The NHL and hockey claim to be a global game. Since the participation of NHL stars in the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, the National Hockey League has made great strides to give credence to their words. The NHL has participated in preseason and regular season games in Europe and winners of the Stanley Cup are allowed to take the trophy for the day back to their home town and country to be shared with distant communities all over the world. These activities have helped expose hockey and the NHL to places that were previously unfamiliar with the sport.
It was not to long ago that the NHL and hockey were seen as strictly a Canadian game played by white Canadians. It slowly grew to include Americans and players from Europe, but now the NHL is full of players who have entered its ranks from non-traditional hockey markets and the number of countries boasting ice hockey federations include predominately desert nations with no natural ice surfaces.
With all this expansion, hockey still has remained an almost exclusively white sport. That impression is quickly disappearing with black hockey players excelling in the NHL in every position. This is a credit to NHL programs like "Hockey is for Everyone" and the National Hockey League Players Association's "Goals and Dreams" program which help to support deserving children with the opportunity play hockey.
The NHL has not always been this accepting to black hockey players and it is unfortunate that many past and present players have had to face bigoted attitudes in their efforts to participate in this great game. Through the efforts of great pioneers like Willie O'Ree, hockey's version of Jackie Robinson, young black hockey players like Nashville's promising sophomore defenceman Seth Jones, has entered a sport and league that is much more accepting and welcoming to black hockey players.
With more and more black kids being exposed to hockey and seeing players like Seth Jones drafted in the first round and finding success, there is no doubt that black hockey players is not a passing fad, but a sign that hockey is truly a global, multicultural, multi-ethnic and becoming a multi-racial game.
The following is the list of the top 10 black hockey players in NHL history.
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10 George Laraque
Making the list at number 10, George Laraque may raise some eyebrows. Throughout his NHL career, Laraque was tasked with the role of enforcer and he quickly rose the ranks to the point of being the undisputed heavyweight in the NHL. Laraque will always be known as a fearsome physical force on the ice, but he did have one 13 goal season with the Edmonton Oilers, showing that he could contribute to a team's success in other ways then just dropping his gloves to fight. Laraque's value as a hockey player was seen when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was believed at the time that he could help protect the Penguins young stars from opposing teams taking liberties. Laraque has had a successful post-NHL career working as a TV analyst as well as entering the political arena as deputy leader of Canada's National Green Party, but will likely be remembered as one of the most feared fighters in NHL history.
9 Ray Emery
Ray Emery has had a rollercoaster career in the NHL. He began as the future franchise goaltender for the Ottawa Senators helping a really good team who suffered suspect goaltending, finally stabilize their presence in the crease. Initially Emery provided that answer for the Senators as he backstopped them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. A number of off ice incidents and a decline in his play lead to a brief stint in the KHL, but as Emery matured off the ice, his game began to rebound. He returned to the NHL and earned a Stanley Cup as an excellent backup in Chicago, at points challenging the Blackhawks number one for playing time. At only 32 years old Emery still has plenty of good years ahead of him and chances for success.
8 Wayne Simmonds
Wayne Simmonds is not the most graceful hockey player as his skating style looks a little gangly with so many moving parts flailing about, but for what he lacks in style, Simmonds more than makes up for in substance. In his young career he has filled the role of power forward on a team and in a city (Philadelphia) that embraces that type of hockey player. Simmonds is a consistent offensive and physical threat for the Flyers. He has helped ease the sting for Flyers fans having watched former Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards win multiple Stanley Cups in Los Angeles. Simmonds was a big piece in the Mike Richards trade, helping Philadelphia re-define its team, making Simmonds a centerpiece.
7 Evander Kane
Evander Kane had a difficult ending to his tenure in Winnipeg and once his injury woes are put aside, there is no doubt his immense talent will help the Buffalo Sabres become a force once again in the NHL. Kane was a 4th overall draft pick back in 2009 and has proven to be a consistent goal scoring threat since he entered the league. Kane was a bona fide superstar in junior hockey and to a degree he has been the victim of high expectations. Fans and coaches alike watch Kane and believe he is just scratching the surface of his potential. Anyone who has watched Kane play, knows he is poised for a breakout.
