The NHL is truly an international sports league these days as several different nations are represented. It used to be dominated by Canadians until U.S. born players started to become more skilled and now it can be argued that a lot of the best players originate from Europe. The first European-born player to hit the big time was centre Stan Mikita. However, he learned the game while living in Canada. Things really changed back in 1973 when a skinny defenceman named Borje Salming took the league by storm as a rookie with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Salming paved the way for other European-born and trained players to leave their homelands for the NHL. This list represents the top 20 European players in NHL history and it could have been quite a bit longer. Since the former Soviet Union broke up, Russia has been considered to be a part of Europe by most people and that’s why there are several Russians listed here. In fact, there are eight Russian-born players here. They may dominate the top 20, but none of them rank higher than eighth. There are five Swedish-born players, three from the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia, and two from Slovakia and Sweden.
In addition, Peter Bondra was born in Russia, but took up Slovakian citizenship and played for his new country internationally. There have been some good British-born players in the league, such as Steve Smith, Steve Thomas, Owen Nolan and Ken Hodge, but they were more or less brought up in North America. The top 20 is made up of one goaltender and two defencemen with the others being high-scoring forwards. Four of the players are still competing in the NHL, including the number one European of all time.
20 20. Alexei Kovalev - Russia
19 19. Alexander Mogilny - Russia
18 18. Daniel Alfredsson - Sweden
17 17. Peter Bondra - Slovakia
16 16. Ilya Kovalchuk - Russia
Russian left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk may not have scored as many points as some fellow Europeans, but he scored them at a better pace. Kovalchuk left the NHL with 816 points to his name in 816 games by scoring 417 goals and 399 assists for exactly a point per game. He scored 60 game winners during his career which began in 2001 with the Atlanta Thrashers. He also played for New Jersey up until the 2012-13 campaign.
15 15. Marian Hossa - Slovakia
14 14. Peter Stastny - Slovakia
Peter Stastny of Slovakia ranks as the fifth-highest European scorer in NHL history with his 450 goals, 789 assists and 1,239 points in 977 games. His 1.269 points per-game is the best ever for a European. The centre played from 1980 to 1995 with the Quebec Nordiques, New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues. The Hall of Famer won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year for the 1980-81 season, but didn’t manage to capture any other major awards or a Stanley Cup.
13 13. Pavel Datsyuk - Russia
12 12. Dominik Hasek - Czech Republic
When it comes to European goalies, Dominik Hasek of the Czech Republic ranks number one all-time in regular-season wins with 389, second in goals-against average at 2.20, second in games played at 735, and second in save percentage at .922. His 81 shutouts are also tops for a European keeper and rank him sixth on the all-time NHL list. Hasek played from 1990 to 2008 in the NHL before heading back to Europe for two more seasons.
11 11. Peter Forsberg - Sweden
Another Swedish Hall of Famer who makes this list is centre Peter Forsberg, who played from 1994 to 2008 before heading back to Sweden to play. He made an NHL comeback in the 2010-11 season with the Colorado Avalanche, but it lasted just two games before he hung up his skates. Forsberg had stints with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche and the Philadelphia Flyers.
10 10. Alexander Ovechkin - Russia
Alexander Ovechkin makes this list even though he’s only 29 years old and still active. He may even move up this list in a few years from now. His achievements since being drafted first overall in 2004 have guaranteed his spot here. The former rookie of the year was playing with Moscow Dynamo by the time he was 16 and has easily adapted to the North American game. Ovechkin is a 10-time All Star who has won a trio of Hart and Lester B. Pearson Trophies along with five Rocket Richard awards for leading the league in goalscoring.
9 9. Sergei Fedorov - Russia
Russian forward Sergei Fedorov skated in the NHL from 1990 to 2009 with Detroit, Anaheim, Columbus and Washington before heading back to his homeland for another three seasons in the KHL. He won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and posted 483 goals and 696 assists for 1,179 points in 1,248 regular season contests. He also tallied 36 shorthanded goals along with 83 game winners and averaged 0.945 points per-game.
