The NHL is a hodgepodge of players from all corners of the world. As hockey and the NHL grows more and more popular, more nationalities will become represented in the league.
Here in this list are the top nine hockey nations and three of their respective stars.
A couple of stipulations have to be made before this list can begin.
As it is hard to compare the skill sets of goalies to forwards, defenseman to forwards, and so on, the top three players of each nationality will be divided into one goalie, one defenseman and one forward. Second, this isn't an all-time list—each player must still be active. Finally, since all nationalities don't always have a "top" player at each position, only the following nations will be included.
- United States
- Czech Republic
All lists should start off big. At 6' 9" and 255 pounds, Zdeno Chara is a Slovakian force on the blue line. Chara has posted more than 40 points for seven consecutive seasons for both the Senators and the Bruins.
Looking at his career numbers, awards and accolades, Chara is the obvious choice for the best defenseman from Slovakia.
Awards: Norris Trophy (2008-09), Messier Leadership Award (2010-11), Stanley Cup (2010-11)
- 928 Games Played
- 125 Goals
- 282 Assists
- 407 Points
Halak has proven that he is a No. 1 netminder over the past two seasons and gets the obvious nod over the only other Slovakian goalie in the NHL, Peter Budaj.
After some playoff heroics two seasons ago that saw him completely shut down the favored Capitals, posting a .939 save percentage in the first round, Halak moved on to the Blues where he played 57 games last season. The Blues look to enter into a fast rebuild in the next few seasons, and Halak appears to be the cornerstone.
- 153 Games Played
- 83 Wins
- 2.57 GAA
- .916 Save Percentage
Hossa has to compete with the only other serious Slovakian competitor: Marian Gaborik. Hossa's Stanley Cup ring and better overall career statistics win him the award of best Slovakian forward.
After playing for five different teams in his career, Hossa has found a crucial role as a secondary Blackhawks scorer behind Toews and Kane. The one-time 100-point scorer is locked in for the long haul in Chicago.
On an interesting note, Hossa played in three consecutive Stanley Cup finals before finally winning with Chicago in 2010.
Awards: Stanley Cup (2009-10)
- 897 Games Played
- 388 Goals
- 439 Assists
- 827 Points
Kaberle is a prototypical offensive defenseman. After being a letdown for many Bruins fans following the trade deadline, Kaberle still proved his worth by posting 47 points last season and helping Boston to a Stanley Cup victory.
Hamrilik was the only other option on this list and although he is a solid defender, Kaberle has shown he is worth more.
Awards: Stanley Cup (2010-11)
- 902 Games Played
- 84 Goals
- 445 Assists
- 529 Points
Tomas Vokoun will be playing with one of the only other Czech goalies in the NHL next season when he pairs up with Michal Neuvirth in Washington.
Vokoun has managed to put up some significant numbers while playing for a consistently bad team in Florida for the past couple of years. If he is able to put up that save percentage, the Capitals could finally be the contender they have been touted as.
- 632 Games Played
- 262 Wins
- 2.56 GAA
- .917 Save Percentage
Am I the only one who is extremely excited to see Jagr back in the NHL next season?
With almost double the career points of the closest Czech competitor, Patrik Elias (1,599 to 815), Jagr is the easy choice for this pick. If Jagr can prove again why he once was the most feared forward in the league, Philadelphia could be sitting on a good 60 points from him by the end of the season.
Awards: Art Ross Trophy (1994-95 / 1997-98 / 1998-99 / 1999-2000 / 2000-01), Hart Trophy (1998-99), Ted Lindsay Award (1998-99 / 1999-2000 / 2005-06)
- 1,272 Games Played
- 646 Goals
- 953 Assists
- 1,599 Points
Even though Mark Streit missed the entire 2010-11 campaign, he is still the best Swiss defenseman in the league today. Streit posted a career-high 62 points in 2007-08 and is expected to help the struggling NYI blue line this season.
