When you think of Anders Hedberg, you have to think of Ulf Nilsson at the same time. The explosive scoring duo came to the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets shortly after Borje Salming and Inge Hammerstrom arrived in Toronto with the NHL Maple Leafs. They all became the first Swedish born players to achieve superstar status in North American hockey.
Upon arrival in Winnipeg, Nilsson and Hedberg were almost immediately teamed up with The Golden Jet - Bobby Hull. Thus, tons of attention was poured on these two Swedish kids. And they didn't disappoint. In fact, they help Hull achieve mind boggling statistics while playing an exciting brand of hockey previously not seen in North America. Many look back it at it now and call it "Edmonton Oiler Hockey" only a few years earlier. Like Gretzky's Oilers, Nilsson, Hedberg and Hull loved to run and gun.
Nilsson was more of a playmaker than Hedberg, who was more of a sniper. Both however fed the real sniper - Hull. Nilsson twice led the WHA in assists and never scored less than 114 points. Lets take a quick look at Nilsson's WHA offensive exploits:
1974-75 - 26 goals, 94 assists, 120 points
1975-76 - 38 goals, 76 assists, 114 points
1976-77 - 39 goals, 85 assists, 124 points
1977-78 - 37 goals, 89 assists, 126 points
Not bad eh? Hedberg on the other hand was more of a goal scorer, but certainly knew how to thread a good pass too. He led the WHA in goals in 1976-77 Here's a look at his WHA totals
1974-75 - 53 goals, 47 assists, 100 points
1975-76 - 50 goals, 55 assists, 105 points
1976-77 - 70 goals, 61 assists, 131 points
1977-78 - 63 goals, 59 assists, 122 points
Of course Hull was the biggest beneficiary of the Swedish scoring terrors' creativity and speed. An aging Hull set a pro hockey record with 77 goals in 1974-75.
Because of the scoring exploits of Nilsson and Hedberg, the Jets won the Avco Cup in 1976 and 1978. Many people agreed that the Jets were the super power of the WHA and the only WHA team that could give the dynastic NHL Montreal Canadiens a run for their money in a 7 game series. You can credit that much to the offensive wizardry for Nilsson and Hedberg.
Upon the merging of the WHA into the NHL, Nilsson and Hedberg found themselves playing for the New York Rangers. They weren't able to match the success they had during their Winnipeg days, but still showed they belong in the National league. Hedberg did better than Nilsson, but Ulf showed some fine playmaking and puck handling skills when he wasn't injured. In three full seasons with the Rangers he only averaged 50 games a year. Over that time he averaged a point a game. In total, Ulf scored 57 goals and 112 assists in 170 NHL games. Hedberg on the other hand stayed healthy and played 6 full seasons and never scored less than 20 goals. He scored 30 or more 4 times and was a consistent 70 point man. Anders totaled 172 goals and 397 points in 465 NHL games.
Ulf Nilsson's and Anders Hedberg's true legend lies in the World Hockey Association. They however proved they belong at the National Hockey League level as well.
Of course, both are legends in Sweden. Along with the likes of Borje Salming, Mats Naslund and Kent Nilsson, they are considered to be the first great wave of Swedish hockey players.