The 50 Greatest European Players in NHL History

Tom Urtz Jr.Contributor IDecember 3, 2012

The 50 Greatest European Players in NHL History

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    The NHL has a rich history of talented players skating up for numerous teams, and many of the league's greatest players were born in Europe.

    When you look back at some of the greatest players in league history, it is easy to think most came from North America, but many players from Europe have left an indelible mark on the NHL.

    These non-North American stars have had memorable seasons, moments and achievements over the span of decades, and for that reason they are singled out.

    It is never easy to pick a select number of names outside of a large pool of talent, but here are the 50 greatest European players in NHL history.

Saku Koivu

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    Saku Koivu is a player who has had an exemplary career despite battling Burkitt's lymphoma and other injuries throughout his career.

    He was tied with Jean Béliveau for longest reign as captain with the Montreal Canadiens with 10 years as team captain, he was the first European-born captain of the team and he was a Bill Masterton Trophy winner.

    Koivu is still a member of the Anaheim Ducks, and he has 776 points in 1,012 career games. If he was healthy for his entire career, there is a good chance that Koivu would have had a more productive career.

Marian Hossa

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    Marian Hossa is an enigmatic player who has continually impressed throughout his career.

    He enjoyed early success with the Atlanta Thrashers and Ottawa Senators, and he spent a brief amount of time with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings during attempts to win a Stanley Cup.

    He finally had his name engraved onto Lord Stanley's Cup in 2010 when the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 39-year drought.

    Up to this point, Hossa remains a top scorer, and his career totals are 417 goals and 904 points in 978 games.

    He is likely to join the 500-goal and 1000-point club before his career ends, and at age 33 he could even threaten for the 600-goal club if he returns to 40-goal form.

Pavol Demitra

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    The late Pavol Demitra was one of the greatest two-way forwards during his time in the NHL, and he was one of the better offensive producers on the teams he played for.

    He enjoyed ten 20-goal seasons throughout his career and finished with a grand total of 304 goals and 768 points in 804 games.

    Had he spent more time in the NHL, he could have potentially hit the 800-point mark and inched closer to a point-per-game average.

Alexander Mogilny

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    Alexander Mogilny played in 990 NHL games, and he scored 473 goals and added 559 assists for 1,032 total points.

    Mogilny was one of the top snipers during his time in the NHL, and he is most remembered for his 1992-93 season with the Buffalo Sabres.

    During that season, Mogilny scored 76 goals in 77 games to tie Teemu Selanne for the most goals of the season, and he finished with a grand total of 127 points.

Anders Hedberg

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    Anders Hedberg was one of the first Swedes to make an impact in North America, and he was a star in the WHA before he joined the NHL. In the WHA, he scored 458 points in only 286 career games.

    Hedberg had 398 points in the NHL, but he was a player who was very effective for the New York Rangers.

    He was a trailblazer for Swedish players, and one of the best in league history.

Peter Forsberg

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    Peter Forsberg was one of the greatest players in NHL history, and it is a shame his career was cut short by injuries.

    During his career, Forsberg won two Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy and two Olympic gold medals.

    He was also the winner of the Calder Trophy during the shortened 1995 season in which he scored 50 points in 47 games.

    Forsberg was the No. 4 scorer among Swedes when he retired, and he is often thought of as one of the greatest players from his generation.

Milan Hejduk

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    Milan Hejduk is a player who was a key contributor alongside Peter Forsberg during his time with the Colorado Avalanche.

    Hejduk was at the height of his success in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and that is reflected by the Stanley Cup ring he helped the Avs win in 2001.

    Hejduk is still with the Avalanche, and he currently has scored 371 goals and 794 points. When his career is said and done, Hejduk will likely be a near miss for the 900-point club.

Patrik Elias

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    Patrik Elias is a player who will likely retire having played his entire career with the New Jersey Devils. The Czech forward has been one of the better two-way forwards throughout his career, and he has aged well.

    His accolades up to this point include 361 goals and 533 assists for 894 points. He is the team's all-time leading scorer, and he will likely have an opportunity to hit the 1,000-point mark if he can replicate his production from the last few seasons.

