(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it’s #NHLoN.)
Disclaimer: We here at Arctic Ice Hockey struggled with the criteria for how to do this, as the Jets 1.0 hold a special place in our hearts here in Winnipeg. And to tell you the truth, if it weren’t for the Internet, most people in Winnipeg couldn’t name 10 ex-Thrashers outside of the ones that came up to Winnipeg.
So for the purpose of this effort, we will include all Jets 1.0 up until the move to Phoenix (because we still strongly dislike the Coyotes), the entire history of the Atlanta Thrashers, and the past two glorious years of the Jets 2.0.
And sorry, the WHA years don’t count either.
Canada: Dale Hawerchuk
In one that really didn’t take long to decide, Dale Hawerchuk is the best Canadian to ever lace them up either in Winnipeg or within the Thrashers organization. The 1st-overall selection of the Jets in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft won the Calder Trophy that season, and in the nine years in the ‘Peg never finished below 81 points in a season, capping out at 130 (53 goals and 77 assists) in ‘84-85. And don’t forget the assist he earned on Mario Lemieux’s GWG in the 1987 Canada Cup victory over the Soviets. Ducky was a tremendous Jet and is very deserving of this honour.
Honourable mentions: Dany Heatley, Shane Doan (who was only a rookie in Winnipeg during the final season of Jets 1.0), Marc Savard, Andrew Ladd, Bobby Hull (who had his WHA contributions disregarded).
Finland: Teemu Selanne
I was tempted to pick Olli Jokinen, just to annoy a lot of people after his less-than-stellar opening season as a Jet, but how can we not pick Teemu Selanne?! Despite playing only four seasons in Winnipeg, there has never been a bigger love affair with one single player in this city. Selanne’s magical rookie season of 76 goals and 132 points is still fondly recalled like it was yesterday, as is the infamous shooting-his-glove celebration. And any questions about how much we love Teemu in the River City should be answered by checking out the ovation he received as a member of the Anaheim Ducks just two seasons ago. On top of that, he’s medalled in three different Olympic Games. We still love you Teemu! #teemubest
Honourable Mentions: Teppo Numinen, Kari Lehtonen, Olli Jokinen
USA: Keith Tkachuk
Now this was a difficult one, as there were very few Thrashers to consider and we aren’t ready to anoint Jacob Trouba with this award just yet. In the end, I chose Keith Tkachuk to be the best American player in a tough decision over Phil Housley. What clinched it for me was that Tkachuk played five seasons in Winnipeg as opposed to three for Housley, served as team captain, and for a time he was one of the premier power-forwards in the game. A 50-goal scorer in the final season of the Jets 1.0, Tkachuk put up points and penalty minutes like they were going out of style, and he represented the USA at four Olympic Games, earning a Silver Medal in Salt Lake City. Still, it should have been him traded instead of Teemu…
Honourable mentions: Phil Housley, Ed Olczyk, Jim Slater, Dave Ellett, Brian Mullen, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian.
Sweden: Thomas Steen
Thomas Steen, who is still a local city councilor, is my selection as the best Swede. In terms of all Jets 1.0 players prior to the move, Steen put up 264 goals and 817 points, both 2nd behind Hawerchuk, but Steen is the leader in assists with 553. But perhaps more importantly, he played 14 seasons in Winnipeg and has made it his home ever since despite our horrible winters, massive mosquitoes and lack of parks. Thomas Steen, we salute you!
Honourable Mentions: Tobias Enstrom, Fredrik Olausson, Niclas Havelid, Willy Lindstrom, Johnny Oduya
Russia: Ilya Kovalchuk
This one was simple. Ilya Kovalchuk is the best Russian player to have ever played for the Jets 1.0, Thrashers or Jets 2.0, despite not having dressed as a Jet in the River City. You cannot ignore the success that Kovalchuk had with the Thrashers, and as we sit here with the Jets 2.0 he is still the franchise leader in virtually every offensive stat by large margins. Kovalchuk’s 615 points in 594 games during part of the dead-puck era is a testament to the special kind of talent he has, and the NHL is worse without him now that he’s left the NHL to play at home in the KHL. Kovalchuk has taken part in three Olympic games, winning a Bronze Medal in Salt Lake City, and will most certainly play in Sochi in just a few months.
Slovakia: Marian Hossa
The only answer here is Marian Hossa, and it’s not just because only six Slovaks have laced them up in Atlanta and zero have done so in Winnipeg. Though he only played three seasons in Atlanta, Hossa averaged over a point-per-game with 248 points in 222 games. He has also represented Slovakia at three Olympic Games already. Hossa was a premier talent who was sadly traded away for pennies on the dollar by Don Waddell in what was one of his, well, many horrible moves as GM in Atlanta…
Honourable mentions: Ronald Petrovicky, Lubos Bartecko, Boris Valabik
Czech Republic: Ondrej Pavelec
Hmm. This is a tough one. Do I go with Patrick Stefan, the first-overall selection who never justified his draft spot but still had a decent career? Do I choose Ondrej Pavelec, the current Jets 2.0 netminder with the laughable starting goalie numbers who nonetheless has represented the Czech Republic at one Olympic Games already? Perhaps Bobby Holik for being such a solid grinder? Frantisek Kaberle? Slim pickings.
In the end, I am pained to choose Ondrej Pavelec, and only do so because he has represented his country already as backup at the 2010 games in Vancouver, was the starter at the most recent World Championships and has a strong chance to start for them in Sochi as well. If his own country likes him this much, who are we to argue?
However, Pavelec has not played in one playoff hockey game in his NHL career and has consistently put up below league-average save percentages, so this selection is not based on his NHL career up to this point.
Can he improve? Hopefully, and he’ll need to if the Jets 2.0 are to be even considered a playoff team, but his international experience gives him the nod here. And while Stefan was a productive player who just simply never lived up to his draft status, could we really pick him when this is his arguably the most recognizable play of his career?
Honourable Mentions: Patrik Stefan, Bobby Holik, Frantisek Kaberle, Michael Grosek, Pavel Kubina
REST OF THE WORLD CATEGORY
Nik Antropov is very likely the best player to ever come from Kazakhstan. Not only has Antro been a very solid NHLer throughout his career, but he’s also represented his country at numerous international competitions and put his country on the map in the hockey community by being a 10th-overall selection in 1998. And to be perfectly honest, I’d like to see the big guy re-signed by the Jets sometime this summer, as he’s currently a free agent.
Meanwhile, the Ukraine was represented by the likes of Alexei Zhitnik and Oleg Tverdovsky, Germany saw Uwe Krupp and Christoph Shubert lace them up, and Latvia watched as Arturs Kulda and Herberts Vasiljevs took part as well.
Finally, we wouldn’t want to leave out the legend of Rumum Ndur, the first Nigerian-born player to ever play in the NHL. Though he grew up in Canada and only played 27 of his career 69 games with the Thrashers, we felt the need to include him because it is such a tremendous story.
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