5 Best NHL Players From 5 Hockey Nations

5 Best NHL Players From 5 Hockey Nations
Photo: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Once a league dominated by North Americans, the NHL had more than 900 players from 15 different countries hit the ice this season.
 
While Canada and the United States continue to lead the way in nationality percentage, the growth of hockey throughout Europe and the eastern world has seen a rise in represented countries.
 
Behind Canada and the U.S., Sweden, Russia, and Finland sit third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, when ranking each country by its number of NHL players.
 
We've sifted through both the experienced veterans and rising stars of these nations to find the top five current players from each country. Players brought into consideration were required to have an active contract and were judged by NHL and international play, team awards, and individual accolades.
 

Canada


Sidney Crosby (C)
Pittsburgh Penguins
Career Stats:
782 GP, 382 G, 645 A, 1,027 Pts.
Crosby remains the best in the world. He reaffirmed it in the second half of the 2015-16 season following the Pittsburgh's coaching change and hasn't looked back. Arguably a top five player all-time, the pivot is still just 29 years old.
 
Crosby has a Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe, two Maurice Richard Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, two Stanley Cups, and three Olympic gold medals and could be on the verge of another Hart Trophy and third Stanley Cup.
 
Connor McDavid (C)
Edmonton Oilers 
Career Stats:
127 GP, 46 G, 102 A, 148 Pts.
Don't mention "sophomore slump" to McDavid, who led the league in scoring in just his second season, recording 30 goals and 100 points.
 
The 20-year-old phenom is smart, sly, and fast as hell. After a season and a half, McDavid has left the hockey world wanting more, and he'll only get better. His short tenure within the league means he doesn't have as long a resume as most on this list do, but he will soon.
 
Carey Price (G)
Montreal Canadiens
Career Stats:
509 GP, 270 W, 2.40 GAA, .920 SV%, 39 SO
Not much gets past Price. He's a goalie in every sense of the word. While he has yet to win the ultimate goal, you'd be hard-pressed to find another netminder you'd prefer in your crease with the game on the line.
 
Price is the only active goalie with a Hart Trophy and has finished top five in Vezina Trophy voting three times, claiming the award in 2015. He has also backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal, World Junior Championship (U20) gold, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey title. In the AHL, he carried the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup title in 2007.
 
Joe Thornton (C)
San Jose Sharks
Career Stats:
1,446 GP, 384 G, 1007 A, 1,391 Pts.
At 37 years old, Thornton can still be argued as the best passer in the league. While Jumbo Joe has yet to claim the Stanley Cup, he sits second in active scorers, behind only the Fountain of Youth, Jaromir Jagr. 
 
Thornton's age seemingly showed this season, scoring just seven goals and 50 points. But in his 19-year career, he has never been a shoot-first player. He has led the league in points once, assists three times, and finished in the top 10 in Hart Trophy voting six times.
 
Jonathan Toews (C)
Chicago Blackhawks
Career Stats:
717 GP, 272 G, 350 A, 622 Pts.
Toews continues to receive criticism for being overrated but is widely underappreciated within the ranks of the NHL's best. The 29-year-old has grown into the "future captain material" label he was given during his draft year. 
 
As the captain of the often-called modern dynasty, Toews won the Conn Smythe in 2010 and has gold medals at the World Juniors, World Championship, World Cup, and Olympics. He also has captured three Stanley Cups and has been a top 10 vote-getter for the Selke Trophy in each of the past seven seasons.
 
Close considerations: Jamie Benn, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty
 

Finland


Sebastian Aho (RW)
Carolina Hurricanes
Career Stats:
82 GP, 24 G, 25 A, 49 Pts.
Aho was one of the strongest rookies this season but was overshadowed by Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and Mitch Marner. The 19-year-old Aho showed promise for an up-and-coming Carolina Hurricanes team.
 
Following his rookie season, Aho led Finland with 11 points in 10 games during the World Championships. Aho has a long history of international success and stellar play in Finland's top league, Liiga.
 
Aleksander Barkov (C)
Florida Panthers
Career Stats:
252 GP, 73 G, 98 A, 171 Pts.
The "junior Anze Kopitar" had a rough start to the season after a breakout 2015-16 campaign. A two-way force, Barkov is quietly turning into one of the strongest centers in the league. A small hockey market such as Florida tends to create underrated and underappreciated players. 
 
At just 21 years old, Barkov will continue to grow his game. The former second overall pick has scored at high paces over the past two seasons, and if he can shake his bad lucks with injuries, he'll be an annual 70-plus point producer.
 
