Leafs: Frederik Andersen’s quest to become the first great Dane

TORONTO,ON - APRIL 23: Frederik Andersen
TORONTO,ON - APRIL 23: Frederik Andersen /

Last year was a big year for Danish hockey: Frans Nielsen became the first Dane to make an all-star game, Nikolaj Ehlers recorded the most points (64) in a single season, and Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen recorded the most starts by a Danish goaltender with 66.

When most people think of Nordic hockey players they tend to envision fast Finns and speedy Swedes: King Henrik (Lundqvist), the Finnish Flash (Teemu Selanee), the Perfect Human (Nicklas Lidstrom).

Denmark has not traditionally been considered a hockey nation, like its neighbours to the north.

But over the last decade players from Denmark have been breaking into the NHL and although there have been some intriguing skaters, Andersen has the opportunity to establish himself as the first great Dane of the NHL.

The 28-year-old had a brilliant season opener stopping 35 of 37 shots and earning First Star of the Game honours, as the Leafs trounced the Winnipeg Jets 7-2.

Two of those 35 saves were made against Ehlers, who signed a seven-year $49 million deal with the Jets prior to the game.

Although there may not be a Hockey Night in Copenhagen or much of a NHL following in Denmark, the Ehlers-Andersen match would surely be a draw for Danish hockey fans.

Quick look at Danes in the NHL

There have only been 12 Danish-born players in NHL history, and 11 of those 12 have played since January 2007 when Nielsen was called up by the New York Islanders.

The first Dane in the league was Poul Popiel, who first played for the Boston Bruins in the 1965/66 season. But the defenseman moved to Canada as a child, so many mistakenly thought Nielsen was the first player from the Kingdom of Denmark.

First Danish All Star: Frans Nielsen (2016/17)

First Danish goalie: Frederik Andersen (2013/14)

Most goals by a Dane: 25 – Frans Nielsen (2013/14), Nikolaj Ehlers (2016/17)

Most points by a Dane: 64 – Nikolaj Ehlers (2016/17)

Most wins by a Dane: 35 – Frederik Andersen (2014/15)

Highest drafted Dane: Mikkel Boedker 2008 NHL Entry Draft -1st round (8th overall)

If you look at Nielsen’s season last year it hardly seems all star worthy, 17 goals, 24 assists, in 79 games (23 points at the time of the break). Yet the League had to pick a player to represent the struggling Detroit Red Wings, so the 32 year old got the call for the first time.

So the league still waits for its first real great Dane with the Jets and Leafs showcasing their contenders on Wednesday night.

Frederik Andersen
WINNIPEG, MB – OCTOBER 4: Forward Mathieu Perreault /

Season opener between the Leafs and Jets 

The Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine rivalry may be the most intriguing storyline for most but the Ehlers-Andersen matchup is one of a kind for Danish viewers.

NHL.com recently published a list of the top-250 players for the 2017/18 season only three Danes made the list:

66. LW Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets)

68. G Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs)

237. RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Ehlers (21) and Andersen (28) have had very different paths to the pros.

The young-Jet’s forward was a first-round pick that quickly developed into an effective goal scorer. The Leafs goalie on the other hand did not make his NHL-debut until he was 24 and before last season had never been a true number one starter.

Leafs all in on Andersen 

Andersen was second among goaltenders in games started last year with 66, and he will be expected to again carry a heavy burden for the Leafs this season.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock spoke about Andersen’s impressive conditioning this summer.

"“Because of his fitness, he should be able to play more. You add it all up, it’s looking pretty good for Freddy.”"

And what’s good for Freddy is good for the Leafs.

More from Toronto Maple Leafs

Andersen entered camp last season, recovering from an injury sustained in an Olympic-qualifier between Slovenia and Denmark. Whether his early struggles were because of the injury or not is uncertain, but he did post an unsettling .851 save percentage in his first five games as a Leaf.

If game one is any indications of what is to be expected from Andersen than the Leafs may have found a solution to a problem they’ve had for over a decade.

Saturday night will be an interesting night as the Leafs host Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The greatest Swede goaltender versus the greatest Dane.

Next: Leafs acquire goaltender Calvin Pickard

Andersen may be the best Dane by default but this year will be an important campaign for him to establish himself as one of the the Leafs’ best as well.