The NHL’s biggest cash grab to date (the World Cup of Hockey) is in full swing now, and believe it or not the most interesting narrative to this point is how the gimmick teams have fared.
Yes, I’m talking about Team North America and Team Europe. Both teams got off to solid starts, and Team North America dazzled crowds with their lightning-fast speed and youthful exuberance.
Of course fans enjoyed this tournament because it’s been a few months since they’ve seen hockey and they’re craving it, and surely we’ll all forget about this silly little tournament when the season is in full swing. The gimmicky teams did make me think, though: what would an International all-time all-star team look like?
Today’s list will uncover just that. The rules were simple: find out which 15 nations have the most man games played in NHL history, and select the best player of all time from each country. I didn’t set out to make it even position based, although it just so happens I ended up with nine forwards, four D, and two goalies, so let’s call it a happy accident.
Without further ado, here is the all-time international NHL all-star team, listed in order from most man games played (Canada with an incredible 1,335,842) to least (Poland with 1,888). A few decent hockey nations didn’t qualify due to man games played, but we had to cut it off somehow. Enjoy:
15 Canada - Wayne Gretzky
Do I really need to justify this selection? Wayne Gretzky is the highest scoring player of all time by nearly 1,000 points, and that’s just ridiculous. Of course an all-time dream team of all Canadian players would likely be able to skate circles around our international all-time all-star team, but I digress.
14 U.S.A. - Mike Modano
Mike Modano was pretty much the clear winner for U.S.A., only because I don’t personally count Brett Hull as an American because he’s Canadian born. Setting Hull aside, Modano has scored more goals and more points than any other American skater. He’s also played the second most NHL games, bested only by Chris Chelios, because he refused to go away.
13 Sweden - Nicklas Lidstrom
For its representative on the international all-time team, Sweden sends defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. There have been a ton of great Swedes to play in the NHL throughout history, but Nicklas Lidstrom is the best of the bunch. He’d make my list of top five defensemen of all-time—he really was that good, and he was that good until the end of his 1,564 game career.
12 Czech Republic - Jaromir Jagr
The Czech Republic have had two hockey players who separated themselves from the pack, and that’s Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek. Jagr gets the edge here because it is very likely that he'll have the second most all-time points in the NHL once he finally retires, whenever that might be. He currently sits in third all-time, 19 points back of Mark Messier for second place.
11 Russia - Alexander Ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin has been good enough for long enough that we can finally safely say he’s the best Russian player of all time. It was a close call to be sure—Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Datsyuk all received consideration—but Ovechkin became the first Russian 500 goal scorer last season, and if he has another stellar season in 2016-17 he will be second in all-time points of all Russian skaters (he’s just 66 points behind Alexander Mogilny, who is in 2nd).
10 Finland - Teemu Selanne
It was tough to not pick Jari Kurri for this slot, but in the end I had to give the edge to Teemu Selanne. Selanne leads all Finns in games played, goals, and points. He also produced in many different situations throughout his career, whereas Kurri played the bulk of his career with Wayne Gretzky—often skating on the same line as the Great One.
9 Slovakia: Zdeno Chara
There have been some damn good Slovakians to play in the NHL, but very few had the impact that Zdeno Chara has had. He’s the first and only Slovakian to captain his team to the Stanley Cup, and he leads all Slovakian defensemen in points (he passed Lubomir Visnovsky this past season).
8 Germany - Olaf Kolzig
Germany isn’t known for producing top hockey talents, but the nation has contributed its share of stars over the years. Former Ranger legend Walt Tkaczuk leads all German-born skaters in points with 678, but I had to give the nod to former Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig.
7 Switzerland - Roman Josi
It’s true that Roman Josi is just 26 years old, but he’s already progressed far enough for me to confidently say he’s the best Swiss NHL player in the history of the NHL. There have been just 32 Swiss players in the NHL, and Josi already has played the fourth most games among them and already has the second most points.
6 Latvia: Arturs Irbe
Rounding out the crease on the international all-star team is Latvian Arturs Irbe. Irbe was a goaltender who was a fan favorite wherever he went, and that included four NHL cities: San Jose, Dallas, Vancouver, and Carolina. Irbe played a total of 568 games and racked up 218 wins in the process, posting a career 2.83 GAA along the way.
5 Denmark: Frans Nielsen
It was only recently that Denmark started producing hockey players at a somewhat regular clip. The top four scoring all-time Danes are all currently in the NHL, but for the title of best Dane of all time we had to go with the all-time Danish points leader, Frans Nielsen. Nielsen has compiled 349 points in 606 games, and will start 2016-17 on a brand new team.
4 Belarus: Ruslan Salei
Of all the Belarusians to have played in the NHL, Ruslan Salei had greater longevity than any of them, by far. While Salei played in 917 contests, the second most games played belongs to the only current Belarussian player, Mikhail Grabovski, who just cracked the 500 game barrier last season.
3 Ukraine: Dmitri Khristich
Shockingly, there have been just eight Ukrainians that have ever played in the NHL, and only four who have played more than 100 games. Dmitri Khristich gets the nod here, edging out two-time Stanley Cup winner Ruslan Fedotenko. An argument can certainly be made for Fedotenko, who actually leads all Ukrainian-born players in games played with 863.
2 Austria: Thomas Vanek
While it was difficult to pick the all-star from many of these nations, Thomas Vanek of Austria was a shoo-in. Fifteen Austrians have played at least one game in the NHL, but only five found their way in to more than 100 games. This is another nation whose players just recently started excelling, as the top three point producers from Austria are still playing in the league. Of those three, Vanek is the best.
1 Poland: Mariusz Czerkawski
Poland is an anomaly, as they have seemingly stopped producing NHL hockey players. Their most recent NHL players last played in 2006, and one of them just so happens to be the player we selected for best Polish NHLer of all time, Mariusz Czerkawski. Czerkawski leads all Poles in games played, goals, and assists. He played for Boston, Edmonton, the Islanders, Montreal and Toronto.
There have been just six players from Poland to make it to the NHL, but five of those players had longevity, each playing over 200 games. Czerkawski played 745, and second most would belong to enforcer Krzysztof Oliwa, who racked up 1,447 PIMs in his 410 games played. As you can see, Czerkawski is the clear winner here; there’s a reason they called him the Polish Prince.
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