NHL

NHL99: Daniel Sedin, a natural passer, worked to become a scorer

NHL99: Daniel Sedin, a natural passer, worked to become a scorer

Welcome to NHL99, the Athletic countdown the 100 greatest players in modern NHL history. We’re ranking 100 players, but we’re calling it 99 because we all know who No. 1 is — we need to figure out the 99 spots behind No. 99. We’ll be unveiling new roster members Monday through Saturday through February.


At pickup hockey games at school, Henrik and Daniel Sedin were always on different teams to keep things even.

Growing up playing on the famous outdoor rink in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, where Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund dueled in their youth, Henrik and Daniel learned the game along different lines.

At the time, the most unique duo in the annals of hockey history were both centers.

“We were central 1A and 1B,” Henrik recalls with a laugh. “On the day we had two good lines.”

It wasn’t until their early teenage years that Daniel and Henrik started playing together. They were recruited into the MODO youth system at the age of 12 and immediately progressed to play with an older age group.

“They had a really good center on their front line,” Henrik recalls, noting that MODO’s J14 team’s front-line center at the time, Mattias Karlin, would go on to play a couple of years of hockey American professional at the club. Boston Bruins organization “So they moved Daniel to my wing instead of spreading us out.”

“I didn’t think much of it at the time,” says Daniel. “I still have no idea why the coach decided to keep Henrik as a centre-back, but that’s how I became a full-back.”

The decision to transfer a 12-year-old Daniel to play in Henrik’s band was fateful. It was a decision that would fundamentally mark the evolution of the most unique brainstorming style NHL has ever seen

Seeing the Sedin twins at the height of their powers in the NHL was a marvel to witness.

Twin brothers, both Hall of Fame level players in their own right, Henrik and Daniel’s standout skills were their hockey sense, work ethic and, perhaps most importantly, their ability to problem solving The brothers worked to become a dynamic duo and succeeded, which is why Daniel Sedin is ranked No. 76. The AthleticList of the 100 greatest players of the NHL’s post-expansion era, one spot above Henrik.


Henrik and Daniel were not physical specimens blessed with overwhelming size and power.

It took them years of disciplined and considered work to build the core strength and outrageous fitness level that made them nearly impossible to get off the puck while cycling down the wall.

“They worked hard in the offseason and pulled off some absolutely incredible feats to get there physically,” recalls Roger Takahashi, who worked with the twins for 14 years in his role as the Canucks’ strength and conditioning coach. “One of the things they’ve always said is that their ability to work is their biggest strength, and they’ve always wanted to keep improving it.”

By the end of the Sedins’ run, even the other players in the NHL had a hard time maintaining the work rate needed to succeed as a linemate.

“There’s not a lot of guys who could play with them every game all the time because you’re not in shape to play 20 minutes a night at the rate they were,” former teammate and regular teammate Jannik Hansen said. he once said. “So the boys… would go through the front line.”

As skaters, the twins were no burners, capable of beating opponents from the outside.

“We couldn’t beat the guys one-on-one,” Henrik said with a laugh. “That was impossible for us.”

So in their 20s, Henrik and Daniel commissioned a skating coach in Sweden, Mats Emanuelsson, who put them on a strict regimen of two-a-day ice practices and worked to rebuild their skating steps.

“I saw them when they skated, and they skated badly,” Emanuelsson recalls. “All players have this problem because the body is lazy. He tricks you with the way he wants to move.

“So I taught them and they practiced it on the ice and then I said, if you think this is better, we can continue. If you think it’s worse, we can leave it. They told me it was better, so I told them they needed to change their muscles because the style of skating I taught them required different types of muscles.”

Emanuelsson preached a scientific method of skating, which appealed to the twins. It required Henrik and Daniel to stay more upright in their skating stride, keeping their navels in front of their knees and effectively using gravity and the act of falling to help propel them.

“I was in Vancouver when the twins’ numbers were retired,” Emanuelsson recalls when asked if his strength techniques had helped Daniel become an accomplished marathon runner after his playing career. “So I asked Daniel, ‘Is there anything we did when we were practicing that you can use when you’re running?’ And he said: ‘Yes, it falls from my belly button'”.


(James Guillory / USA Today)

The subsequent workouts were also completely different. Emanuelsson’s technique required the twins to abandon classic hockey strength training, such as two-legged squats, and train with one leg instead.

“Because you don’t skate with two legs, you skate with one leg at a time,” Emanuelsson says.

And his technique required the Sedins to work in a horizontal position, too, to better mimic the muscles needed to add power to his stride, “because you can’t work vertically if you want to be good horizontally.”

The twins took this unconventional advice and transformed themselves into above-average skaters capable of attacking, lethally, off the rush.

And the twins were not natural scorers. They were not blessed with the sense of timing of that poacher, nor with an overwhelming speed in their shots.

