The 20 Greatest Hockey Players to Never Play in the NHL

Zackary LandersContributor IIIMarch 8, 2012

The 20 Greatest Hockey Players to Never Play in the NHL

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    The world of hockey extends far beyond the rinks of the NHL today, and fans know this fact well.

    Be it though prospect shows, drafts and occasional updates of International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) play, North American fans are surprisingly well educated regarding the wide world of hockey.  

    What fans do not realize is that fantastic players have had careers outside of the NHL. 

    The stories of these players are fascinating and many have impacted the NHL as we know it today. 

    Check out the top 20 players to never play in the NHL. 

Honorable Mention: Jack Jablonski

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    In the hockey world, Jack Jablonski has made headlines for the worst possible reason. 

    He was recently paralyzed after being hit from behind and slammed into the boards during a junior varsity hockey game in Minnesota. 

    Jack Jablonski is not only an incredibly brave young man for speaking openly and fairly about the hit, but also because his love of the game survived the hit. 

    It is young men like Jablonski who will be the catalysts for change in keeping hockey safe. Young players everywhere would be wise to take a lesson from him, both on and off the ice. 

    On the ice, Jablonski was known as a clean player. 

    Off the ice, despite a near life-ending injury, Jack spoke with no malice in his tone and a firm resolve to recover and better the sport for those after him. 

Honorable Mention: Dr. Blake Watson

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    While he did not have the skill set or the numbers that many on this list possess, Dr. Blake Watson deserves some special recognition.

    He is the first (and possibly only) hockey player-turned-obstetrician-turned-dentist on record

    In his playing career, he was the captain of the University of Manitoba team and lead them to a Canadian National Championship in 1928. 

    Also of note is his career in Austria, where he both coached and played. 

20. Wieslaw Jobczyk

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    Hockey is often the focal point of Cinderella stories, and Wieslaw Jobczyk was part of a lesser-known miracle. 

    During the 1976 World Championships, the Soviets were going against the lowly Polish national team. The Poles had been blown out by a score of 20-0 in a prior contest in the 1976 season. 

    Scoring the game-winning goal for Poland in a thrilling 6-4 win was Wieslaw Jobczyk. This event is still recalled with great national pride in Poland today. 

    Despite losing the next day's game 12-0, Wieslaw Jobczyk continued his career putting up 236 goals, 439 points in 169 games in Germany's second division. 

    While Jobczyk may have never made it in the rigors of the NHL, his contributions to Polish hockey are huge. 

19. Roger Bourbonnais

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    A native of Edmonton, Roger Bourbonnais got his hockey career off on the right foot with the Oil Kings. 

    As the captain, Bourbonnais lead his team to a Memorial Cup victory, alongside future greats like Pat Quinn and Glen Sather. 

    He was later acquired by the Detroit Red Wings, but wanted a one-way contract to continue his education.

    The Red Wings did not agree, so Bourbonnais never played in the NHL. 

    Interestingly enough, he did continue his education. He now serves as a lawyer who routinely represents NHL managers in contractual negotiations. 

18. Harry "Moose" Watson

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    In the earliest days of hockey, many men held a certain respect for amateur status, and often they turned down professional careers due to that principle. 

    Harry "Moose" Watson was one of these men. 

    After being an All-Star in the OHA in 1915, Watson served his country in World War I.

    He returned with his love of hockey still intact. 

    Despite a standout career with the Toronto Granites, Watson stalwartly refused to go pro, putting his love of the game before money.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. 

17. Jiri Dudacek

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    Drafted by the legendary Scotty Bowman and the Buffalo Sabres, the future was bright for young Jiri Dudacek. 

    Considered one of the top junior prospects of his day, Dudacek looked like he would make his NHL debut in grand fashion. 

    The problem was, Dudacek had to get to Buffalo before he could play there.

    Despite efforts by Bowman and the Sabre organization, Dudacek was never allowed to leave, costing the Sabres their first-round pick. 

16. Rudi Hiti

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    Slovenian hockey greats are few and far between. Rudi Hiti may be the best. 

    In his career, he played in 17 world championship games. He also competed in two Olympics. In Italy, he played in the major league, winning the championship three times. 

    North American fans may recognize him due to his near-signing with the Chicago Blackhawks. 

    Unfortunately, he was injured and could never play in the NHL.

15. David Quinn

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    David Quinn's story is a story of adversity. 

    Despite being drafted right out of prep school by the Minnesota North Stars, Quinn wanted to play college hockey. He also wanted to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team. 

    As he was trying out, he was diagnosed with a blood-clotting disease called Christmas Disease (Hemophilia B) that would end his playing career for the time being. 

    Despite battling back with medication, he failed to make the Olympic squad. He was signed to the New York Rangers and played at the AHL level. 

    Quinn's is a story of a great player cut down in his prime.

    Quinn is currently the coach of the Lake Erie Monsters. 

14. Joe Linder

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    Often called the first great American player, Linder is a pioneer of the sport of hockey before it became widely popular. 

    A highly-regarded player in his day, Linder was featured in Esquire Magazine, and noted as one of the 30 best hockey players in the entire world in 1941. 

13. Vsevolod Bobrov

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    To captain an Olympic team in a sport is a tremendous accomplishment. 

    Bobrov lead the USSR in two sports. 

    That's right. Vsevolod Bobrov was not only the captain of the USSR hockey team, but also the soccer team. 

    An Olympic hockey champion, Bobrov also is noted for scoring 91 goals in 57 games. 

    If Soviets could have been allowed to play in the NHL, there is little doubt that he could have ranked with the likes of Lafluer and Bossy. 

