The records show that a total of 51 NHL players were born in the United Kingdom and had varying degrees of success in the league. The players may have been born overseas, but they all more or less moved to North America as youngsters and launched their hockey careers in the Canada or U.S. Of these 51 players, three were born in Wales with five hailing from Northern Ireland, 21 from Scotland, and 22 from England. This list consists of one Northern Irishman, six Englishmen, and five Scotsmen.
Two of the players managed to appear in over 1,000 NHL games while others were Stanley Cup winners and All-Stars. One of them is even in the Hockey Hall of Fame and a pair of them played in more than 100 postseason contests. As of 2015-16, there weren’t any British-born players in the NHL, but this should change in the near future as more and more youngsters in the UK are becoming interested in the sport. Ice hockey has always been pretty popular in Britain and it’s possible that some of the sport’s origins can be traced back there.
Great Britain was one of the founding members of the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) and the nation had a hockey league as far back as 1903. The British Ice Hockey Association was formed in 1914 and ruled until 1999 before Ice Hockey UK replaced it. Great Britain has had some success on the ice as they won a bronze medal in hockey at the 1924 Olympic Games and actually captured the gold in 1936. They’ve also won medals at the World Championships and European Championships. There’s no doubt that Great Britain isn’t anywhere near a hockey power, but this list proves that UK-born players have had their fair share of success in the NHL over the years.
12 Gord Pettinger
Gord Pettinger was born in Harrogate, England and ended up playing eight seasons at centre ice in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins. Pettinger was always in the right place at the right time as he won four Stanley Cups with three different teams. He won the crown with the Rangers in 1932-33, with the Red Wings in 1935-36 and 1936-37, and again in the 1938-39 season with the Bruins. This makes Pettinger one of just 10 players to win a Stanley Cup with three different clubs. He ended his career with 42 goals and 74 assists for 116 points in 292 games and added nine points in 47 postseason contests. His best season was in 1938-39 with Boston when he scored 11 goals and 14 assists in 48 games. Gord’s brother Eric Pettinger also played in the NHL.
11 Jack Beattie
Five-foot-nine-inch Left-winger Jack ‘Red’ Beattie of Ibstock, England played in the NHL from 1930 to 1939. He spent most of his time with the Boston Bruins, but also played with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Americans. Beattie appeared in 334 regular-season matches and accumulated 62 goals and 85 assists for 147 points. Beattie peaked in the 1935-36 campaign with 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points in 48 games. He also had a fine rookie season in 1930-31 with 10 goals and 21 points in 31 outings and chipped in with six points in 24 playoff games.
10 Jim Conacher
Scotsman Jim Conacher from Motherwell played centre ice in the NHL from 1945 to 1953 with the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and New York Rangers. He recorded 202 points in 328 regular-season games by scoring 85 goals and adding 117 assists. Conacher was an accomplished scorer during the first several seasons of his career with campaigns of 16, 17, 26, and 25 goals. His best season consisted of 49 points in 59 games in 1948-49 which he split between Detroit and Chicago after being traded to the Windy City four games into the season. Conacher added seven points in 19 playoff games.
9 Adam Brown
Forward Adam Brown hailed from Johnstone, Scotland and played on the left wing for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins between 1941 and 1952. Brown appeared in 391 regular-season contests and contributed 217 points on 104 goals and 113 assists while serving 378 minutes in penalties. He also chipped in with six points in 26 postseason outings. Brown, who was known as 'The Flying Scotsman,' helped the Red Wings capture the Stanley Cup in 1942-43 and also assisted on Gordie Howe’s first NHL goal. Brown was just 5-feet-9-inches tall, but was a tough customer. His son Andy Brown later played in 62 NHL games as a goaltender. Brown had seasons of 24, 20, and 19 goals, but sadly passed away in 1960 due to an auto accident at the age of 40.
8 Peter Lee
Right-winger Peter Lee of Ellesmere, England was drafted 12th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1976 after scoring more than 400 points with the Ottawa 67's, including a 161-point campaign in his final year of junior. He scored at about a point-per-game pace in the AHL for a year and a half and then made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh in 1977-78. He scored just 18 points in 60 games as a 22-year-old rookie, but broke out the next season with 32 goals and 26 assists in 80 outings. His best season was 30 goals and 34 assists two years later. Lee played 431 regular-season games with the Penguins and chipped in with 245 points on 114 goals and 131 assists and added eight points in 19 playoff contests. After six years in the NHL, Lee left for Germany where he scored at over a point-per-game pace for 12 more seasons.