Mikko Koivu (C)
Minnesota Wild
Career Stats:
843 GP, 179 G, 435 A, 614 Pts.
Koivu continues to be one of the best two-way players in the game and an annual Selke Trophy candidate. Koivu's drive, dedication, and leadership has kept him in Minnesota through his entire 12-year career. It is also what has earned him the captaincy for the past nine seasons.
 
Koivu's accolades are minimal in the NHL, but in world competition, he has won gold, silver and bronze a combination of 10 times at the World Juniors, World Championships, World Cup, and Olympic levels. He also won the Liiga title during his playing days in Finland.
 
Patrik Laine (RW)
Winnipeg Jets
Career Stats:
73 GP, 36 G, 28 A, 64 Pts.
After being drafted second overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Laine burst onto the scene this past season. The comparisons to Alex Ovechkin were fair on just about every level of Laine's game. 
 
He finished seventh in goals as a rookie, including three hat tricks. He's still just 18 but already has a Liiga title, World Championship silver and World Juniors Gold at both the U-20 and U-18 levels. Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers will form Winnipeg's deep core for years to come.
 
Rasmus Ristolainen (D)
Buffalo Sabres
Career Stats:
273 GP, 25 G, 85 A, 110 Pts.
Ristolainen is turning into one of the game's best all-around defensemen. He hits hard, blocks every shot he can, and scores at an enviable pace. Don't let his ugly plus/minus fool you; it's dragged down by a consistently underwhelming Buffalo Sabres team.
 
At just 22 years old, the former eighth overall pick is just scratching the surface, as are teammates Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Ristolainen is a powerplay quarterback who will cement the Sabres blue line when the pieces inevitably begin to fall in place.
 
Close considerations: Pekka Rinne, Mikael Granlund, Jussi Jokinen
 

Russia


Pavel Datsyuk (C)
Arizona Coyotes
Career Stats:
953 GP, 314 G, 604 A, 918 Pts.
Datsyuk continues to show there is nothing he can't do. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say almost every play he ever made was a highlight reel moment. Datsyuk made everyone around him better and made opponents at every position look foolish.
 
The Magic Man holds one of the most impressive resumes on this list: two Stanley Cups, three Selke Trophies with five other top 10 finishes, and four Lady Byng Trophies with six other top 10 finishes. He also holds four other international medals and a Liiga title and just won the KHL's Gagarin Cup at the age of 38.
 
Nikita Kucherov (RW)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Career Stats:
285 GP, 108 G, 126 A, 234 Pts.
Over the past three seasons, Kucherov has increased his goal, point, and per-game output. The 23-year-old finished second in goals this season as one of just three players to reach the 40-goal mark.
 
Kucherov almost singlehandedly pulled the Lightning into the playoffs with an relentless 17 goals and 34 points in his final 23 games. He has four international medals with Russia and could form the NHL's next great duo. He has reached elite level.
 
Evgeni Malkin (C)
Pittsburgh Penguins
Career Stats:
706 GP, 328 G, 504 A, 832 Pts.
Speaking of duos, it's almost unfair to the rest of the league that Malkin and Crosby play together, even if they do center separate lines. The dynamic middleman is often overshadowed by Crosby but has been as dominant in almost every aspect.
 
Malkin boasts a Calder Trophy, a Conn Smythe, a Hart Trophy, two Art Ross titles, two Stanley Cups, and 10 international medals. He and Crosby are on the verge of their third Stanley Cup this season. 
 
Alex Ovechkin (LW)
Washington Capitals
Career Stats:
921 GP, 558 G, 477 A, 1,035 Pts.
While some refuse to admit it, Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. He's been the greatest of his generation and plays a true power forward's game. 
 
While the Great 8 hasn't locked up a Stanley Cup title yet, his resume isn't lacking. He holds a Liiga title, a Calder Trophy, an Art Ross title, three Hart Trophies, six Maurice Richard Trophies, and 12 international medals.
 
Vladimir Tarasenko (RW)
St. Louis Blues
Career Stats:
341 GP, 145 G, 139 A, 284 Pts.
Tarasenko burst onto the scene in 2014-15 with 37 goals and 73 points in his second full NHL season. His sniping abilities and ability to take the next step helped grow the St. Louis Blues as a whole.
 
While he lacks individual awards, the 25-year-old's game is still improving. He does boast three international medals and has a keen eye for talent, as it came out he attempted to talk the Blues organization into giving Artemi Panarin a chance a year before his breakout in Central Division rival Chicago.
 
