Hockey's Best Active Players and Prospects Native to the Current NHL Cities
Contrary to what the detractors say against the NHL expanding/moving to “non-traditional markets,” pucks have not been dropping in empty arenas these last two decades. People have been there to watch and hear the sport in action and potentially be inspired by it.
Granted, the caliber of hockey talent coming out of Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas is in no way as far along as it is in Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, New England or elsewhere above the Mason-Dixon Line. The latter locations have spawned a wealth of established NHL talent while the former are generally still confined to producing participants in the amateur ranks.
With that said, the mere existence of the NHL’s influence in all of its current cities is a testament to the worth of making the league as continental as the NBA, NFL and MLB. The presence of established and rising players who directly cite NHL cities as their hometown offers substantive evidence on its own.
Upon flipping through such sources as Quant Hockey and the Internet Hockey Database, there are 21 NHL cities that have produced an active player who has seen NHL action. Of the nine others, eight have had a franchise for no more than 22 years while another―Newark, N.J.―shares a metropolitan area with two other teams and took the Devils from East Rutherford in 2007.
Translation: The more recently introduced markets can catch up with the longer-tenured cities if given enough time. Until then, here is a look at the quintessential contemporary representatives of every NHL franchise’s influence on its hometown’s citizens.
Anaheim: Sean Reynolds
Boston: Keith Yandle
Yandle is currently the only player born within Boston city limits to have a rigidly established NHL roster spot, although players along the lines of Benn Ferriero and John McCarthy could soon join in.
But for his part, Yandle has justified and built upon his achievement. He is one of the league’s better two-way defenseman and wears an “A” over his heart for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Buffalo: Patrick Kane
Calgary: Taylor Hall
Carolina: Josh Wesley
Does the surname sound familiar? It ought to.
The fact that Raleigh, N.C. has been his home city since his earliest memories is a direct result of the Hurricanes’ coming into existence. His father, Glen Wesley, moved the family there when his team left Hartford when Josh was barely a year old.
The younger Wesley will be NHL draft-eligible by 2014.
Chicago: Al Montoya
The New York Islanders’ transfer to Winnipeg is, at least as far as the Internet Hockey Database is concerned, accompanied only by the Maple Leafs’ Mike Brown among active NHLers from within Windy City limits. Ryan Thang, who made one appearance with the Predators last year, is the sole Chicagoan listed along with Montoya on quanthockey.com.
Either way, it is a shallow quantity and quality of competition, which allows Montoya to come through despite a 3.11 goals-against average and .893 save percentage last year.
To be fair, though, the Chicago metropolitan area is dense with fruitful youth travel programs from the Mission to the Young Americans to Team Illinois. In turn, whether they come from the city or the suburbs, there are plenty of yet-to-be-known stars whose inspiration should be bolstered by the hometown Blackhawks’ recent resurgence.
Colorado: Ben Bishop
Bishop has yet to land permanent NHL employment but has been a reliable AHL starter/organizational third-stringer. Since bolting the University of Maine at the end of his junior season in 2007-08, his save percentage has steadily ascended with each successive year in Peoria and now Binghamton.
In some ways, Bishop’s career path is looking reminiscent of a fellow netminder hailing from Denver, John Grahame. Grahame likewise spent three years in college and went on to split a dozen nonconsecutive seasons between the NHL and AHL, the only exceptions being an idle 2004-05 lockout year and a 2008-09 campaign in the KHL.
Columbus: Cole Cassels
The 17-year-old pivot is playing a plugger’s role but still has ample time to burgeon with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. Through the first 18 games of his second major-junior campaign, Cassels is already two points shy of his total from a 64-game rookie ride.
Dallas: Austin Smith
Detroit: David Legwand
The first amateur to be selected in an NHL draft by the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998, Legwand has played all but six of his 852 professional games in Music City. In a dozen full NHL seasons, he has never failed to break double digits in both the goal and assist column.
Recently, with Nashville’s first-round triumph over the Red Wings, Legwand’s pleasure has been his hometown’s pain. But before he broke into The Show, he rounded up his Detroit-area upbringing with the nearby Compuware Ambassadors and Plymouth Whalers.
