Not every NHL player becomes a household name, sometimes not even in his own household. But this doesn’t mean they weren’t solid players. There have been hundreds of young men who have skated in the world’s best hockey league and some of them are harder to remember than others for one reason or another. This is a list of 20 European-born NHL players you probably don’t remember. Therefore, you may want to view this list as a sort of refresher course. The 20 players hail from numerous European nations such as Sweden, Russia, Latvia, Belarus, Wales, England, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Most of these individuals were good players who ended up returning to Europe after trying their hand at the NHL level. In most cases, these players could have probably remained in the NHL since their skill level was suited to the game. The majority of them also played for their country’s national teams during their careers. Depending on your age and which team you cheer for, you may recognize at least a few of these players, but you may be hearing some of their names for the very first time.
20 Thommie Bergman
Many hockey fans are under the impression that former Toronto Maple Leafs All-Star defenceman, Borje Salming was the first Swedish-born and trained player to make it to the NHL. However, that’s not the case as fellow blueliner Thommie Bergman beat him to it as he was signed by Detroit as a free agent in March of 1972. Bergman played for his homeland at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan and at the World Championships in both 1971 and 1972. He spent three injury-plagued seasons with Detroit before jumping to the WHA and signing with the Winnipeg Jets for four seasons. Bergman returned to Detroit and the NHL in 1977-78 for three more years before heading back to Sweden to finish his career. He played a total of 246 NHL games and scored 21 goals and 44 assists for 65 points and served 243 minutes in penalties. Bergman is currently a scout for the Maple Leafs.
19 Inge Hammarstrom
Swedish left-winger Inge Hammarstrom joined Borje Salming as a rookie in the Leafs’ lineup in the 1973-74 season a year after playing for Sweden at the 1972 Olympic Games in Japan. The speedy forward scored at least 20 goals in his four seasons in Toronto and had 19 in the other campaign. He was traded to St. Louis and added 31 goals and 72 points in 135 contests. Hammarstrom hung up his skates for good at the age of 35 in 1982 following another three years of playing back home in Sweden. He then returned to the NHL when he started working for Central Scouting. He then became the head European scout from 1990 to 2008 with the Philadelphia Flyers. Hammarstrom persuaded the Flyers to draft fellow countryman Peter Forsberg in 1991 with the sixth overall selection although he was ranked quite a bit lower. Hammarstrom scored 239 points in 427 NHL games with another five points in 13 playoff encounters.
18 Gus Forslund
Although Thommie Bergman was the first Swedish-born and trained player in the NHL, forward Gus Forslund will remain in the history books as the first Swedish-born player in the league. He was born in 1908 in Holmsund, Sweden and the right-winger made his NHL debut with the original Ottawa Senators franchise back in the 1932-33 campaign. His family moved to Canada when Forslund was a youngster and he passed away in Geraldton, Ontario at the age of 54 in 1962. His pro career began with the Port Arthur Ports when he was a 20-year-old and he also played in the American Hockey League for the Duluth Hornets in Minnesota between 1926 and 1942. Forslund played a grand total of 48 games with the Senators all those years ago and managed to score four goals and nine assists for 13 points. He continued his career in the International Hockey League with the Windsor Bulldogs and then played in the Can-Am Hockey League and Thunder Bay Senior League. He helped operate local youth hockey after retiring.
17 Dave Schriner
If any fans remember Dave Schriner, it’s likely they know the left-winger by his nickname of Sweeney Schriner. He was the first Russian-born player in the NHL and starred for 11 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Americans. Schriner was rookie of the year back in 1934-35 and led the league in scoring on two occasions. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with Toronto and in 1962 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Schriner’s family moved to Canada when he was just a month old and he grew up in Calgary. He scored 18 goals and 22 assists as a rookie and added 45 points the next season to lead the league. He led the league again the next year with 46 points. Schriner was traded to Toronto after five years for five players. In 1942 he helped the Leafs become the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup after trailing 3-0 in the final series. He finally retired from the NHL in 1946. Schriner scored 201 goals and 204 assists in 484 regular-season outings and added 29 points in 59 postseason contests.
