen. Everything looked so graceful when he was skating and shooting. I remember him pulling a couple of moves in training camp that were amazing. I was intimidated. I came to camp right after they had won two Stanley Cups [after the 1991-92 season]. There was a bunch of veteran star players on the team; it was pretty wild to be there.
Q: Why didn't things work out for you in Pittsburgh?
A: Personally, I hadn't had any failure up to that point and I expected to have success right away. Coming in, it was so hard to get ice time, so I lost my confidence and I started doubting myself. It went downhill from there. It took me some time to get out of there.
Q: After five years in the Penguins organization, you were traded to the Canucks for Alex Stojanov. What was that like for you as a young player?
|Fast Facts -- Markus Naslund|
• Chosen in first round, 16th overall, by Pittsburgh in 1991 NHL entry draft.
• In 2003, he won the Lester B. Pearson Award (the league MVP as voted on by players).
• A five-time Western Conference All-Star.
• He has led Canucks in scoring the past six seasons.
• Named Canucks captain Sept. 15, 2000.
• Ranks second all time in Canucks' goals and points.
• Holds the World Junior Championships record for goals in a single tournament with 13 in 1992.
A: I was excited. I was also nervous. I had asked for a trade because I was sure I wasn't going to get a good opportunity in Pittsburgh. Craig Patrick was good to deal with; he honored my request, and I have a lot of respect for him. When I found out I was traded to Vancouver, I was surprised. I had only been to Vancouver once before, so it was new to me, but exciting on the other hand.
Q: How would you rate that trade, considering Stojanov has scored exactly two goals in 107 NHL games and is now out of the league?
A: It's easy to say that the trade was bad for Pittsburgh, now that he's out of the league, but on the other hand, at the time, we were both first-round picks, we were both struggling and we both needed a fresh start.
Q: So, you leave Pittsburgh, where Mario played, and then a couple of years into your stint in Vancouver, Mark Messier arrives. What kind of leader was Messier?
A: He was the greatest leader I ever played with. The thing I appreciate the most is the way he cared for everyone on the team and how he kept the team together that way. Mark had a lot of different sides to him; he wanted to get a close-knit group, he worked hard to get that. He had a great approach to the game and was very professional with everything he did.
Q: How is your approach as a captain similar to Mario's and Mark's?
A: You try to pick up pieces from all the people you look up to during your career. Clearly, I have a different leadership style to those guys, I'm not nearly the leader they were. But the thing I want for this group in Vancouver is for guys to feel comfortable and knowing they can come to me if they need to and not feel intimidated.
Q: You have played for many different coaches in your career. What was it like playing for Mike Keenan?
A: It was definitely a learning experience for me and a test. He challenges you, and it took me a while to battle through that. It got to the point where I looked at it that "whatever happens, happens. I'm going to go out there and enjoy myself now."
Q: Was he too militant in his style?
A: He definitely intimidates you. He challenges you to either fold or handle it. You have to make that choice yourself.
Q: What happened during the 1997-98 season when Keenan benched you as a healthy scratch?
A: I was just trying to do what I could to work hard. I thought I might be traded. I prepared myself just in case I got traded.
Q: Didn't you asked to be traded after you were benched?
A: It was nothing personal. I just thought I could do more if I was given the opportunity. You have to earn the right to play the minutes, and maybe I didn't earn it right away, but then there were some injuries and I got a chance to play on a scoring line and I started to have some success and it started to turn around.
Q: You collected just 145 points combined in your first five seasons in the NHL. You have more than 500 points in the six-plus seasons since. What was the turning point in your career?
A: Perhaps the biggest thing was the birth of my first daughter. It put things in perspective for me. I was dwelling on the game way too much before I became a father. When things weren't going well on the ice, that was all I could think of. But once you become a father, it takes your mind off the game, and that really helped me keep my confidence high and take some pressure off at the rink.
Q: You're from the same hometown as Peter Forsberg. How would you describe your relationship?
A: We have a friendly rivalry. He grew up playing for the big team in town, MoDo. I played for another team and then joined his team when I was 16. We are the same age, so we played against each other all the way up in minor hockey. We had a lot of good, competitive games. We played together for three years in Sweden before we came over to the NHL. We're close friends, but we're at different stages in our lives right now. I'm a father with a family, and he is still single. But we went to school together for a while, so I consider him a real close friend.
Q: Who was the better player when you were kids?
A: We were different. He always had the talent, but he was smaller until he was 16 or 17. Then, he grew and really turned it on and became the player he is today.
Q: Describe the chemistry you have with Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi on your line?
A: It's been great. Whenever you can play with the same guys for a long time, you seem to know where the guys are; it makes it easy. We have a good feel for each other's game.
Q: Would you argue you are on the most dominant line in the NHL?
A: Maybe a few years ago; not this year, not even close. We have a ways to go. When we're on, we have loads of potential, so we could be.
Q: How were you able to help Todd get through that difficult time after the Steve Moore incident?
A: It was just letting him know that there is someone there if he needs support. He knows who his friends are, and we are there for him when he needs us.
Q: What do you think the biggest misconception is about Todd?
A: I think no one really knows him except the people that are close to him. So, there are a lot of people who try to guess about him and act like they know him, but they really don't.
Q: What is Todd really like?
A: He's a caring, loyal, likable guy. That's pretty much it.
Q: Next month, you'll be playing for Team Sweden at the Olympics in Italy. How important is it for you to win the gold medal?
A: Winning something big like that for your country would be an unbelievable thing. But it's not as big as winning the Stanley Cup. The playoffs are such a long, grueling process, and once you've been over here for a few years, you realize just how difficult it is and what a privilege it is for those guys who get a chance to win a Cup.
Q: On a team with [Mats] Sundin, [Daniel] Alfredsson and Forsberg, if the Olympic gold-medal game comes down to a shootout, who is the go-to guy for Sweden?
A: With the way Alfie is playing this year, you have to go with him.
Q: What about you?
A: No, definitely not me. I have sucked on penalty shots. I should be the last one on the list. I have taken three shots in shootouts this year and haven't scored yet. If it comes down to me, we're in trouble.
Q: Help set the record straight on all these Swedish stereotypes. Do you drive a Volvo and listen to ABBA all the time?
A: [Laughs] I don't drive a Volvo. But I think the Sedin twins each have two Volvos, so they fill the Volvo quota on the team. ABBA definitely. I can't go without listening to ABBA.
David Amber is an ESPN anchor and a contributor to ESPN.com.