12. Vladimir Dzurilla

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    This great Czech netminder was the teammate of Jiri Holecek.

    Although he never achieved the same successes that Holecek did, he still had many moments in the sun. 

    Most notably, he lead the Czechoslovakian national team to a 1-0 shutout over the mighty Canadian national team in the 1976 Canada Cup. 

    The Czechoslovakian National team had a very enviable goaltending tandem in the 1970s and it would not have been possible without Vladimir Dzurilla.

11. Alexander Maltsev

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    Reported to be the childhood hero of Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Maltsev was a prolific scorer to say the least. 

    He scored an astounding 213 goals in 321 games with the international team

    Alexander Maltsev often had the advantage of playing across from iconic Valeri Kharlamov, making his attacking line even deadlier. 

    Maltsev was also named to the Soviet All-Star team six times. 

10. Anatoli Firsov

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    Three-time Olympic gold Medalist Anatoli Firsov was a force to be reckoned with in Soviet hockey. 

    He won a total of eight scoring titles in the USSR, when counting both those earned for goals and for points, not to mention his numerous appearances in IIHF and USSR All-Star games. 

    His stats include such feats as recording 22 points in seven games and his skill set was dazzling throughout his career.  

9. Winthrop "Ding" Palmer

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    One of America's earliest Olympians was Winthrop "Ding" Palmer. 

    Palmer started playing at Yale, becoming the school's all-time leading scorer.

    At Yale, "Ding" was reportedly very fond of shooting from center ice, and this tactic also helped him lead the nation in 1930 with 27 goals. 

    He went on to win a silver medal at the Lake Placid Olympic Games of 1932 and helped defeat Canada in Prague to win a world championship. 

8. Erich Kuhnhackl

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    Erich Kuhnhackl played center for the West German Olympic Team, earning a bronze medal in the 1976. 

    Even though he only medaled once, he has been voted the German Ice Hockey Player of the century, and was known as the "Closet on Skates" due to his large stature. 

    In addition, he recorded 53 hat tricks in the German Hockey League and has 724 goals and 707 assists 1431 points in only 774 games, all German records. 

7. Jiri Holecek

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    Possibly the best Czech hockey player in history is Jiri Holecek. 

    Inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998, Holecek was selected as the best goalie at the World Cup a whopping five times, with two being back-to-back selections. 

    Holecek is regarded as a living legend in the Czech Republic. 

6. Bill Cleary

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    A great hockey victory forgotten in the USA is the story of the 1960 Olympic Team. 

    Bill Clearly attended Harvard, and set seven records that lead the school to this day. During his time in college, Cleary would be contacted by the Bruins and Canadiens, but he decided that the Olympics were his calling. 

    In the 1960 Olympics, he lead all American scorers with six goals and six assists in the games. 

    In spite of his great potential, he describes turning down pro hockey as "the best thing that ever happened to [him]."

    He is pictured on the right. His brother, Bob, is on the left. 

5. Boris Mikhailov

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    Another member of the USSR dynasty of the 1970s is Boris Mikhailov. 

    During his tenure in the Soviet league, he was a storied goal scorer, notching a record 427 goals in 572 games, plus 224 assists. 

    He has been called the best Russian skater ever, and was a national hero in the Soviet Union. 

    In fact, Mikhailov was awarded the Order of Lenin, the USSR's highest honor. 

    Mikhailov served as the national team's captain.The team's success serves as a testament to his leadership. 

4. Mike Eruzione

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    The moment that Al Michaels asked if America believed in miracles will always be known as a turning point for USA hockey. 

    This moment was brought about by the large contribution of Mike "Rizzo" Eruzione, when he scored the game-winning goal to clinch the game against the Soviets in Lake Placid.  

    In his somewhat short career, Eruzione showed himself to be a proficient scorer, putting up at least 20 goals in every full season he played. 

    Although he had professional offers from the New York Rangers, Eruzione passed on them to become a television announcer, feeling that nothing could top his prior achievements. 

3. Vladislav Tretiak

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    Vladislav Tretiak's skill as a goaltender with the USSR ranks among the best in the history of the game. 

    Providing stellar work for the Soviets, Tretiak helped his team win three Olympic gold medals and ten world championships. 

    Tretiak was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, but never played a game in a Habs uniform.

    Instead, he will be remembered by fans across North America as the man who stopped some of the greatest scorers of all time in international play. 

2. Valeri Kharlamov

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    One of the most famous hockey players of the Soviet Red Army squad was Valeri Kharlamov. 

    Throughout the 1970s, Kharlamov dominated domestic and international play for the USSR. 

    A member of the famed Army Line with Vladimir Petrov and Boris Mikhailov, Kharlamov's reputation stretched far beyond Russia. 

    Kharlamov was highly respected amongst many players and fans in North America, and his skill was no secret.

    This sometimes made him a target for NHL players, such as the incident with Bobby Clarke during the Summit Series. 

1. Taro Tsujimoto

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    Toro Tsujimito's legacy in Buffalo extends far beyond his time on ice. 

    Tsujimito holds the distinction of being the first ever Japanese player to be drafted in the NHL. The Sabres picked up the illustrious prospect in 1974. 

    His arrival was long anticipated, and his career in Tokyo with the Catanas was rumored to be stuff of legend. 

    The only problem is that there is no such player as Tsujimito.

    Not in Tokyo, nor in Buffalo. 

    He was selected as a joke by Buffalo manager Punch Imlach, who was bored of the draft process. The pick was legally certified by the NHL at the time, and it was reported by all major outlets. 

    Taro Tsujimoto may well go down as the most legendary player to never play in the National Hockey League.