Rauman Lukko of Finland's SM-liiga was off to a rough start in 2012-13*. Frans Nielsen and his countrymen have helped change all that.
*Yes, it's true. Many professional hockey leagues are actually ... gasp ... playing a 2012-13 season!
Nielsen joined them to play with his brother, Simon, one of Lukko's goaltenders. Phoenix Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker and Stars defenseman Philip Larsen make three NHL-caliber Danes who have helped lift Lukko into playoff contention after an ugly start.
Danish publication jv.dk has a recent write-up crediting the trio for lifting Lukko from 13th to 9th place since their arrival. The Hockey News had Lukko in last place (14th), with a 1-5-1 record, when the tre danskere arrived. Today they're 9-10-2 and in 9th.
(Technically the record is more complex; the SM-liiga refreshingly awards three points for a regulation win, two for an OT win, and one for an OT loss. Imagine: Every game is worth the same total number of points!)
Simon Nielsen's stats are certainly the weaker of the two goaltenders thus far, but Frans is clearly enjoying the chance to play and train with his brother. Simon said at least something good came from the NHL lockout.
The team's goal differential is still a shocking minus-11 -- something that stands out for a team in the middle of the table with several clubs who are closer to even.
Not surprisingly, given their record, the three NHL Danes are among the few Lukko players with positive plus/minuses. Boedker has racked up 8 goals and 5 assists and Nielsen has contributed 10 assists (no goals, an inverse "Cy Young" stat line) and even Larsen has chipped in a pair of goals and 4 assists from the blueline.
Which also raises the question: Adding the three Danes is like transplanting a trio of world-class players into a team that previously had none (apologies to leading scorer Justin Azevedo, a big contributor at AHL Manchester the past four seasons).
What happens if the lockout ever ends (ha!) and the Danes have to depart?