16 Bengt Gustafsson
Highly-underrated Swedish forward Bengt Gustafsson played nine years with the Washington Capitals after being selected in the fourth round with the 55th overall pick in the 1978 NHL Draft. However, he stayed in Sweden for another year and signed in the WHA with the Edmonton Oilers. When several WHA teams merged with the NHL in 1980 the Capitals reclaimed the players rights. Gustafsson’s 196 career goals rank fourth in franchise history and his 359 assists rank sixth. He’s also top-five in Washington history for game-winning and shorthanded goals. Gustafsson played 629 games with the club and scored 555 points with 28 more in 32 playoff contests. He went back to Sweden in 1986-87 for a year and then returned to the Capitals for two more years before once again going home to finish his career. Gustafsson then turned to coaching in Europe before taking over as head coach of the Swedish national team. In 2006, he became the first ever coach to win an IIHF World Championship and the Olympic Games in the same year.
15 Jiri Crha
Jiri Crha was a Czechoslovakian goaltender who had the unfortunate job of stopping pucks for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1980 to 1983 after defecting to North America. Crha had played for nine years in his homeland and at the international level before the Leafs took a chance on him as a free agent in February of 1980. He even won a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics. After his stint in the NHL he headed over to Germany and played until 1991 when he hung up his skates and becoming a player agent. Crha was just 5-feet-11-inches tall and 170 lbs. He played seven games in the AHL in 1979-80 and 15 with the Leafs, going 8-7 and posting a 3.61 goals-against average. He went 20-20-11 the next season with a 4.07 GAA, but never played in the NHL again. He remained in the Leafs organization until 1983, but played just a few games in the minors. Crha was basically a .500 goalie on a very weak Leafs team.
14 Miroslav Ihnacak
Forward Miroslav Ihnacak was another Czech-born player who decided to defect to North America to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His brother Peter was already playing with the club and had proven to be quite a useful centre. The Leafs basically signed his brother sight unseen after Peter proclaimed that Miroslav was the better player. It was a bit of a white lie though as Miroslav didn’t possess the same skills as Peter. The left-winger arrived in Toronto amid a lot of fanfare, bur managed to play just 56 games in the NHL. He played 21 games for Toronto in 1985-86 and scored just six points. He then scored 11 points in 34 games the next year. Ihnacak was sent to Detroit and played just one game with the Red Wings with the rest of his time being spent in the minors. He was a prolific scorer in the minors though with 300 points at the AHL level in 292 games. Ihnacak returned to Europe in 1991 and continued to rack up points, he peaked in 1995-96 with 107 points in just 44 games in Germany’s top league.
13 Anders Kallur
Anders Kallur was a 5-foot-11-inch-tall right-winger from Sweden who signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders after playing several seasons in his homeland. Kallur’s Islanders’ team was the first in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup with Europeans on the squad then it achieved the feat in 1979-80. Kallur managed to win three more Stanley Cups with the Islanders and along with teammate Stefan Persson, they were the first ever Europeans to win the Cup. Kallur had a 22 and 36-goal season with New York along with an 18-goal campaign. He played 383 games with the club and chipped in with 211 points on 101 goals and 110 assists. He also had 35 points in 78 playoff outings. Kallur was one of the most successful NHL players ever with four Stanley Cups in his five seasons. He retired after the 1984-85 campaign and is now a scout with the Islanders.
12 Milan Novy
Czech centre Milan Novy may not be remembered by many NHL fans since he played the majority of his career in his homeland where he enjoyed tremendous success. He won numerous individual and team awards in Europe, set several league records, and played in both the 1976 and 1981 Canada Cup tournaments. Novy was well known by hockey fans at the time when he decided to try his hand at the NHL. In fact, he was actually considered to be one of the best players in the world back then. He signed with a weak Washington Capitals team for the 1982-83 season and scored points in his first four outings. He tried to adjust to his new surroundings and finished the season with a respectable 18 goals and 30 assists in 73 games. Novy headed back to Europe after his NHL experiment and retired in 1989. He scored 756 points in 493 games in the Czech league and added 89 points in 86 outings with his country’s national team.
11 Pentti Lund
Pentti Lund was the second Finnish player to skate in the NHL and the first to play regularly in the league. This might be the first time you’re ever hearing his name, but Lund was a former Calder Trophy winners as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1948-49. He was also the first Finnish player to score a goal in the NHL. He played with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers after moving to Canada as a six-year-old. Lund led his junior league in scoring for two years with 47 goals in 19 games. He turned pro in the Eastern Hockey League in 1945-46 with the Boston Bruins’ farm team, helping them win the league championship. After scoring 92 points in 56 contests the next year, the Bruins called him up for a playoff game. He was traded to the Rangers though and won the Calder by scoring 14 goals and 16 assists in his 59 appearances. Lund was dealt back to Boston in 1951, but suffered a severe eye injury and played his last NHL game in 1952-53. He retired with 99 points in 259 NHL games and added 12 points in 19 playoff encounters.