Edmonton: Jarome Iginla
The anti-Hall, as it were, Iginla was one of nearly two dozen Edmonton products in the NHL last season. That comes as little surprise since the city in question is the northernmost in all of North American professional sports.
A career-long Flame through his first 16 NHL seasons, Iginla has paid 44 visits to his native city, accumulating a 15-20-35 scoring log there. That constitutes 2.9 percent of his 516 career goals and 3.26 percent of his 1,073 NHL assists.
Starting with his fifth season in 2000-01, Iginla has never failed to break the 30-plateau in both the goal and assist column.
Florida: Malcolm Lyles
Los Angeles: Brett Sterling
Sterling has made periodic appearances with the Atlanta Thrashers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. The rest of the time, he has been a prolific AHL point-getter.
With his rights now in the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, Sterling is back where his professional career began—with the Chicago Wolves.
Minnesota: Ryan McDonagh
McDonagh’s only relevant rival in the derby for the best St. Paul-born NHLer happens to be Kyle Okposo, a rival of his in the all-New York matchup.
Interestingly enough, their common threads ended long before either one stepped into the show as McDonagh left for the bordering state’s capital at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while Okposo merely crossed civic boundaries to the Golden Gophers.
In the way of ranking the Rangers’ most valuable blueliners, McDonagh is in a close footrace with fellow minute-muncher and habitual shot-blocker Dan Girardi. His overall performance and stature on his team’s chart gives him the victory in this competitive two-man slide.
It might as well be mentioned that, for a time, McDonagh and Okposo were joined in the New York metropolitan crowd by Zach Parise. Parise catered to the Devils fans just outside the state border and hails from Minneapolis, outside St. Paul’s civic border.
For those who just came back from an Antarctic expedition, Parise will now be servicing the fanbase of McDonagh’s original hometown.
Montreal: Kris Letang
Despite missing 31 games last season, Letang tied his career high of 10 goals and most likely would have set himself a new bar in the point department had he been healthy for the whole ride.
His point-based playmaking propensity is so valuable that the 25-year-old defenseman saw a bigger nightly average of power-play ice time than any of the Pittsburgh Penguins forwards except Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin. He similarly tied Nick Johnson for third on the team in that category in 2010-11.
Letang has also held his own in his day job with a team-best plus-21 rating last year and a sound plus-15 the year prior.
Nashville: Hunter Long
Long is in the process of making himself an NAHL regular after transferring from the Chicago Hitmen to the Soo Eagles. The only other Nashville native on a reasonably high-profile hockey landscape is Providence College freshman backup goalie Dylan Wells.
That said, both are of the right age to have been at least somewhat influenced in a timely manner, namely when they were six or seven years old, by the advent of the Predators.
New Jersey: Vacant
No Newark natives have ever seen NHL action, nor are there any active players from that city in the eyes of the Internet Hockey Database. However, Bobby Ryan and James van Riemsdyk have both represented the Garden State well enough since going among the top three in the 2005 and 2007 NHL drafts, respectively.
New York: Francis Bouillon and Hugh Jessiman
Perhaps fittingly, there are two active players with NHL experience who list New York City as their hometown, just as there are two teams in the metropolis who operate under the “New York” dateline.
Jessiman has two appearances with the Florida Panthers on his transcript and is currently with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. He was a first-round draftee by his hometown Rangers in the 2003 draft but spent all four of his seasons in their system in the minors.
Bouillon, on the other hand, has been an NHL mainstay for roughly a decade, variously patrolling Montreal and Nashville’s blue lines.
Ottawa: Derek Roy
His primary competition is a pair of grizzled defensemen in Adrian Aucoin and Dan Boyle. But the 29-year-old Roy is the current class of the Canadian capital, which has seen about 50 NHLers play with or against its modern incarnation of the Senators.
Roy’s dip in productivity could likely be blamed on the remnants of an injury-shortened 2010-11 season. As he moves further away from that and prepares for a change of scenery from the Sabres to the Stars, he ought to return to the 60-point range the next time the NHL conducts a full-length, 82-game campaign.
