Gradin helped pave the way for other Europeans to come to the NHL and started a tradition of Swedish talent on the Canucks, which led to other Swedish stars such as Patrik Sundstrom, Matthias Ohlund, and Markus Naslund. Furthermore, he continues to feed that tradition as the Canucks' head European scout, instrumental in drafting the Sedins, Alex Edler, and prospects Anton Rodin and Peter Andersson.
Unfortunately, I wasn't born when Gradin started in the NHL with Stan Smyl and Curt Fraser, so I never got a chance to see him play or hear him speak. I didn't realize how truly similar Gradin was to my generation's Swedish superstars--the Sedins--until I read this great interview with Bob Dunn from a 1983 Canucks Magazine.
One of the frequent criticisms of the Sedins is that they pass the puck too much, passing on prime scoring opportunities by seemingly refusing to shoot the puck. Thomas Gradin faced the same criticism:
DUNN: In hockey, what's the toughest criticism you've ever had? What's hurt you the most?
GRADIN: That I never shoot the puck. I'm always hearing that, even in Sweden. I think it's tapered off. I think even the fan's realize that it's a good thing to pass the puck once in a while too.
DUNN: Did you ever feel you didn't shoot enough?
GRADIN: Well, when you get told four or five times a day, you better start thinking about it, but I never felt that I really had to, because if I make a good play and it turns out to be a goal anyway, there can't be any reason for doing that.
Classic. It definitely appears that he shares the same mindset as the Sedins. There are some other gems in this interview, including this bit on enforcers:
DUNN: Is intimidation still very much a part of the NHL?
GRADIN: Not as much as it used to be.
GRADIN: Because the team can't afford to have those players. They can't afford to have a guy just for fighting. He has to be some kind of hockey player, too. That's the way it works.
And yet, 27 years later, Derek Boogaard can get signed to the New York Rangers for $6.5 million "just for fighting" and Guy Boucher is considered revolutionary for suggesting that any enforcer on his team needs to be able to "play the game."
Finally, this is just hilarious:
GRADIN: I don't think the Russians will ever change their attitude. There are Canadians whose ability is very low in comparison to some other guys, but they overcome that because of their attitude to just win the game, and I don't think the Russians can ever change that.
Ouch. Ovechkin, any response?
OVECHKIN: It's all about me.
Oh. Alright then.