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HENRIK ZETTERBERG, THE 27-YEAR-old left wing who has led the Red Wings in goal scoring in each of the past two seasons, wears his auburn, shoulder-length hair slicked back. He has a thin, elegant nose, small brown irises and a chipped lower front tooth that serves as a kind of beauty mark. "I got it from a stick in a game a few years back," he says, "and I just haven't had it fixed. I hate the dentist." Zetterberg is 5' 11", 195 pounds and taut ("No one works harder in the gym," says Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall), and he is invariably nattily dressed, befitting a player who has his own, successful-in-Sweden clothing line, the Zätacollection. Zäta is Swedish for the letter Z, which, inevitably, is Zetterberg's nickname.
In accordance with his appealing glamour—as well as with his rising visibility as a player who has averaged 38.3 goals in the three seasons since the lockout, seventh in the NHL—Zetterberg lives with the lovely and accomplished Emma Andersson, a model and actress who is famous for winning Sweden's version of Survivor in 2003. Andersson's other Swedish television work includes this month's debut of A La Emma, a food and lifestyle show in which Andersson visits far-off places (London, South Africa, Los Angeles) and cooks with the locals.
Zetterberg himself has been à la Emma for about two years now, during which time the couple has become darlings of the Swedish media, trailed by paparazzi when they return home during Zetterberg's off-season. Swedish reporters attend their every public foray—covering Andersson and Zetterberg from A to Z as it were—leading observers such as Zetterberg's teammate and fellow Swede Johan Franzen to refer to the couple as "the Swedish version of Beckham and Posh."
Elite hockey players are generally exalted in Sweden and there has been no more luminous figure in recent years than Peter Forsberg, the Colorado Avalanche's brilliant center. Forsberg's rugged play, engaging personality and incomparable résumé—two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two World Championships—have rendered him larger than life. "But you look at Zetterberg," says Gunnar Nordström, who covers hockey and entertainment for the Swedish newspaper Expressen, "and there's no question that he is on his way to being the next Forsberg."
"None of us ever thought he'd even make it to the NHL, let alone that he'd become one of the best players in the league," says Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin. "Playing against him [on Swedish club teams] when we were 14, 15, he always seemed a couple of steps behind the really good players in terms of size and speed. But you could tell that he always had a lot of hockey sense."
And, recalls Håkan Andersson, the Red Wings' scout who found Zetterberg, he always had the puck. At a tournament in Finland, which Andersson attended ahead of the 1999 draft, he came upon Zetterberg by chance. He was drawn to the then 18-year-old's tenacity, what Red Wings senior adviser Scotty Bowman now calls, "his puck pursuit, that ability to somehow get the puck off of other guys." At Andersson's urging, Detroit drafted Zetterberg that June—with the 210th pick, in the seventh round.
The most coveted Swedish players in that draft were Sedin and his brother Daniel, both of whom went to the Canucks, third and second overall, respectively. By the start of the 2000-01 season the Sedins were playing every game in Vancouver. Zetterberg, though, still undersized, was afforded the chance to grow in every sense. He played two full seasons in the Swedish Elite League (in the first he was named the league's top rookie) before lacing up his skates in Detroit.
"How do we draft a guy 210th overall and he becomes an elite player?" asks Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. "Number 1, we were lucky. Number 2, we didn't have to rush him. He was able to develop before he got here and when he did get here, because of the team we had"—in 2002-03, Zetterberg's rookie season, the Wings' forwards included Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov—"he didn't have to be an object of attention right away."
That team was captained by Steve Yzerman, who recalls that "Zetterberg was quiet on the ice and off of it, but from Day One it was very evident that he was an NHL player. The thing that caught everyone's eye was how well he played defensively. He knew exactly where to go. Then he'd go there and just start making [defensive] plays."
That defensive ability along with, of course, the superb offensive skills that tied Zetterberg with Sidney Crosby for the playoff scoring lead (27 points) this spring, is what leads Holland and many in the Detroit organization to call Zetterberg one of the top five forwards in the NHL—or better. "In my mind," says Kronwall, "[Zetterberg] is the best player in the world."