Anton Stastny

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    The Stastny brothers made a lot of noise when they defected to the Quebec Nordiques of the NHL as the Iron Curtain was starting to fall back in the late '80s and early 90s, and Anton quietly had a productive and short NHL career.

    He isn't the most well known Stastny brother, but he managed to compile 252 goals and 636 points in 650 games. 

Ziggy Palffy

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    Ziggy Palffy was an interesting player in the NHL during his career. Palffy had years in which he was a solid 40-goal scorer, and then he was a player who produced at a lower than average clip.

    Nonetheless, Palffy did compile. Palffy scored 329 goals and 713 points in 684 games, and he retired with an above point-per-game average.

Pavel Bure

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    Pavel Bure was one of the most electrifying players during his career, and it was a career that was cut short because of knee injuries.

    However, the “Russian Rocket” scored 437 goals, and he added 342 for 779 points in 702 games.

    He was the NHL’s Calder Trophy winner in 1992 as the top rookie, a six-time All-Star and a three-time single-season goal scoring champion.

    Bure would have gone on to do better things if he had a better set of knees, but he was one of the most dynamic players of his era. 

Jaromir Jagr

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    Jaromír Jágr is arguably one of the greatest right wingers in NHL history, and he has a resume that makes him arguably the best European in league history.

    Jágr has a very extensive resume that includes a Hart Trophy, two Stanley Cups, three Lester B. Pearson awards and 1,653 career points and counting.

    It will be a sad day when Jágr hangs up his skates for good because he truly was a generational player, and he is one of the top European-born players in hockey history.

Mats Sundin

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    Mats Sundin was a prolific scorer and playmaker throughout his career, and that is indicative of his 564 career goals, his 785 career assists and his 1,349 points over the course of 18 seasons. 

    He is also currently the only Swede in NHL history to score 500 or more goals, and he was the first European-born player to be drafted first overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

    Sundin was known to be a leader during his time with the Quebec Nordiques and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he was one of the league’s most respected players. He was a nine-time All-Star and simply one of the most well rounded players of his era.

Sergei Fedorov

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    Sergei Fedorov is a player who is almost a surefire first ballot Hall of Fame inductee once his name is on the ballot.

    Fedorov was one of the most dominant two-way forwards, and he was known for his superior offensive prowess.

    During his career, Fedorov won three Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy and he scored 483 goals and 696 assists for 1,179 points.

    Had Fedorov been allowed to defect earlier, he might have put up even better numbers. Regardless, he will go down as one of the greatest Europeans in league history.

Ulf Samuelsson

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    Ulf Samuelsson was one of the NHL's top glue guys during his time in the league, and he was a tough player that every team wanted to add to their roster.

    He was a player who played with an edge at all times, but he was a key cog for the Pittsburgh Penguins' route to two consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1990s.

Miikka Kiprusoff

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    Miikka Kiprusoff has been playing hockey professionally since 1994, but he only joined the NHL in 2001. In a short amount of time, Kiprusoff has managed to be one of the league's top European-born goaltenders.

    In his career to date, Kiprusoff has 311 wins and 44 shutouts in only 599 career games.

    He is also is a one-time Vezina Trophy winner, and he helped backstop the Calgary Flames to a Western Conference title in 2004.

Esa Tikkanen

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    Esa Tikkanen was a player who was a productive pest and agitator throughout his career of 877 games.

    He won five Stanley Cups (four with EDM and one with NYR), and he was a player who was one of the more offensive-minded pests of his day.

    He ended his career with 630 points, and he was a three-time 30-goal scorer during a very solid NHL career.

Pelle Lindbergh

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    His career was cut short when he tragically died at age 26, but Lindbergh was a pioneer for European-born goaltenders.

    He was the first European to win a Vezina Trophy, he led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup and he was a two-time NHL All-Star.

    With his skill set and potential, Lindbergh could have become the first great European goaltender.

    Had Lindbergh not tragically died, he would have gone on to have a successful career for a Flyers' team who came so close to success in the '80s.

Alexei Yashin

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    Alexei Yashin was one of the most talented scorers of his era, but he had a poor attitude and work ethic.

    No one can deny his offensive abilities that enabled him to tally 337 goals and 781 points through 850 games, and he does stand out as one of the top European talents to ever lace up a pair of skates in the NHL.

