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Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks/ Twitter

Former Canuck Markus Naslund talks Mike Keenan, developing youth hockey players, and choosing to retire on top

Yesterday, former Vancouver Canuck Markus Naslund joined The Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 Edmonton and talked about a plethora of topics. Here are some of the highlights of the interview, which you can listen to in its entirety here.

Naslund talked a bit about how the developmental programs in Sweden are much more focused on practice and developing skills than in North America, even in the men’s league. He also added some thoughts on what he would like to see change about the way your hockey players are developed nowadays.

“It’s changed,” said the former Canucks captain. “The thing that I would like to bring back a little bit more is not focusing on one sport at such an early age, which is the case now. Kids are almost forced to choose a sport when they’re eight, nine, ten years old. I like it when you can take your mind off hockey for a little bit during the summer. You can play soccer, you can play other sports that still develop you physically.”

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Similar thoughts were echoed earlier this year by Ryan Kesler, who expressed the importance of giving kids a break from hockey at some point during the year.

Unsurprisingly, Naslund also talked about his trade from Pittsburgh to Vancouver, calling himself very fortunate to end up with the Canucks.

“I wish I would have pushed myself more early on, rather than just wait for my opportunity. I did get some good chances early, but I wasn’t ready mentally. My 3rd year I got to play with Mario, which was great, but I needed a fresh start and luckily I ended up in Vancouver,” said Naslund. “I’d asked for a trade earlier, so I knew it was coming. There were rumours I was going to Edmonton, even Dallas and LA, but I ended up in Vancouver. I had my bags packed, I just didn’t know where I was going. In hindsight, I was very fortunate to end up in Vancouver.”

Naslund also talked about what it was like playing for perhaps the most infamous coach in Canucks history, Mike Keenan.

“He was a different coach than I was used to growing up and even early in North America with Eddie Johnston, Pat Quinn and Tom Renney. He shook my world a bit with the way he acted and the mind games he played,” said Naslund. “He would say it was a joke, that I should score 20 goals in my sleep, but I’m not doing it. He would try to push those buttons and obviously I wanted to show him he was wrong.”

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“It was a really unstable environment early, and it didn’t get stable until Brian Burke came in. We had so many changes in personnel and management my first few years. It tested my mind, made me focus on the right things, and not worry about the things I can’t control. Your job is to prepare and be ready when you’re called upon. I think I grew up quite a bit during those days.”

Naslund also briefly talked about his years playing on the West Coast Express line, calling them his “fondest years”.

“We wanted all of us to have success, and that was obvious when you watched us play. We would sometimes bicker at each other, but we really enjoyed being on a line together… We had chemistry, but we also had a great friendship.”

Finally, Naslund talked about his decision to retire fresh off of a 24 goal campaign with the New York Rangers in the 2008-09 season:

“I told myself at an early stage, having looked at players who had good careers but stayed too long and then had bitter exits and were forced out, I didn’t want that. I don’t regret that decision. I wanted to leave on my terms.”

Naslund finished off his career where it started when he returned to his hometown team, Modo of the SEL. He played 1117 games in his NHL career and netted a total of 869 points, 756 of which came with the Vancouver Canucks.

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