Kenny Jonsson (pictured wearing the "C" above) was a player I never really appreciated probably as much as I should have.
He was a highly regarded prospect out of Sweden when he came to Toronto. He was drafted 12th overall in 1993. Much was expected out of him, but he did live up to unrealistic expectations right away in Toronto. The impatient Leafs traded him after just 89 games. The Leafs traded him to the New York Islanders, in exchange they brought their popular adopted son Wendel Clark back home Toronto.
In Canada you can watch the Leafs every Saturday night and then some, so I had a good chance to watch Jonsson early on. His mobility was impressive, but he seemed timid and uncertain of the more physical North American game. He wore down as the season progressed.
Once he moved to the Islanders, I never got great chances to watch him perform outside of the odd game here and there, even though he played 11 years in Long Island. In Western Canada it is far easier to watch Manchester United than the New York Islanders.
The best chance to catch them is during the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the Islanders only made the playoffs three times in Jonsson's time their. He participated in just 15 post-season games, 19 in total counting one short playoff with Toronto.
By all accounts Jonsson grew more comfortable in the NHL as he settled in with big minutes of ice time in Long Island. He played a sound, unspectacular game, competent in every aspect but not overly flashy in anyway. He was a workhorse defenseman on a bad team, which is never a good mixture for recognition.
Local Islanders reporters considered Jonsson a top-ten defenseman in the league. One even went as far as to suggest he was the near-equivalent of New York Rangers superstar Brian Leetch. Had he played for a better team, he would likely have garnered Norris Trophy votes, he said.
One place where Jonsson's game was very well appreciated was Sweden. He was a huge part of Team Sweden's numerous successes in his career.
Jonsson won Olympic gold in 1994 and again in 2006. In the latter tournament he was named as the best defenseman in the whole tournament. He also captained the gold medal winning 2006 World Championships team.
Jonsson left the NHL back in 2004 during the lock-out. He never returned, but he continued playing hockey for the rest of decade. He retired in the summer of 2009 after playing five seasons with his old team in the Swedish Elite League, Rogle.