    Had Yashin been less of a prima donna, he could have had a really great career in the NHL.

Daniel Alfredsson

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    Speaking of talented Ottawa Senators, Daniel Alfredsson is one of the classiest players and leaders in NHL history.

    "Allfie" has had a great career up to this point, and his accolades include a Calder Trophy, 416 goals and 666 assists for 1,082 points in 1,131 games.

    With the lockout currently in full effect, the hockey community is in danger of having one of the league's greatest players miss out on his full victory lap.

Igor Larionov

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    Igor Larionov was one of the best players who defected from the Soviet Union, and he was the cog in the driving force during his time with the Detroit Red Wings.

    He was the pivot of the famous KLM line that tore up play internationally, and he was a member of the Wings' Russian Five that led the team to three Stanley Cups.

    Overall, Larionov was a great player who served in multiple roles throughout his career.

Nicklas Backstrom

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    Up to this point, Nicklas Backstrom is already one of the best Swedish-born players in league history, so he makes this top Europeans list by default.

    He is averaging above a point-per-game through 367 games, and he has a big future ahead of him.

    If he continues to play alongside Alex Ovechkin, he should have no problem racking up assists and points through the next few seasons.

Evgeni Malkin

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    Although Evgeni Malkin's career is relatively short when compared to some of the other players on this list, he has a lot of achievements that make him one of the greatest European-born forwards in league history.

    In 427 games, he has 527 points, is a four-time All-Star, a Hart Trophy winner and a two-time Art Ross winner. 

    No matter how you slice it, Geno is and will be one of the greatest European players in NHL history.

Sergei Zubov

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    Sergei Zubov was one of the top power play quarterbacks of his era, and he had a howitzer of a slap shot that was both feared and respected during his NHL career.

    He was a player who was also a great puck mover, and his passing skills were severely underrated. Zubov retired with 771 points, and his name was etched onto the Stanley Cup two times.

    Zubov was a key piece for the New York Rangers in 1994, and oddly enough he led the team in playoff scoring.

Hakan Loob

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    Allthough Hakan Loob had a brief NHL career, he put up some very impressive numbers for the Calgary Flames.

    In 1987-88 Loob had one of the best statistical seasons in the history of the Calgary Flames when he became the first Swede to score 50 goals in a single season.

    Loob also has a Flames' high of five hat tricks, and he ended the season with 106 points.

    His crowning achievement was the 1988-89 postseason in which he scored 17 points in 22 games as the Flames won their only Stanley Cup Championship.

    When his career was over, Loob scored 193 goals and 429 points in 450 games.

Marian Gaborik

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    To date, Marian Gaborik is one of Slovakia's top scorers, and that is reflected with his 324 goals and 647 points in 722 games.

    He is a player who has found some success with the New York Rangers as of late, and he is still young enough to continue producing at an above average rate.

    When all is said and done, Gaborik should be a member of the 500-goal club and the 1,000-point club.

Walt Tkaczuk

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    Walt Tkaczuk was a German-born but Canadian-trained player whose career was tragically cut short with an eye injury in 1981.

    During his career, Tkaczuk was a member of the New York Rangers, and he was a player who had a lot of potential.

    In 945 career NHL games, Tkaczuk scored 227 goals scored 678 points, but he was capable of more if he hadn't become injured.

Alexei Kovalev

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    Alexei Kovalev was a player who was very dynamic during his NHL career, and he had one of the league's top wrist shots.

    During his career, Kovalev scored 428 goals, and he added 596 assists for 1,024 points.

    The crowning achievement of Kovalev's career was in 1994 when he won the Stanley Cup, and his contributions to the Rangers that season helped put him on the map as a player.

Ilya Kovalchuk

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    There is another "Kovy" who is an electrifying player, and Ilya Kovalchuk has the potential to put up amazing totals for the rest of his career.

    The 29-year-old already has 406 goals and 785 points in 779 games, and it wouldn't be out of the question to say that Kovy could retire with at least 650 goals and 1,200 points.

Martin Straka

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    Martin Straka was a forward who was a complimentary player for many teams, primarily the Pittsburgh Penguins, throughout his career. Straka had some solid seasons in which he was one of the league leaders in scoring.