Close considerations: Panarin, Andrei Markov, Sergei Bobrovsky
 

Sweden


Henrik Zetterberg (LW)
Detroit Red Wings
Career Stats:
1000 GP, 326 G, 578 A, 904 Pts.
Zetterberg has been one of the most annually underrated players during his entire 14-year career. The 36-year-old had a resurgent season in 2016-17 playing making the mediocre talent around him infinitely better.
 
He has a Conn Smythe, a Stanley Cup, five top 10 finishes for the Selke Trophy, and six international medals. He has inherited Sweden's captaincy in recent international tournaments and had a rejuvenated 2016-17 season with 68 points.
 
Nicklas Backstrom (C)
Washington Capitals
Career Stats:
734 GP, 188 G, 540 A, 728 Pts.
Upon Thornton's eventual retirement, Backstrom may be handed down the title of best passer. While Backstrom benefits from passing to the greatest goal scorer of his generation, Ovechkin benefits from having a linemate that can set him up so perfectly.
 
The 29-year-old Backstrom can be counted on a near point-per-game pace every season and finished top 10 in the league this season, a campaign in which Ovechkin was not his usual self. Personal accomplishments are lacking for Backstrom, as league voters always tend to find a more suitable winner every year. Backstrom does however hold four international medals.
 
Erik Karlsson (D)
Ottawa Senators
Career Stats:
556 GP, 117 G, 339 A, 456 Pts.
The debate about the league's top defensemen always involves Karlsson, and in many cases, he deserves the title. The 27-year-old is ridiculously dominant in the offensive side of the game and has grown his defensive side in each of his eight seasons with the Senators.
 
Karlsson helped carry Ottawa to within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals, with two fractures in his heel and ligament damage. He has two Norris Trophies, three international medals, and three top 10 Hart Trophy finishes.
 
Henrik Lundqvist (G)
New York Rangers
Career Stats:
742 GS, 405 W, 2.32 GAA, .920 SV%, 61 SO
King Henrik continues to be among the top goaltenders, even at the age of 35. He's turned into a somewhat of a slow starter during the later stages of his career but still carries the New York Rangers for stretches of the season.
 
Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy in 2012, has finished in the top 10 nine other times. He has won a gold and silver at the Olympics, a gold and two silvers at the World Championships, a bronze at the U-20 World Juniors, and two titles in the Swedish Elite League.
 
Henrik and Daniel Sedin (C, LW)
Vancouver Canucks
Career Stats (Henrik):
1,248 GP, 237 G, 783 A, 1,020 Pts.
Career Stats (Daniel): 1,225 GP, 370 G, 616 A, 986 Pts.
Can't have one without the other, besides, they look identical. The Sedin brothers have been a force during their 16-year careers together. The 36-year-olds feed off each other and still make resourceful little plays that turn into incredible goals and game-changing efforts.
 
Henrik reached 1,000 points this season, and Daniel will do it early in 2017-18. They have each won an Art Ross Trophy, but Henrik has also added a Hart Trophy and has led the league in assists three times. Together, they have won a gold at the Olympics and World Championship as well as a bronze at the latter. 
 
Close considerations: Victor Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Filip Forsberg
 

United States


Jack Eichel (C)
Buffalo Sabres
Career Stats:
142 GP, 48 G, 65 A, 113 Pts.
The sophomore missed the first 21 games of the season with a high-ankle sprain but quickly caught fire upon his return. Drafted in the No. 2 spot behind McDavid, Eichel will be compared to him for his whole career.
 
So far, the 20-year-old Eichel has done an admirable job living up to expectations. He and Ristolainen give the Sabres a star at each of the skating positions and should help bring the team up the standings in the next few years. Eichel already holds an U-18 World Championship gold medal and silver medal, a World Championship bronze, and an NCAA title.
 
Patrick Kane (RW)
Chicago Blackhawks
Career Stats:
740 GP, 285 G, 467 A, 752 Pts.
Kane is an electric talent and the go-to offensive force on an perennially contending Chicago Blackhawks team. The 28-year-old has been a large part of Chicago's success and its ability to call itself a modern dynasty.
 
Kane has won a Calder Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and three Stanley Cups in his 10 seasons. On the international stage, he has added an U-18 World Juniors gold, U-20 World Juniors bronze, and Olympic silver medal.
 
Phil Kessel (RW)
Pittsburgh Penguins
Career Stats:
832 GP, 296 G, 353 A, 649 Pts.
That part about Crosby and Malkin playing together being unfair... Yeah, don't forget Kessel is there, too. The often-criticized winger brings surprising speed, a wicked shot, and a drive to be the best.
 
