Soccer is without a doubt the world’s most popular and international sport, but the soccer league in America doesn’t feature anywhere near the best players. When it comes to international flavor where all of the best players come to the United States (or Canada), you have to talk about hockey. Sure, baseball funnels in some international talent, but not quite the same way as the NHL.
Basketball has started to branch out across the world, but there haven’t been many great players from other countries. And the NFL? Can you name a Hall of Famer that has ever come from a different country? There is a reason why the hockey tournament in the Olympics is so popular, because there are so many great international teams comprised of the world’s best players.
Not all of them make it to the NHL, but they can still produce some solid talent. We want to focus on the countries that have been producing the best history of NHL players, and you can probably guess who number one and two are, and the United States might be a little lower down the list than you think. But how does the rest of the list shake out? Here are the top 10 countries that produce the best hockey players.
Latvia kicks off the list, mainly because they were one of the few countries that was left over from the rest of the list that has had at least 10 players score a point. The best player to come from Latvia was Sandis Ozolinsh, who had a total of 564 points in his 18-year NHL career, while Sergei Zholtok and Karlis Skrastins were also recognizable for a time period. The two active players in the league from Latvia are Zemgus Girgensons of the Sabres and Ronalds Kenins of the Canucks. This season for the Sabres, Girgensons had 15 goals and 15 assists in what was just his second season after being the 14th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. As for Kenins, the left winger played in just 30 games, notching a total of 12 points in his first NHL season.
Latvia has not medaled yet at the Olympics, but it might just be a matter of time. They gave Canada a scare in the 2014 games, losing a tight 2-1 quarterfinal game in which goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis made 55 saves on 57 shots.
When you talk about Germany, you have to consider both the old East and West Germany, although almost every NHL player comes from what used to be the West. Most of the German players that have made waves in the NHL are active players, with Dany Heatley (born in Freiburg, moved to Calgary as a kid) leading the way. Heatley, who is currently on the Ducks roster, played in only six games during the 2014-15 NHL season, but has tallied 791 points in his career.
Old schooler Walt Tkaczuk was also a solid player with 678 career points, while newer players such as Mikhail Grabovski and Marcel Goc are trying to put German hockey on the map. In international play, the Germans have only medaled at the Olympics twice, with both of them in the bronze category. They haven’t reached the podium since 1976 in Austria.
There have only been 25 players in the NHL from Switzerland, but the last decade alone has propelled the Swiss into the top 10 of this list. For a lengthy time period, Mark Hardy was the only notable Swiss player, scoring a total of 368 points in his career that lasted from 1979 to 1993 with the Kings, North Stars and Rangers. That was until 2006 when Mark Streit came along. Streit got into the league pretty late at the age of 28, and has played with the Canadiens, Islanders and Flyers in his career. Streit has been a solid defenseman at each stop, with three All Star Game appearances.
Now, there are quite a few solid players in the NHL from Switzerland that include Jonas Hiller (one time All-Star with a 2.49 career goals against average), Roman Josi (with 55 points in his fourth year with the Predators), Yannick Weber and Nino Niederreiter. The Swiss appear to be far from done in making history. The Swiss haven’t reached the podium at the Olympics since 1948 when they won bronze, although they have made a lot of noise recently.
7 Czech Republic
The Czech Republic represents the part of the country that used to be known as Czechoslovakia. Without a doubt, the best player from the Czech Republic is Jaromir Jagr, although some Devils fans might make an argument for Patrik Elias. It’s hard to believe that Jaromir Jagr is still in the league when he debuted in 1991 as the mulleted teenager for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jagr has tallied more than 1,800 points in his career, has been named to nine All Star Games, and has led the league in points five times.
As for Elias, his 19 year career has accounted for 1,017 points and four All Star Games. Even Avalanche fans will bring up Milan Hejduk in the conversation. Some of the other greats from the Czech Republic include Bobby Holik, Peter Sykora and Martin Straka.