    Straka's best season came in 2000-01 with 95 points in 27 goals and 68 assists. When his career was over, Straka had a total of 717 points in 954 games. 

    Although Straka is no longer in the NHL, he is currently a player, general manager and the majority owner of HC Plzeň 1929 of the Czech Extraliga.

Zdeno Chara

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    Zdeno Chara is arguably one of the NHL's most intimidating defenders today, and he is a player who has many different roles on the Boston Bruins. He is their captain and leader, he is their top defender and he is a player with a booming slap shot that is the best in the NHL.

    Chara's defensive play and contributions in 2011 allowed him and the Bruins to win a Stanley Cup, and he is certainly one of the best defenders in the history of European hockey players.

Peter Bondra

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    During the late '90s and early 2000s, Peter Bondra was a player who was one of the top scorers for the Washington Capitals.

    He is often an afterthought because he averaged less than a point-per-game throughout his career, but his 503 goals and 892 points still lead the Capitals today.

    If it wasn't for Bondra's breakout play in 1997-98, the Caps may have never made it to their first Stanley Cup appearance. Even though they were decimated by Detroit, it was a season to remember.

Evgeni Nabokov

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    Evgeni Nabokov has been one of the most successful European goaltenders to date, and he has a career record of 312 wins, 196 losses, 29 ties and 40 overtime losses with a 2.40 G.A.A. in 605 career games.

    Nabokov has never won a Vezina Trophy, but he is a member of the 300-win club, and he will have a chance to increase that total once the lockout is over.

Henrik Lundqvist

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    Henrik Lundqvist is a 30-year-old goaltender who has the potential to be one of the greatest European netminders in league history.

    He already has 252 wins, is the only goalie in NHL history to win 30 or more games in seven straight seasons and was the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy Winner.

    When you add his career 2.27 GAA and 43 shutouts, it already makes Lundqvist stand out as a top player even though he has a ton of his career still in front of him.

Markus Naslund

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    Markus Naslund is one of the greatest Swedes in NHL history, and he is a player who was a great leader for the Vancouver Canucks.

    Throughout his career, Naslund played primarily for the Canucks and New York Rangers, and he retired with 395 goals and 869 points in 1,117 games.

    Naslund's iconic No.19 was retired by the Vancouver Canucks, and it was a fitting honor for a great player.

Peter Stastny

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    Peter is the most famous of the Stastny brothers, and he had an amazing NHL career.

    During his career, Stastny had seven seasons in which he had 100-points or more, had eight 30-goal seasons and won a Calder Trophy during his rookie season.

    When his career was finally over, the Hall of Fame forward had registered 450 goals and 1,239 points in only 977 games.

Jari Kurri

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    Jari Kurri was one of the Edmonton Oilers top snipers during their dynasty years, and he was one of the NHL's top all-time scorers.

    Kurri is currently 20th all-time in scoring with 1,406 points and 18th all-time with 601 career goals.

    Kurri is considered to be one of the greatest Finnish-born players in the history of the NHL, and his multiple Stanley Cup rings and career accolades solidify that distinction.

Borje Salming

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    Borje Salming is widely considered to be one of the best defenseman in NHL history, and he left an impact on the game.

    Nicknamed the "King", Salming was a Swedish defender who spent most of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    During his career, Salming was a three-time All-Star, and he was an above average offensive contributor.

    In 1,148 career games, Salming scored 150 goals, and he added 637 assists for 787 career points.

    He was one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' top players, and his No. 21 hangs from the rafters in the Air Canada Centre.

Pavel Datsyuk

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    Pavel Datsyuk is a player who is one of the most creative playmakers in the history of the NHL, and he still has a big part of his career ahead of him.

    Known for his wizardry with the puck, Datsyuk currently has 478 assists and 240 goals for 718 points in 732 games.

    Datsyuk is also a three-time Selke Trophy winner, a four-time Lady Byng Trophy winner and a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.

    Datsyuk is only 34, so he has a couple of good years left, and he should be a member of the 1,000-point club when his season is said and done.

Nikolai Khabibulin

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    Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the winningest European-born goaltenders in league history with 328 career NHL wins.

    Throughout his career, he has played for multiple teams, but his most memorable season was with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04.