7 Byron Dafoe
Byron Dafoe of Worthing, England was a pretty good NHL goalie with the Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, and the Atlanta Thrashers between 1992 and 2004. He was taken 35th overall by Washington in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft after playing out west as a junior with Portland and Prince Albert. Dafoe appeared in 415 regular-season NHL games and posted a record of 171-170-56 with a goals-against average of 2.69 and a save percentage of .904 along with 26 shutouts. He posted a 1.99 GAA in 1998-99 with Boston and led the league with 10 shutouts, making it to the Second All Star Team. Dafoe earned votes for several trophies during his career including the Calder, Hart, and Vezina.
6 Steve Smith
Steady defenceman Steve Smith was born in Glasgow, Scotland and played 804 regular-season games with the powerful Edmonton Oilers as well as the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames between 1984 and 2001. Smith may have scored in his own net as an Oilers rookie in the seventh game of their 1985-86 playoff loss to the Calgary Flames, but he was rock solid on the blue line apart from that moment. Smith was taken 111th overall in the 1981 draft by Edmonton and contributed 72 goals and 303 assists for 375 points during his career with another 52 points in 134 playoff outings. He also helped the Oilers win three Stanley Cups. Smith represented his adopted homeland of Canada in the 1991 Canada Cup and was no angel as he served 2,139 minutes in penalties during his career.
5 Ken Hodge
Ken Hodge was known as one of the toughest wingers in the NHL from 1964 to 1978 when he played with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers. Hodge hailed from Birmingham, England and starred as a junior with the Saint Catharines Blackhawks, scoring a league-leading 63 goals and 60 assists in his final season. Hodge’s NHL career lasted 881 regular-season games which saw him score 328 goals and 472 assists for 800 points to go along with 779 minutes in penalties. He scored 87 power play markers and was a + 241 for his career. Hodge also scored 81 points in 97 playoff contests and helped the Big Bad Bruins win two Stanley Cups in 1969-70 and 1971-72. The bruising winger was also a part of the famous 1968 trade which saw himself, Phil Esposito, and Fred Stanfield leave Chicago for Boston.
4 Owen Nolan
Hard-nosed and high-scoring Owen Nolan was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and patrolled the right wing from 1990 to 2010 with the likes of the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames, and Minnesota Wild. Nolan was a first-overall draft pick by Quebec in 1990 from the Cornwall Royals. Nolan scored 423 goals and 463 assists for 885 points for his career. Nolan also chipped in with 40 points in 65 postseason contests. He was also a rough and tumble guy who served 1,793 minutes in penalties and a feared fighter. The power forward represented his adopted Canada at several tournaments and won an Olympic gold medal in 2002.
3 Tom Anderson
Edinburgh, Scotland was the birthplace of left-winger/defencemen Tom Anderson who skated in the NHL between 1934 and 1942. Anderson played 319 regular-season contests with the Detroit Red Wings, the New York Americans, and the Brooklyn Americans. He racked up 62 goals and 127 assists for 189 points while adding seven points in 16 playoff encounters. Anderson’s best NHL season was his last in 1937-38 with Brooklyn when he scored 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points in 48 games. His 41 points set a record at the time for NHL defencemen. Anderson also hit double digits in goals on three other occasions and won the Hart Trophy for his record-setting season as the NHL's most valuable player. Anderson was the first player on a non-playoff team to capture the Hart, but he’s just one of three winners of the trophy not to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The other two are Eric Lindros and Al Rollins.
2 Charlie Gardiner
Charlie Gardiner was one of the NHL’s top goaltenders between 1927 and 1934. The native of Edinburgh, Scotland spent his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks and won the Vezina Trophy in 1931-32 and again in 1933-34. In addition, he was named to the First All-Star Team three times and the Second Team once. Gardiner appeared in 316 regular-season outings while posting a record of 112-152-52. However, his goals-against average was a stellar 2.02 and he posted 42 shutouts. He went 12-6 in the playoffs with a 1.43 goals-against average and had another five shutouts, helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup in his final season in 1933-34. Gardiner is the only goalie to captain a Stanley Cup-winning squad and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945. He was also a fine football player and appeared in the Grey Cup with the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers. Gardiner died a few months after winning the Stanley Cup due to complications from infected tonsils. He was just 29.
1 Steve Thomas
Winger Steve Thomas of Stockport, England was the most successful NHL player from the UK when it comes to games played and points. Thomas ended up being one of the league’s best-ever undrafted players after breaking into the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1984-85. He was a 50-goal scorer in junior with the Toronto Marlboros and then racked up a 42-goal, 48-assist season in his first pro year in the AHL. Thomas ended up playing 1,235 regular-season NHL games with the Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Might Ducks of Anaheim, and Detroit Red Wings, scoring 421 goals and 512 assists for 933 points. He had 106 power play goals and 78 game winners and added 107 points in 174 playoff games. Thomas was small, but could more than take care of himself and possessed one of the best shots and fastest sets of wheels in the league until retiring in 2004.