According to sources, Streit is completely healthy and was almost ready to return at the end of last season. His career numbers and offensive ability make him the easy choice for the best Swiss blueliner.
- 361 Games Played
- 52 Goals
- 162 Assists
- 214 Points
Even though Jonas Hiller is the only NHL goaltender from Switzerland, this pick is in no way a default choice. Hiller is an elite goaltender and posted 26 wins for Anaheim last season before missing the latter half of the season with a case of extreme vertigo.
Supposedly, Hiller has declared himself healthy and ready to play in 2011-12 which is good news to Anaheim who could really use him in another run at the cup this season.
- 177 Games Played
- 89 Wins
- 2.51 GAA
- .921 Save Percentage
Call this pick one for the future. Niederreiter only played in nine games this NHL season and was the only Swiss forward to actually record a point.
However, he is still the best choice for this pick because of his extreme development room and because he is supposedly going to be on the starting roster for the Islanders this season. Coupled with a lot of other good young players, look for Niederreiter to be putting up some decent points in the seasons to come.
Ehrhoff is the recent recipient of a $40 million, 10-year contract from the Buffalo Sabres. Ehrhoff has proven over the years that he can be an elite offensive threat from the blue line even if he occasionally gets in trouble defensively.
In fact, several Sharks fans took to the name "Errorhof" after several of these lapses. However, he has shown that his liability has lessened and that he is the best German defenseman in the league today, narrowly beating out shutdown defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.
- 500 Games Played
- 53 Goals
- 173 Assists
- 226 Points
This one is a bit of a stretch. Thomas Greiss is one of the only German goaltenders actually signed by an NHL team. Greiss actually played for the SEL in 2010-11 after a good 16-game stint with the San Jose Sharks in 2009-10.
After the addition of the Niemi-Nittymaki tandem in San Jose, Greiss was out of his job this past season but was picked up with a two-year extension this offseason. Look for Greiss to prove a worthy backup in the coming years.
- 19 Games Played
- 7 Wins
- 2.77 GAA
- .906 Save Percentage
Born to a German professional hockey player, Murray Heatley, Dany Heatley holds dual citizenship with Canada and Germany but was born in Freiburg, Germany.
Even though he plays for Canada in international tournaments, Heatley is still the best forward in the NHL to come out of Germany. Recently traded to Minnesota from San Jose, look for Heatley to be on the top line with a certain Finn named Mikko Koivu.
Awards: Calder Memorial Trophy (2001-02)
- 669 Games Played
- 325 Goals
- 364 Assists
- 689 Points
Timonen has been a top four defender for both the Predators and Flyers in his 12-year career. Timonen has been able to amass a multitude of points in his career and is easily the best Finnish defender, beating out Joni Pitkanen.
Look for Timonen to be critical in the Flyers' push for the cup in the postseason this year.
- 894 Games Played
- 102 Goals
- 362 Assists
- 464 Points
Finland has produced a very impressive crop of NHL goaltenders in recent memory. Kiprusoff, Niemi, Lehtonen, Backstrom and Rask all have supreme skill and have shown why they can be No. 1 goaltenders on any club in the league.
Rinne, however, has shown flashes of being more than just an elite goaltender. With his recent Vezina Trophy nomination and impressive regular and postseason play, Rinne has been getting some comparisons to one of hockey's greats, Dominik Hasek. Expect Rinne to keep Nashville in contention for years to come with his netminding.
177 Games Played
.920 Save Percentage
The Finnish Flash, if he returns this season, probably won't be expected to produce his miraculous 80-point season that he had last year at the ripe old age of 41.
However, Selanne is easily one of the best Finns to ever play the game and is a league favorite in the NHL. If he steps down this season, the best Finnish forward distinction will fall to one of the Koivus, most likely Mikko.