Kessel has turned into one of the best postseason producers during his career and has thrived without the pressure of an entire city on his shoulders. Kessel won the Stanley Cup last season and is close to adding his second. His international play, when Team USA has decided to invite him, has earned him both a gold and silver medal at the World Juniors and another silver at the Olympics in 2014.
 
Auston Matthews (C)
Toronto Maple Leafs
Career Stats:
82 GP, 40 G, 29 A, 69 Pts.
The 2016 No. 1 pick excelled with the Maple Leafs and helped carry a still-rebuilding team to within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are an immensely talented trio of youngsters the Leafs have to build around for years to come.
 
Matthews is likely to win the Calder Trophy this season, which would go well with his U-18 World Juniors gold medal and U-20 World Juniors bronze medal. He is the first rookie to reach the 40-goal mark since Ovechkin's 52-goal rookie campaign in 2005-06.
 
Joe Pavelski (C)
San Jose Sharks
Career Stats:
806 GP, 295 G, 336 A, 631 Pts.
Known as the Little Joe in San Jose, Pavelski broke out for 41 goals and 79 points in 2013-14 and has continued his incredible play in recent years. The 32-year-old is incredibly durable and has become one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL.
 
He doesn't get as much credit as he should in individual trophy races but does hold an Olympic silver medal, an NCAA title, and a USHL title. Should the Sharks part ways with Thornton and Patrick Marleau this summer, Pavelski will be relied on even more heavily.
 
Close considerations: Johnny Gaudreau, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Quick
 

Bonus: Everywhere Else


Leon Draisaitl (C)
Edmonton Oilers
Career Stats:
191 GP, 50 G, 87 A, 137 Pts.
Country of origin: Germany
Draisaitl is becoming known as the German Gretzky, and while his numbers don't equal the Great One, Germany has never seen a homegrown hockey player this dominant. It helps that he plays alongside McDavid, but it would be unfair to say Draisaitl doesn't pull his own weight.
 
Still just 21, the takeaway artist doesn't have a long resume but has won a WHL title. He has been an offensive force everywhere he's played and is duplicating that success with Edmonton. He tallied six goals and 16 points in 13 playoff games this year, the Oilers' first postseason action since 2007.
 
Marian Hossa (RW)
Chicago Blackhawks
Career Stats:
1,309 GP, 525 G, 609 A, 1,134 Pts.
Country of origin: Slovakia
The 38-year-old has had a tremendous NHL career. He has scored at least 30 goals in eight of his 19 seasons and has amassed seven 70-plus point seasons, too. He sits fourth among active players in points.
 
Hossa has never won an individual award during his storied NHL career, but he has won three Stanley Cups in five finals appearances. He has also won a Memorial Cup, WHL title, and a Slovakian Extraliga title.
 
Jaromir Jagr (RW)
Florida Panthers
Career Stats:
1,711 GP, 765 G, 1,149 A, 1,914 Pts.
Country of origin: Czech Republic
Earlier mentioned as the Fountain of Youth, the 45-year-old is still an effective winger who demands coverage from the league's best. Perhaps the most amazing part is that Jagr played overseas from 2008 to 2011, skipping valuable time when he would have only added to his incredible totals.
 
Jagr has led the NHL in assist three times and has four Art Ross Trophies, a Hart Trophy, and a Masterton Trophy. He has two Stanley Cups, two World Championship gold medals, two bronze, both a gold and bronze medal from the Olympics, and a bronze at the U-20 World Championships.
 
Roman Josi (D)
Nashville Predators
Career Stats:
406 GP, 64 G, 175 A, 239 Pts.
Country of origin: Switzerland
Many believed Josi was a product of playing alongside Shea Weber, but Nashville's strong history of defensive success and Josi's sheer numbers suggest otherwise. He has been given enough credit for his ability to drive play and turn away opponents.
 
The 27-year-old had a down year offensively on a team that dealt with injuries and remained a work in progress for most of the season. Josi has finished fifth in Norris Trophy voting twice, has a silver at the World Cup, and won a league title in Switzerland. 
 
Anze Kopitar (C)
Los Angeles Kings
Career Stats:
840 GP, 255 G, 481 A, 736 Pts.
Country of origin: Slovenia
Kopitar has become one of the league's premier two-way players and is a force when he is on the ice. He is a dominant possession player and has failed to break the 60-point plateau just once in his 11-year career, excluding the 2012-13 shortened season.
 
The 29-year-old has a Lady Byng Trophy, Selke Trophy, and two Stanley Cups. He has also finished top 10 in both the Lady Byng and Selke voting five other times.
 
Close considerations: David Pastrnak (Czech Republic), Mats Zuccarello (Norway), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia)
 
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.
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