10 Jack Evans
The United Kingdom has produced some fine NHL players such as Owen Nolan from Northern Ireland, Steve Smith of Scotland and England’s Steve Thomas. When it comes to Wales, many people may not remember defenceman Jack Evans who hailed from the small community of Garnant. Evans moved to Alberta as a youngster and began playing hockey when he was 14. He quickly became a top junior player and found himself in the Memorial Cup in 1948 and signing a minor league deal with the New York Rangers. Evans became a regular for the Rangers in 1954-55 and stayed with them until moving to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1958. Evans won a Stanley Cup in the Windy City in 1960-61 and was released three years later. Evans continued his hockey career in several minor leagues before retiring as a 44-year-old in 1972. Evans then entered the world of coaching and landed NHL gigs in California, Cleveland and Hartford. The veteran appeared in 752 NHL games with 19 goals and 80 assists for 99 points.
9 Peter Lee
Speaking of British players, one of England’s best exports was right-winger Peter Lee. He was born in Ellesmere, England and learned how to play hockey in Arvida, Quebec before moving to Ottawa. Lee was a standout junior player with the Ottawa 67’s as he scored over 400 career points and was named the 1975-76 CHL Player of the Year. His 213 career OHL goals set a new record which was broken for another 33 years when John Tavares beat it in 2009. Lee also set a new record with 81 goals in a season in 1975-76 and he was chosen with the 12th-overall pick in the 1976 NHL Draft. Lee was traded to Pittsburgh with Peter Mahovlich in 1977 before playing a single game with the Habs. Lee recorded a pair of 30-goal seasons with the Penguins and racked up 245 points in his 431 outings with the club. He then continued his career in Germany from 1983 to 1997. He was inducted into the German Ice Hockey Hall of Fame after scoring 340 goals in 450 games in that nation and then got into coaching and management.
8 Andreas Nodl
Right-winger Andreas Nodl is one of several Austrians to crack the NHL. The 29-year-old currently plays in his hometown with the Vienna Capitals, but had stints with the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers. Nodl made a name for himself in the United States Hockey League and in American college hockey before being drafted in 2006 by Philadelphia with the 39th pick. Nodl played in the AHL in before being called up by the Flyers in 2008-09. He played 127 games with the Flyers and chipped in with 28 points before Carolina picked him up on waivers in November of 2011. Nodl played a season in Carolina, headed back to Austria for a season and then returned to the Hurricanes. He played 56 games with Carolina and registered eight points before returning to Europe to continue his career. Nodl has represented Austria in several international tournaments including the IIHF World Championships in 2009.
7 Branko Radivojevic
Slovakian forward Branko Radivojevic was able to produce respectable offense numbers in every league he’s played in, including the NHL. He played his junior hockey with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL and managed to score 234 points in 188 games and added 53 points in 42 postseason outings. Those numbers were good enough to see him drafted 93rd overall by Colorado in 1999. However, he ended up in Phoenix in 2001-02 and played parts of three seasons in the desert before being traded to Philadelphia. He signed as a free agent with Minnesota in 2006 and played two seasons before heading to Russia to play in the KHL. Radivojevic racked up 120 points in 393 NHL games and is now playing pro hockey in the Czech Republic. The 35-year-old right-winger scored 187 points in 297 KHL games and had 39 in 62 AHL contests. He also has 39 points in 68 games in the Czech league and played many international tournaments for his home nation.
6 Niclas Havelid
There have been dozens of fine Swedish hockey players to skate in the NHL since the 1970’s and while defenceman Niclas Havelid was one of them, he’s certainly not the most memorable. Havelid played 628 regular-season games with Anaheim, the Atlanta Thrashers and the New Jersey Devils after being drafted by Anaheim with the 83rd pick in 1999. When he was drafted, Havelid was already 26 years old after playing seven season of pro hockey in Sweden. After five years in Anaheim the defenceman was traded to Atlanta where he spent four seasons. Havelid was traded to New Jersey in 2008-09 and played just 15 games for the club before heading back to Europe to finish off his career. He scored 34 goals and 137 assists for 171 NHL points in his 628 games and added seven points in 32 playoff outings. Havelid is another player who represented his homeland in several international tournaments, including the 2006 Olympic Games.