6 Anson Carter
Anson Carter was a late round draft choice in the early 90's that may have been due to his race more so than his play. He was an offensive dynamo at Michigan State and when given the opportunity in the NHL showed his skills in arenas all over North America. His greatest offensive success came riding shotgun with the Sedin twins in Vancouver where he was given plenty of power play time and asked to shoulder the offensive load. Along with his excellent play Carter was also known league wide for his great hockey hair, with his long dreadlocks poking out every hole his helmet offered.
5 Mike Grier
It is a rare feat for a 9th round draft selection to play an NHL game, let alone 1,000 of them. Mike Grier is a member of that select fraternity of players overlooked or undervalued by a host of NHL scouts, only to prove them very wrong. Grier was a very solid player for a number of teams with an ability to use his size and speed to create offense as well as be trusted upon to kill penalties and shut down the opposition's best players.
4 Dustin Byfuglien
Dustin Byfuglien is an NHL star, but he wasn't always projected as such. With a gargantuan size (6-foot-5 and 265 pounds) many wondered if he had the agility to keep up with the pace at the NHL level. Byfuglien had been a solid contributor for the emerging championship team in Chicago, but it was in the 2010 playoffs when he put up 16 points in 22 postseason games that the NHL was put on notice of what he could do. He was a handful all over the ice, imposing his will on the game and forcing teams to deal with his tremendous size and skill. With the Blackhawks facing difficult salary cap restrictions the Winnipeg Jets (then the Atlanta Thrashers) were able to snatch up Byfuglien. In a Jets uniform he has become the heart and soul of the team with an unrivaled ability to play both defence and forward without suffering a drop off in play.
3 P.K. Subban
With a Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman and an Olympic Gold Medal, at 25 years old, the future is as bright as the sun for Subban. No other player has a personality that reflects his style of play as much as P.K. does. The fearlessness and joy with which he carries the puck up the ice, or bangs his stick to let a teammate know he is open for a pass or the big bodycheck, big smile or big celebration after a goal, all help to personify P.K. He plays the game with such zeal and passion along with all the skills necessary to be an All-Star that you can't help but slide to the edge of your seat when P.K. is on the ice. He's one of the most marketable players in the league and it's easy to see why.
2 Grant Fuhr
Six All-star games, five Stanley Cups, and a Hall of Fame Induction are only a few of the reasons Grant Fuhr is placed second on this list. He was the reliable backstop for the Edmonton Oiler dynasty of the 1980's. That team had many great stars, producing offence that had never been seen in the NHL before, but in order to generate a potent attack they had to take chances and were at times exposed and vulnerable defensively. It was during those times that Fuhr was there to make the big save at the right time and help the Oiler's young guns reclaim possession and attack once more.
1 Jarome Iginla
Being traded for one of the league's best players while still in Junior hockey can raise expectations beyond a player's capabilities. While starring in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers, Ignila was traded by the Dallas Stars to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk. Nieuwendyk and the Stars would win the Stanley Cup a few short years later, but Iginla would put the Flames on his back and carry the team for the next 14 years. His storybook career is still working out its final chapters, but thus far Iginla has accumulated an Art Ross Trophy as the leagues top point producer, two Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophies as the top goal scorer, two Olympic Gold Medals, a gold at the World Junior Championships, the World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.
Noted for being one of the best conditioned athletes in the entire league, Iginla has represented hockey with class throughout his career. Playing the game tough, but fair, never shying away from a fight, but never looking for one either. He has been the model of consistency playing in over 1,300 games, scoring close to 600 goals and over 1,200 points, with the numbers still increasing. At 37 years of age, Iginla is showing little sign of slowing down as he is currently leading his latest team, the Colorado Avalanche, in points and goals.
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