    Khabibulin backstopped the Lightning to their first Stanley Cup, and he was dominant throughout the postseason with a record of 16-7-0 with five shutouts and a 1.71 G.A.A.

Daniel Sedin

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    Daniel Sedin  is one of the best Swedish-born forwards in NHL history.

    He plays alongside his brother Henrik, and the duo is one of the best in the league.

    Through 859 career games, D.Sedin has 718 points.

    Sedin was also the 2010-11 season's Art Ross Trophy winner as the league's top scorer and the Ted Lindsay Award winner for most impressive player as selected by the NHLPA.

Henrik Sedin

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    Henrik Sedin is the playmaker of the Sedin brothers, and he is the top offensive producer of the duo. In 892 games, Sedin has 747 points and 576 assists. 

    To his career to date, H.Sedin has won a Hart Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy winner, and that came during the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Final.

    With a major part of his career still ahead, Sedin has the potential to become one of the top scoring Swedes in the history of the NHL.

Slava Fetisov

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    Slava Fetisov is a player who is more known for his international play, but he was a very good defender during his brief NHL career,

    He was a key blue liner for the Detroit Red Wings, and he won two consecutive Stanley Cups with the team in 1997 and 1998.

    During his career, he only had 228 points.

Henrik Zetterberg

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    Henrik Zetterberg is a Swedish forward, and he is expected to be the next captain of the Detroit Red Wings.

    Zetterberg has been a great offensive producer during his time in the NHL, and he has scored 252 goals and 624 points in 668 career games.

    He is a great two-way player, a Conn Smythe Winner and was a member of the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.

Stan Mikita

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    Stan Mikita is one of the greatest European-born centers in the history of the NHL, and he is often considered one of the Chicago Blackhawks' greatest players.

    Mikita had an explosive career in which he scored 541 goals and added 926 assists for a grand total of 1,467 points.

    The Blackhawks' career pivot also won a Stanley Cup with the team in 1961, was a two-time Hart Trophy winner, a three-time Art Ross winner and a nine-time All-Star.

Teemu Selanne

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    Teemu Selanne is a player who seems to age very little year to year, and he will be another first ballot Hall of Fame inductee when he is eligible.

    Up to this point in his career, Selanne has tallied 663 goals and 743 assists for 1,406 points, and he has a good shot at hitting the 700-goal mark before his career is over.

    Additionally, Selanne is a 12-time All-Star, and he won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

Alex Ovechkin

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    Up to this point Alex Ovechkin has been considered one of the best players in the NHL, and he is still very young.

    Ovechkin has already won two Hart Trophies, two Rocket Richard Trophies, a Calder Trophy and an Art Ross Trophy during his career to date.

    Ovechkin currently has 339 goals and 679 points in 553 games, so he has a great shot at hitting the 600-goal club and 1,200-point club if he can keep up his production over the rest of his career.

Kent Nilsson

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    Kent Nilsson was one of the NHL's top European players during his brief NHL career, and if he decided to stay in North America, he could have been a lot more productive than he was.

    In his brief career of 553 games, Nilsson scored 264 goals and 686 points. He also set a Calgary Flames' record for points with 131 and assists with 82 in 1980-81.

    Nilsson was off to a hot start, but for whatever reason, he decided to return to Europe to finish his hockey career.

Dominik Hasek

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    Dominik Hasek is the greatest European-born goaltender in the history of the NHL, and he was a player who is considered to be one of the greatest all-time goaltenders. Hasek was a player who simply dominated on the ice, and he earned the nickname "The Dominator."

    Throughout his career, Hasek was a six-time Vezina Trophy winner who also won two consecutive Hart Trophies and two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

    He is the winningest European goaltender with 389 career wins, he ranks sixth all-time in shutouts with 81 and he is eighth all-time in GAA with a career mark of 2.13.

    Hasek was truly a generational player, and it is only a matter of time before he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Simply put, Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the NHL.

    Throughout his career, Lidstrom hoisted the Stanley Cup four times, the Conn Smythe once, the Norris Trophy seven times and Olympic gold in 2006.

    He also finished his career with 264 goals, 878 assists and 1,142 points. Once Lidstrom is on the ballot for Hall of Fame induction, he is guaranteed to be a first ballot selection.