Awards: Calder Trophy (1992-93), Maurice Richard Trophy (1998-99), Stanley Cup (2006-07)
- 1,259 Games Played
- 637 Goals
- 703 Assists
- 1,340 Points
Another ageless veteran, Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the easiest picks on this list. Lidstrom will go down as not only one of the best Swedes to ever play but also as one of the best defenseman the NHL has ever seen.
With 62 points last season at the age of 41, Lidstrom earned his seventh Norris Trophy. Expect him to compete for his eighth in 2011-12.
Awards: Conn Smythe Trophy (2001-02), Norris Trophy (2000-01 / 2001-02 / 2002-03 / 2005-06 / 2006-07 / 2007-08 /2010-11), Stanley Cup (1996-1997, 1997-1998, 2001-2002, 2007-2008)
- 1,494 Games Played
- 253 Goals
- 855 Assists
- 1,108 Points
- Plus 429 Career Plus/Minus
Sweden boasts an up-and-coming goaltender in Jhonas Enroth but only one actual starter in King Henrik. Lundqvist is consistently mentioned as one of the top five goaltenders in the league so it is only fitting that he is the best Swedish goaltender playing the NHL.
Lundqvist has some of the best regular season numbers since the lockout and plays consistently for 70 games a season but stills needs to gain that elusive Stanley Cup ring to become elite in today's NHL.
- 406 Games Played
- 213 Wins
- 2.32 GAA
- .918 Save Percentage
The Sedin twins are identical in almost every single way including their points per game (Henrik's .822 is slightly less than Daniel's .827). I must say that I am not the biggest fan of the Sedin twins and two years ago, Alfredsson would be topping this list for me.
However, two amazing regular seasons by the twins have solidified them as the best two Swedes in the league. So why is only Daniel on the slide? The goal scoring twin Daniel has netted almost 100 more goals than his brother Henrik and looks to be the twin that could actually succeed near to the same degree without his other half if on another team.
Awards: Art Ross Trophy (2010-11), Ted Lindsay Award (2010-11)
- 787 Games Played
- 249 Goals
- 402 Assists
- 651 Points
Yandle takes the cake for the best current US defenseman with his tremendous and often unsung improvement in Phoenix. Yandle beats out other significant defenseman like Liles, Wisniewski and Suter because of his improved offensive and defensive play over the past two seasons.
Although Yandle hasn't collected any major NHL awards, his 59 points on the very anemic Phoenix offense was third in the league for defenseman last season. Posting a plus-28 and playing in every game for two consecutive seasons isn't too shabby either.
- 283 Games Played
- 32 Goals
- 112 Assists
- 144 Points
I will be the first to admit that I am on the Thomas bandwagon. The 2010-11 year for Tim Thomas will go down as one of the best, if not the best by a goaltender in NHL history. He deserves every award he received and made a great story for Boston by capturing its first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
With Miller often being regarded as the best American goalie because of his outstanding numbers season after season, it may be surprising that Timmy Thomas is the man on this slide. However, Thomas is on the top of the world right now and credit must be given where credit is due.
Awards: Vezina Trophy (2008-09, 2010-11), Conn Smythe (2010-11), Stanley Cup (2010-11)
- 319 Games Played
- 161 Wins
- 2.50 GAA
- .922 Save Percentage
When choosing the best American forward, there were really only two viable options: Ryan Kesler and Patrick Kane. Although Kesler is steadily proving that he is a second line scoring threat, he narrowly loses in this debate to Patrick Kane.
The reason is because Kane has proven that he can be a clutch performer (scoring the GWG in the Stanley Cup finals does wonders for that image) while Kesler still hasn't won anything more than a Selke Trophy. Not to downgrade the Selke or Kesler, but Kane has more room for improvement and raw talent than Kesler.
Awards: Calder Trophy (2007-08), Stanley Cup (2009-10)
- 317 Games Played
- 103 Goals
- 200 Assists
- 303 Points
Edit: Parise should have been mentioned.