5 Brian Glynn
Defenceman Brian Glynn was a West German-born player who appeared in over 400 NHL games during his six-year career. He was chosen in the 1986 draft with the 37th selection by Calgary and also played with the Hartford Whalers, Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers Vancouver Canucks, and Minnesota North Stars before finishing his career in Germany. Glynn played junior hockey in Saskatchewan and made his NHL debut in the 1987-88 campaign a memorable one by scoring a goal. He scored 19 points in 67 games in his rookie season, but was demoted to the International Hockey League for the majority of the next season. Glynn was a hit in the IHL as he played 80 games and scored 61 points which earned him a first-team all-star berth and the Governor's Trophy as the league’s best blueliner. He was eventually traded by Calgary and became a journeyman player by representing six teams in his NHL career. Glynn scored 104 points in 431 regular-season contests and added 16 more in 57 playoff outings.
4 Raitis Ivanans
At 6-feet-4-inches tall and 240 lbs., Latvian left-winger Raitis Ivanans was used basically as an enforcer during his NHL career. He kicked off his North American pro career with the minor League Flint Generals in 1997 and made his NHL debut eight years later with the Montreal Canadiens. In his second game, Zdeno Chara, who was then playing with Ottawa, broke Ivanans’ orbital bone in a fight. That didn’t deter him from dropping the gloves though. Ivanans went on to play with the Los Angeles Kings for four years and led the squad in penalty minutes all four seasons. He also played with the Calgary Flames, but suffered a severe concussion in the 2010-11 season opener. Ivanans signed with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Dinamo Riga in 2012, but was released after one season. His NHL career consisted of 282 games and he contributed a grand total of 12 goals and six assists while serving 569 minutes in penalties.
3 Radoslav Suchy
Although he’s 40 years old, Slovakian defenceman Radoslav Suchy is still playing professional ice hockey in his homeland with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Suchy also played 451 games in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes. He played in the QMJHL in Canada with Sherbrooke and Chicoutimi before signing as a free agent with Phoenix in September of 1997. Suchy made his pro debut in the IHL shortly after with the Las Vegas Thunder. He made his NHL debut with the Coyotes in 1999-2000 and played four years for the club. He was then traded to Columbus where he played just one season before returning to Europe. Suchy was a member of the Slovakian national team and played in several IIHF World Championships, winning a silver medal in 2000 and a bronze in 2003. Suchy was an all-star in junior hockey and finished his NHL career with 71 points in 451 regular-season games on 13 goals and 58 assists.
2 Ed Kea
Defenceman Ed Kea was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Collingwood, Ontario as a youngster. He carved out a fine career in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Flames between 1974 and 1983. Kea may not be remembered by today’s generation of hockey fan’s but you may be familiar with his nephew Joe Nieuwendyk. Kea was signed as a free agent by Atlanta in 1972 and was traded to St. Louis just before the 1979-80 season faced off for Garry Unger. Kea suited up for 583 regular-season NHL games and contributed 175 points on 30 goals and 145 assists. He was sent down to the CHL in 1982-83 to play with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, Kea hit his head on the ice during a game and suffered a severe head injury which ended his career. Tragically, the injury also left him mentally and physically disabled and he wasn’t covered by the NHL since he was playing in the minors at the time. More tragedy followed Kea as he accidentally drowned at his cottage in 1999 at the age of 51.
1 Karlis Skrastins
Sadly, former Latvian defenceman Karlis Skrastins is now gone, but hopefully he won’t be forgotten. He was drafted in 1998 by the Nashville Predators with the 230th overall pick, but managed to play 11 seasons in the NHL. As well as playing for Nashville, Skrastins also skated with the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche. He left the NHL following the 2011-12 campaign to play with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of Russia in the Kontinental Hockey League. Tragically, the 37-year-old Skrastins was killed with the rest of his teammates, coaches and officials etc. when the club’s plane crashed on September 7th of 2011. Skrastins was a durable player and broke Tim Horton’s iron-man streak for a defenceman in February of 2007, when he appeared in his 487th straight game. Skrastins ended up playing in 832 regular-season NHL games and scored 136 points on 32 goals and 104 assists. He also represented Latvia in numerous international tournaments.