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 Alexei Kovalev - Russia
Russian right-winger Alexei Kovalev played in the NHL from 1992 to 2013 with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa and Florida. He won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in the 1993-94 campaign. Kovalev contributed 430 goals and 599 assists for 1,029 points in 1,316 regular-season games and had 70 game-winning goals. Kovalev was an explosive player who didn’t manage to win any personal-achievement trophies during his career, but was named to the league’s Second All-Star Team in 2007-08. He reached the 20-goal mark 12 times and the 30-goal barrier on four occasions. His best year came in 2000-01 when he scored 44 goals and 51 assists with Pittsburgh.
19 Alexander Mogilny - Russia
Alexander Mogilny was another Russian forward who easily adapted to the NHL. He proved this by scoring 76 goals in 77 games in his fourth season in the league. Mogilny played from 1989 to 2006 with Buffalo, New Jersey, Vancouver and Toronto. He finished his NHL career with 473 goals and 559 assists for 1,032 points in 990 regular season games. He had 66 game-winners and won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1999-00. He tallied 1.042 points per-game and retired with a plus-81 rating. Mogilny was a two-time All Star who also took home the Lady Byng Trophy in 2002-03.
18 Daniel Alfredsson - Sweden
After 17 seasons skating on the right wing for the Ottawa Senators, Daniel Alfredsson of Sweden joined the Red Wings for his final season. However, there’s talk that he may be making a comeback in Ottawa. Alfredsson has played 1,246 games with 1,157 points under his belt on 444 goals and 713 assists for an average of 0.929 points per-game. He’s the seventh-highest European scorer in NHL history and holds several Senators’ club records. Alfredsson was the team captain from 1999 to 2013 and was named the rookie of the year for the 1995/96 campaign. He added 100 points in 124 playoff games and reached the 20-goal mark 13 times with his career best being 43.
17 Peter Bondra - Slovakia
One of the most underrated players in NHL history is Peter Bondra, who was born in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union), but played for Slovakia and became a citizen of that nation. He kicked off his NHL career in 1990 and retired in 2007. Bondra, a right-winger, spent the first 14 years with Washington and then played a season each with Ottawa, Atlanta and Chicago. Bondra played 1,081 games and racked up 503 goals and 389 assists for 892 points at a rate of 0.825 points per-outing. He scored 52 goals twice and hit the 20-goal mark 14 times and the 30-goal plateau on nine occasions. Not bad at all for a guy who was drafted 156th overall in 1990. Bondra led the league in goals in 1995/96 and again in 1997/98 when he shared the honour with Teemu Selanne.
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.
Kovalchuk shocked a lot of fans when he left the NHL to play with Saint Petersburg in the Russian KHL in 2013-14. He left North America while in his prime and still plays in the KHL. He ranks number five for NHL scoring by Russian players and the former first-overall draft pick is a two-time all star who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla in 2003-04.
15 Marian Hossa - Slovakia
Another player who is still making a living in the NHL is Slovakian right-winger Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. Hossa ranks ninth on the all-time scoring list for Europeans with 1,056 points in 1172 regular-season outings. He’s accumulated them on 486 goals and 570 assists for an average of 0.901 points-per game. Thirty-six of his goals have been shorthanded and 76 have been game winners. The 36-year-old’s NHL career began with Ottawa back in 1997. Since then he’s also skated with the Atlanta Thrashers, Pittsburgh and Detroit. He’s been the most successful in Chicago though with three Stanley Cup rings on his fingers and was a member of the 1998/99 All-Rookie Team.
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.
However, Wayne Gretzky was the only player to outscore him during the 1980s. Stastny was a steady scorer who broke the 30-goal mark eight times.
13 Pavel Datsyuk - Russia
Although he’s 37 years old, Russian centre Pavel Datsyuk is still going strong for the Detroit Red Wings. He joined the team in the 2001-02 season and has played 887 regular-season contests since then. He’s helped the Wings win a pair of Stanley Cups so far and has scored 298 goals and 571 assists for 869 points at a pace of 0.980 points per match. Datsyuk can puck the puck in the net with the best of them, but is known as a playmaker who is effective in both ends of the ice. He’s won three straight Selke Trophies (2008-10) as the league’s best defensive forward and has taken home four Lady Byng awards, which were won also won consecutively between 2006 and 2009. Datsyuk’s plus/minus rating is currently plus-242, which is currently fifth-best in history by a European player.
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.
He took care of the crease for Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa and won two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in the 2001-02 season and again in 2007-08. The Dominator made the All-Rookie Team and holds several records and milestones. The six-time All Star also took home a pair of Hart and Lester B. Pearson Trophies along with three Jennings and half a dozen Vezina awards. Hasek was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
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.
He appeared in 708 regular-season contests with 885 points on 249 goals and 636 assists. His 1.250 points per-game rank second best for European players behind Peter Stastny and rank him seventh overall in history. He’s also fourth in history and first for Europeans with in assists per-game at 0.898. Forsberg was named to the First All-Star Team three times, won two Stanley Cups with Colorado and also took home the Calder Trophy along with a Hart and an Art Ross.
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.
He also has an Art Ross to his name for being the NHL’s leading scorer in 2007-08. Heading into the 2015-16 campaign, Ovechkin has accumulated 895 points in 760 regular season games on 475 goals and 420 assists for an average of 1.178 points per-game.
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.
Fedorov was a member of the All-Rookie team in 1990-91 and took home two Selke Trophies as well as a Hart and Lester B. Pearson Award. He posted the hardest shot at the 2002 skills competition and was the fastest skater in the 1992 and 1994 competitions. His 27 career overtime points in regular-season play are an NHL record. Fedorov added 176 points in 183 playoff outings and was the first-European trained player to win the Hart Trophy. He’ll be inducted in to the Hall of Fame later this year and is currently the highest-scoring Russian player of all time in the NHL.
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.
Bure played three years with the Central Red Army cub in his homeland before being drafted 113th overall by Vancouver in 1989. The three-time All Star won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year and led the league in goals on three occasions. Bure was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
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.
He was an eight-time All Star who won a Stanley Cup along with a pair of Lady Byng and Hart Trophies. Mikita also led the NHL in scoring on four occasions and scored at a career pace of 1.052 points per-game.
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.
He was a clutch scorer who banged in 96 game-winning goals, which ranks him number seven in history in that category. The Hall of Famer owns numerous Maple Leaf records and was the first European born and trained hockey player to be drafted first overall. The two-time All Star wasn’t a flashy player, but was very consistent.
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.
When Kurri retired, he was the highest-scoring European-trained player in NHL history. Stan Mikita had more points, but was trained in Canada. He was the first Finnish player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his 233 playoff points rank third-best in league history. The five-time all star led the league in goals in 1985-86 with 68 and won the Lady Byng Trophy a year earlier.
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.
He played his final NHL season with Detroit in 1989-90 before heading back to Sweden for another three years of top-tier hockey. Salming is still the third highest-scoring European defenceman and 17th highest on the all-time list. He was also honoured with the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award back in 1982.
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.
Selanne is a four-time All Star who won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2006-07 and was named the rookie of the year. He also won a Masterton and Rocket Richard Trophy. Selanne retired in 2014 and is certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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.
Lidstrom played on four Stanley Cup-winning teams and holds several Red Wings records. He was also the squad’s captain for the last six years of his 20-season career and the first European to captain a Stanley Cup winner. The 12-time All Star won seven Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe and will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this November.
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.