Surprisingly, Russia doesn't have the greatest crop of defensemen in the NHL. This is only surprising because of the popularity of hockey over there and the rising stock of the KHL.
Nevertheless, Sergei Gonchar is an elite puck-moving defenseman and deserves the distinction of being Russia's best blueliner. The one-time 67-point scorer has been mentioned in some rumors as being trade bait for Ottawa who is looking to rebuild with picks and prospects in the near future. Most teams could use his veteran presence and contenders will definitely be looking for him come trade deadline.
Awards: Stanley Cup (2008-09)
- 1,058 Games Played
- 209 Goals
- 502 Assists
- 711 Points
Also surprising is the lack of Russian goaltending talent in the NHL. Only Varlamov, Khabibulin, Bobrovsky and the superior Bryzgalov can be considered starters on an NHL roster.
Bryzgalov has posted phenomenal numbers and has been the main reason why Phoenix has had some regular season success for the past two years. With his new move to Philadelphia, look for Bryzgalov to put up similar numbers and for Philly to be a definite contender this year.
- 326 Games Played
- 156 Wins
- 2.53 GAA
- .916 Save Percentage
This is actually one of the hardest picks I had to make for this list. Everyone knows that Ovechkin is what the people in the biz call a "generational talent" but some people claim he isn't the best Russian forward in the NHL today. Wings fans, Crosby lovers and Caps haters will often say that the magician Datsyuk has superior talent and that Ovechkin's best days are already behind him.
Although I agree that Datsyuk does seem to age gracefully, Ovechkin is about to enter the best portion of his career in my opinion. Next season, Ovechkin will once again prove why he is an elite scorer in the NHL and why he is the first option on this list.
Awards: Art Ross Trophy (2007-08), Calder Trophy (2005-06), Hart Trophy (2007-08, 2008-09), Ted Lindsay Award (2007-08 / 2008-09 / 2009-10), Maurice Richard (2007-08, 2008-09)
- 475 Games Played
- 301 Goals
- 313 Assists
- 614 Points
Shea Weber gets the nod for best Canadian defenseman over fellow countrymen Kris Letang and Dan Boyle who both had more points than Weber in 2010-11. Weber wins because of his supreme skill in all three areas of the ice, not just the offensive zone.
Being 6' 4" and having the second-hardest slap shot in the league doesn't hurt your nomination either. Weber is the cornerstone and captain of the Predators franchise and is a front-runner for the Norris Trophy this year if Lidstrom takes a step back.
- 402 Games Played
- 80 Goals
- 134 Assists
- 214 Points
Canada has the deepest goaltending out of any other nation by far. Leading this pack is recent playoff disappointment Roberto Luongo who showed once again that he can't put up his elite NHL numbers when it matters most.
That being said, it is hard to argue that Carey Price, Cam Ward, and Marc-Andre Fleury are better overall than Luongo, even though two out of those three have already won a Stanley Cup. If Luongo shows once again that he can't perform, one of those three will likely take the reins has Canada's premier netminder.
- 672 Games Played
- 308 Wins
- 2.53 GAA
- .919 Save Percentage
Some of the best players in the league fit under this category. In that running include Toews, Iginla, Thornton and many others but none compare to Sidney Crosby.
Call him a crybaby, call him soft or call him cheap, but Sidney Crosby is still a winner. His 66 points were better than all but 18 players last season and he accomplished that in exactly half a season. Even if Crosby doesn't start the 2011-12 campaign, it would be hard for him to be removed off of this list because of his tremendous leadership and skill on the ice.
Awards: Art Ross Trophy (2006-07), Messier Leadership Award (2009-10), Hart Trophy (2006-07), Ted Lindsay Award (2006-07), Maurice Richard Trophy (2009-10)
- 412 Games Played
- 215 Goals
- 357 Assists
- 572 Points
Thanks for reading! If you disagree with any of the picks, feel free to comment.
40 days until the season starts!