The Complete World Hockey Association

Kent Nilsson Kent Ake Nilsson

Height: 5-10
Weight: 175
Shoot: L
Born: 31 Aug 1956, Djugardens Sweden


Regular Season & Playoff Scoring Record (key)

year team
1977-78 Winnipeg
1978-79 Winnipeg

• Winner, Lou Kaplan Trophy (Rookie of the Year), 1977-78.
• Winner, Paul Deneau Trophy (Most Gentlemanly), 1978-79.


Deadly Shooter Nilsson WHA's No. 1 Rookie • by Reyn Davis • The Sporting News • April 29, 1978

Once, when Kent Nilsson was 11 years old, he scored 19 goals in a single game. He had 58 goals after six games.

Now he's 21 and concluding his first professional season — a brilliant one, as it turned out.

The 6-2, 195-pound Swedish had scored 42 goals and earned 65 assists for 107 points in playing a prominent role in the rise of the Winnipeg Jets to first place in the World Hockey Association.

As a result, the players of the WHA have named him The Sporting News Rookie of the Year, Nilsson earned 74 of 115 votes. Birmingham's Ken Linseman was second with 23 votes. Scott Campbell of Houston and Joe Micheletti of Calgary tied for third.

"He's amazing," said Nilsson's coach, Larry Hillman. "I've played against the hardest shooters in the game and I've never seen anyone who shoots a puck harder than this guy. I put him in the same class with Bobby Orr and Boom Boom Geoffrion."

Always aloof and smiling sheepishly, Nilsson looks much younger than his 21 years. On the ice, he's massive — wider and taller than his teammates and his opponents, who give him all the room he needs.

He was not always big.

"Until I was 14, I was always one of the smallest kids in the class," said Nilsson. "But when was 15, I really started to grow. That year I grew five inches."

His hometown is Osmo, a town of 3,500 about 35 minutes by Volvo and Saab from Stockholm.

"I traveled to Stockholm every day for four years," said Nilsson, who is a fan of fast cars and rock music.

The former Stockholm housepainter put down his brush one day and decided there were better ways to make a living.

"All I wanted to do was play hockey," he said.

The Atlanta Flames were interested. He went to their camp, but he had his heart set on going to Winnipeg, where one-third of the Jets are Swedes.

The Jets signed him with precious little fanfare.

He started off at a torrid pace and led the league in scoring for most of October. But December was a disaster.

There were games in which he barely left the bench. His defensive play was a puzzle and his production skidded to a halt.

Then in January his slap shot, previously wild, started finding the holes or, more precisely, began making them.

Hillman began to put Kent on the point, usually the station of defensemen during power plays.

"I was a bit worried that he couldn't handle the point," said Hillman. "I wasn't sure he could get his shot away fast enough."

Goaltenders will attest to the fact he can get his shots away quickly and powerfully. You can see them cringe when No. 11 drifts into the high slot to unload his devastating shot.

As a youngster, Nilsson worked hard on his shot. He estimates that one summer he fired 1,000 shots a day off a:sheet of plywood behind his house.

His idol has always been Dave Keon, now a New England Whaler. But his heroes are two of his teammates, Ulf Nilsson (not a relative) and Anders Hedberg.

"When they are on the ice, they know exactly what they want to do," said Nilsson of Ulf and Anders. "They are really good for a team. In practices, they are always the hardest workers."

There is no goaltender in the WHA he considers especially tough to beat. "They're all good," he said.

However, he does consider New England defenseman Rick Ley the best opponent he's faced at that position.

Nilsson is virtually cemented into his skates, He'll go strings of games without ever being knocked down or falling.

Opponents have growled at him. And he growls back. He's never been involved in a fight. Frankly, he's never had to fight, and that's a credit to the league that worries about that sort of thing.

"In my country, there is much more hooking," he said. "Here, they slash more."

As a pro, he's been able to do his thing. And hockey fans in Winnipeg, facing the fact that Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson are leaving at the end of this season, are particularly excited about the future of Kent Nilsson.

This season has been a sneak preview and this award is testimony to his tremendous talent and future


Excerpts from Zander Hollander's Guide to Pro Hockey, 1978-79 (by Reyn Davis)

Chosen by WHA players as the league's best rookie of the year for The Sporting News ... Led all rookies with goals (42), assists (65) and points (107) ... Regarded by his coach, Larry Hillman, as having a shot from the point that ranks with the all-time best ... Played on Sweden's National Team when he was 15 ... Very aloof individual who teems with talent ... A former Stockholm house painter who dreamed of doing nothing but play hockey ... As an 11-year old, he once scored 19 goals in a single game ... Spent hours everyday developing his shot off a sheet of playwood in his backyard ... Weak defensively



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