Even one of the greatest goaltenders of all time hails from the Czech Republic. Dominik Hasek enjoyed much success in the NHL, earning the name "The Dominator" as he backstopped the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999. Hasek's brilliance also led the Czechs to gold in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, upsetting Canada and Russia in the medal rounds. The country took the bronze in Turin during the 2006 games.
Slovakia is a fairly new region that used to be part of the Czech Republic, but the players that were considered for this list come from this region, even if they were born before the renaming. Slovakia has produced several stars including Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik. Hossa’s career that started in 1997 with the Senators has seen him score 1,056 points, five All Star Games and two Stanley Cups. Gaborik is on roughly the same pace with 751 points in his first 14 seasons and is four years younger than Hossa. Former Norris Trophy winner and towering Zdeno Chara also comes to mind.
There are even a few legends from the country as well, with Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita (nine time All Star, four time Art Ross Trophy winner and two time Lady Byng Trophy winner) and Peter Stastny are beloved by their home country, while players such as Peter Bondra (Slovak background) and Pavol Demitra were no slouches.
5 United States of America
Even though the NHL is based out of the United States and four of the original six teams were from the country, less than 10 per cent of players in the league were American until the 1990s. These days, there are tons of American players in the NHL, and some very talented players have come out of the last quarter century.
Among the best American players of all time are Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Phil Housley, Keith Tkachuk and Chris Chelios. The country enjoys a great crop of current talent including Conn Smythe winners Patrick Kane and Jonathan Quick. The country is also represented by current stars Zack Parise, Ryan Suter, Max Pacioretty, Phil Kessel and Joe Pavelski.
In Olympic play, the United States has won two gold medals (with the last coming in the famed 1980 games) and one bronze medal. They have had to settle for silver an astonishing eight times.
Finland has never won the gold medal in Olympics competition, finishing multiple times with the silver and bronze. However, Finland has produced some mighty fine NHL talent over the past 30 to 40 years with the best to come from the country arguably being Teemu Selanne.
That’s not to take anything away from the other players that come from Finland that include Jari Kurri, Tomas Sandstrom, Saku Koivu and Olli Jokinen. The country has also developed some fine goaltenders, particularly in recent years with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi.
Finland has made the third place space on the podium their home lately with four bronze medals and two silver medals, placing at each of the last three Olympics.
Sweden got a bit of a late start in joining the NHL, with players finally starting to make their way across the Atlantic in the 1970s. Ever since then, Sweden has given the NHL star players such as Mats Sundin, the Sedin twins, Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and a player that has already had his jersey retired by the Red Wings in Nicklas Lidstrom, and another that looks like he will be heading in the same direction in Henrik Zetterberg. It's only a matter of time before the Ottawa Senators retire Daniel Alfredsson's no.11.
Other current Swedish stars include Henrik Lundqvist, Alexander Steen, Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Backstrom.
Sweden has taken home two gold medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals at the Olympics. The 2014 games saw them lose in the finals to Canada for the third silver.
Russia has seen a surge of great NHL players since the fall of the Soviet Union, and have already established themselves as the second best country in producing players. Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk are the best active players in the league from Russia, while some of the other notable superstars from the past include Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure.
Not to mention the domination that their international team brought in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Since the breakup of the USSR, Russia has only won a silver and bronze medal, but taking their previous history into consideration makes them great in international play as well.
Canada is the undisputed king of producing NHL players, and at one point having nearly 100 per cent of the players in the league during the 1950s. Many of the greatest NHL players of all time have come from Canada, and you know you’re in good company when the 10th highest scorer from the country was Ray Bourque. Wayne Gretzky is believed by almost everyone to be the greatest to ever play, and he hails from the Great White North. The only ones that would challenge Gretzky for that title are also from Canada including Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux. Other notable players include Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.
Canada has been dominant at the Olympics, winning three of the last four gold medals. All in all, they have taken home two bronze medals, four silver medals and an impressive nine gold medals.
Current NHL stars from Canada are would be long to list, but we have to acknowledge some: you've probably heard of these players - Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Carey Price. Oh, Canada!