Philadelphia: Eric Tangradi
Although, with the lockout and his eligibility for the AHL, Tangradi is currently playing a little closer to his original home with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Phoenix: Sean Couturier
That’s as close as Arizona's capital is going to get at the moment, which is less to flatter oneself about than meets the eye. The Couturiers found themselves in upstate New York and Fort Wayne, Ind. before that 1992-93 campaign was even over, then spent all of the following four years in Milwaukee, where Sylvain played for the IHL Admirals.
Pittsburgh: R.J. Umberger
Umberger was the anti-Tangradi at the start of his professional career, splitting his first four seasons between the Flyers and the Phantoms.
Since then, he has gone back to what one might call his adopted hometown of Columbus, where he studied and skated at Ohio State and where he has since elevated his personal bar. Coming off four straight seasons in the 20-goal and 40-point range (or better), Umberger is a natural go-to cog as the Blue Jackets try to fill Rick Nash’s roomy skates.
Former Penguin and current Lightning depth forward Ryan Malone is a close second for this slide.
St. Louis: Chris Butler
The next season will presumably be the fifth professional and fourth full NHL campaign for Butler, who has already logged 223 games-played and 51 points from the point.
San Jose: Ryan Doucet
But in the Junior A ranks there is Doucet, who made a commitment to Air Force this past summer and is currently the Odessa Jackalopes leading playmaker. As of next season, he will presumably succeed University of New Hampshire senior Dalton Speelman as one of two San Jose natives in Division I, opposite Miami Redhawks defenseman Ben Paulides.
There is also Chris Buchanan of the USHL’s Fargo Force, formerly of the Jr. Sharks travel program.
Tampa Bay: Cody Bradley
As far as the Hockey Database can tell, there are two players known to be active in the current season who come from the same home city as the NHL’s Lightning.
Bradley has just commenced his collegiate career with five appearances with Colorado College, for whom he tallied a playmaker hat trick Oct. 19. Meanwhile, Cedric Lacroix is in his first USHL season, although one feature article says that he is from Providence, R.I.
Toronto: Jason Spezza
Do note that at least one profile of Spezza’s says that the Senators’ leading scorer and Daniel Alfredsson’s most likely successor as the franchise face hails from Mississauga. But others, including that of his own team’s official website, cite him as coming directly from Toronto.
Depending on what angle one takes, Stephen Weiss is another option. The career-long Florida Panther was the team’s top point-getter for three consecutive seasons between 2008-09 and 2010-11 and their leading playmaker in 2011-12.
Vancouver: Evander Kane
One of 39 current or former NHLers to hail from British Columbia’s largest city, Kane has steadily swollen his output in each of three successive seasons with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise.
He most recently led the Jets with 30 goals and a plus-11 rating in 2011-12.
Narrowly beaten for the title on this slide is Milan Lucic, who has surpassed 60 points in back-to-back years on a balanced Boston team that did not have the same rigorous travel log as the displaced Jets. Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets may have another high-voltage Vancouverite on the rise in Ryan Johansen.
Washington: Jeff Halpern
Halpern has had two stints with his hometown Capitals, serving as team captain in the 2005-06 season when he totaled a career-high 33 assists.
In a dozen total seasons split amongst five different NHL franchises, Halpern has always broken double digits in the goal column when suiting up for at least 70 games. He has been trending mildly downward of late but could still be a valuable depth forward for his new employer, the New York Rangers.
Winnipeg: Jonathan Toews
In 2005-06, Toews joined fellow Winnipegger Travis Zajac directly south of the border at the University of North Dakota. Following an additional season, he formed a renaissance tandem with Kane in Chicago, garnering the captaincy in 2008-09 and leading the team in points in the 2010 playoffs and 2010-11 regular season.
Had he not missed 23 games last year, he could have retained that position atop the Blackhawks scoring chart, which prominently features yet another Winnipegger in Patrick Sharp.
That said, the phrase “exemplary leader” comes to mind at slap shot speed when Toews is brought up.