“I don’t see myself as having a big shot,” Daniel says, a truly remarkable statement for a player who scored more than 400 NHL goals between the regular season and the playoffs. “But he was good enough to score on the passes that Henrik gave me.”

“He’s so humble,” says Alex Burrows, Daniel and Henrik’s signature linemate, laughing at Daniel’s modest comment. “Oh, he had a great shot. Great accuracy, quick release. That’s what I’d say, anyway. He might not have had the biggest, hardest shot, but because he got in and out of his club so fast it was hard to stop.”

There is even a hint of co-adaptation in Daniel’s development as a goalscorer. Although Henrik doesn’t remember exactly when he realized his brother had become a top finisher, Daniel remembers that it was part of a deliberate and holistic process, which in itself is classic for how twins Sedin tackled their craft.

“When I was 16 or so, I realized we couldn’t pass the puck, somebody had to be able to shoot,” Daniel recalls. “As a winger, you put yourself in situations where you have scoring opportunities, and when you play with Henrik, he will feed you the puck. So when I was a teenager, I realized that I needed to work on and improve my shot and it’s something that I worked on constantly from that point until I retired, really.

“We both liked to pass the puck and ideally we would have passed it to our third lineman, and I guess that’s what we did up until our last game. But I realized that our third lineman is going to change, so I better focus more on shooting.”

Now it’s not like the twins were physically limited – they were and continue to be incredibly gifted athletes. It’s more than what they accomplished, putting up more than 1,000 career points each, and putting together a dominant two-year stretch in which they won back-to-back scoring titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11, they did it by outdoing and outdoing their opposition.

“For Daniel, it all comes back to his hockey sense,” Henrik says of his brother, the more prolific scorer of the pair. “He didn’t have the best shot in the world, he had a good shot, he could take corners, but it wasn’t really a hard shot. Beating guys one-on-one wasn’t our game, so we had to use something else to score and put ourselves in positions to score. Our approach was always to try to create a two-on-one everywhere on the ice.

“It didn’t matter where we were. If we were trying to get out, or in the neutral zone trying to get into the offensive zone, or cycling down, we just held pucks until we created a two-on-one. That was our only chance to beat somebody, and I guess we did well.”

That was the hallmark of how the Sedin twins produced points, scored goals and won games. They were detail oriented and patient. They developed a level of trust and chemistry that replicated telepathy.

Over time, they became adept at dodging the checkers, even when picking up a backhanded wall disc, quickly exiting one check and sending a spot-on pass to the other, all in which it seemed like a fluid movement.

Their approach allowed them to cycle almost endlessly. At the height of their powers, Henrik and Daniel would stack 80- or 90-second turns on top of each other, constantly cycling under the hashmarks. The effect was wearing off on opposition defences.

For minutes, Henrik and Daniel would spin and pass the puck back and forth and win a puck battle and spin again. The process mercilessly removed the air from their opponents’ lungs as the twins sought the highest value two-on-one, the chance that, so often, created a goal.

He was inimitable hockey style It required the kind of familiarity and trust impossible for mere linemates to achieve over a single season, or even multiple seasons. It required an unthinkable level of persistence, made all the more imposing by his attachment to the machine-like consistency the Twins achieved game after game in their 20s.

“Daniel never took a game out, which is impressive in over 1,300 games,” says Henrik when asked what singular attribute made his brother special. “He had some bad games, but he never calmed down, every shift he stepped on the ice was activated. That’s what I’ll always remember that impressed me when I watched him play.”

It’s dizzying to consider how the twins developed their style of play and grew into elite players together. Twin brothers, both elite athletes, perfecting a unique attacking style together over 25 years as professional hockey players.

Rationally, it seems a statistical impossibility; emotionally, it feels like a miracle.

“I was surprised because they were always so, so close in every physical test or event we had,” notes Takahashi. “Like literally, to the tenth of a second. It was so finite. It’s not like one was always stronger or faster in one aspect and one wasn’t. They were almost dead even all the way through.

“And it wasn’t just the physical or genetic side, it was also the mental side that was similar. As we all know, you can be incredibly fit, but if you don’t have the mental capacity to drive, the stoicism to push through the things, that limits you, and both Henrik and Daniel had it all. They had both the physical part and the mental part to push themselves.

“It’s actually amazing when you think about it. It really is.”

And this is not lost on Daniel or Henrik.

“When we came in, we were obviously very happy that the Canucks picked both of us, but you just thought, yeah, that’s the way it’s always been,” Daniel says. “As we got older, we never took a day for granted. Things can change in a heartbeat in this business and I don’t know if it was ever close to us breaking up or one of us changing or whatever . We have to play together and that also pushed us to be better.”

(Top photo: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)





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