8 8. Pavel Bure - Russia
The Russian Rocket lit up the red light 437 times in 702 regular season games from 1991 to 2003 and added 342 assists for 779 points at a rate of 1.110 points per game. He scored 60 goals twice and also had seasons of 59, 58 and 51 goals. He managed 34 shorthanded goals along with 59 game winners while playing with Vancouver, Florida and the New York Rangers.
7 7. Stan Mikita - Czechoslovakia
Even though he moved to Canada when he was eight years old, Stan Mikita was the first European-born player to become a star player in the NHL. Mikita was born in the former nation of Czechoslovakia and learned the game while living in North America. The first few years of Mikita’s career saw him spend quite a bit of time in the penalty box. However, he adjusted to the style of play and started to focus his energy on setting up teammates and scoring goals. The slick centre spent his entire 21-season NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks between 1959 and 1980 and chipped in with 541 goals and 926 assists for 1,467 points in 1,394 regular-season matches.
6 6. Mats Sundin - Sweden
Swedish centre Mats Sundin currently ranks as the all-time leading scorer and goal getter in the NHL for Swedish-born players and fourth in overall scoring for Europeans. Sundin scored 1.002 points per game in 1,346 career regular season games. He posted 564 goals and 785 assists for 1,349 points in his 18-season career from 1990 to 2009. Sundin skated for the Toronto Maple Leafs for each one of those seasons other than the first four when he was with the Quebec Nordiques and his last when he played for Vancouver.
5 5. Jari Kurri - Finland
Finnish right-winger Jari Kurri was one of the most productive players during his NHL career from 1980 to 1998. He spent most of his years with Edmonton, but also enjoyed stints with Los Angeles, the New York Rangers, Anaheim and the Colorado Avalanche. Kurri produced 1.118 points per-game which enabled him to rack up 601 goals and 797 assists for 1,398 points. Kurri’s play helped the Oilers win five Stanley Cups.
4 4. Borje Salming - Sweden
This list may not have been possible if it wasn’t for Swedish Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming. The six-time All Star joined the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973-74 and basically opened the floodgates for European-born and trained players to try their luck in the world’s best league. Salming played in the era of the Big Bad Bruins and Broad Street Bullies, but was never intimidated. He pushed back and proved his athletic skills were those of an elite hockey player. Salming was a finely-tuned athlete who could do it all in both ends of the ice. He holds numerous Maple Leaf records by scoring 150 goals and 637 assists for 787 points in 1,148 games.
3 3. Teemu Selanne - Finland
Right winger Teemu Selanne of Finland was known as the Finnish Flash during his NHL career from 1992 to 2014. He skated with the Winnipeg Jets, Anaheim, San Jose and Colorado, with most of his time with the Ducks. Selanne stepped into the NHL from the SM-Liga in Finland and took the league by storm when he scored 76 goals and 56 assists for 132 points as a rookie with Winnipeg. He appeared in 1,451 career regular season contests and posted 684 goals and 773 assists for 1,457 points at an average of 1.004 points per-game. He ranks number two for Europeans behind Jaromir Jagr in games played, points, goals and assists.
2 2. Nicklas Lidstrom - Sweden
Swedish defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom played his entire career from 1991 to 2012 with the Detroit Red Wings. His 1,564 games played currently ranks as the most ever by a European-born player. He scored 264 goals and 878 assists for 1,142 points at a rate of 0.730 points per-contest. He retired with a plus-450 rating, which ranks as 10th best in history and his point total is eighth-best among Europeans.
1 1. Jaromir Jagr - Czech Republic
Forward Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic heads this list and the 43-year-old is still currently playing in the NHL after launching his career in 1988. Heading into the upcoming 2015/16 season, Jagr first all-time in scoring for European players and fourth in all-time NHL scoring with 1,802 points on 722 goals and 1,080 assists. He’s scored at a pace of 1.163 points per-game in 1,550 matches with Pittsburgh, Washington, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, New Jersey and Florida. Jagr skated on a pair of Stanley Cup winners with Pittsburgh and currently leads the NHL all-time in with 129 game-winning goals and overtime markers with 20.
Jagr left the NHL in 2008 to play three seasons in the Russian KHL before returning with the Flyers and is now the league’s leading scorer among active players. Jagr, an eight-time All Star and holder of numerous club and league records, has captured numerous awards including five Art Ross Trophies, a Hart and three Lester B. Pearson awards.
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