What makes a sports league great? Obviously there needs to be enough money to build massive arenas and pay top talent. There needs to be great coaching staff and avid fans. But most importantly, any sports league worth watching has to be a showcase for the best talent in the world. The National Hockey League was founded in 1917, but from the get-go it was actually an international hockey league as teams hailed from both Canada and the United States. Now-a-days, NHL players come from all over the globe to play in the league. In fact, there are currently 16 nationalities represented in the NHL. Including some of the best Nordic players.
Some of the best players in the league have travelled a long way from home to play for the NHL. For example, you have Boston Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara from Slovakia, Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl from Germany, and Washington Capitals left winger, “Ovi” (Alexander Ovechkin), was born in Russia. The list could go on and on, but in this article, we take a look at the best Nordic players currently active in the NHL.
Nordic Players in the NHL
There are a number of Danish players with exciting prospects in the NFL, but Nikolaj Ehlers is certainly worthy of some extra attention. Still only 23 years old, Ehlers has been playing at the wing position for the Winnipeg Jets since 2015 and has scored over 100 goals in his NHL career.
For those who play Fantasy Hockey, Ehlers is considered to be a reliable starter at a reasonable value. While it’s unlikely you’ll see many big numbers on a regular basis from Ehlers, his constancy is what makes him a good pick. For the most part, Fantasy Hockey is not a game of chance; while you have to take a gamble on picks from time-to-time, selecting a player with reliable points is better than going with a “boom or bust” player.
There are so many top-notch Finnish players making an impact in the NHL that it’s impossible to just focus on just one. However, let’s start by looking at Mikko Rantanen. Playing for Colorado Avalanche at right wing, Rantanen has had some impressive scoring streaks since he was drafted in 2015. So impressive in fact, that last year he signed a six-year, $55.5 million contract extension with the Avalanche.
It’s hard to mention Finnish hockey players in the NHL without giving a nod to two of the top ten fantasy goalies for the 2019-2020 season; Boston’s Tuuka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Both of these Finland-born goalies have shown impressive talent– not to mention that Rinne’s goalie goal was pretty cool.
There has only been a very small percentage of Norwegian hockey players to make their way to the NHL over the years. However, it’s worth mentioning the Wild’s winger, Mats Zuccarello. The 32-year-old has played for a number of NHL teams since he was signed to the Rangers as a free agent back in 2010. He has over 250 career assists and over 120 goals in the NHL. Zuccarello also played in the Swedish Elite League, earning the Golden Helmet, or Guldhjälmen, before heading to the NHL as the most valuable player in the league.
Swedish players make up the third largest percentage of all nationalities in the NHL; only behind Canadian and American players. With 11.7% of NHL players hailing from Sweden, there are a lot of great Swedish hockey stars worth noting. Let’s start off with Nicklas Bäckström. Bäckström is renowned as one of the league’s best passers. At 32 years old he has 240 goals and 671 assists. Bäckström has been playing for the Capitals since 2007. That shows what tremendous value he continues to bring to the team.
St. Louis Blues’ centre Alexander Steen is another Swedish player who continues to be a big name in the NHL. 35-year-old Steen may not have as many assists as Bäckström. However, he has scored 242 goals, and helped lead the St. Louis Blues to their first Stanley Cup win in 2019.
Last but not least, we have to mention San Jose Sharks defenseman, Erik Karlsson. Since being drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2008 Karlsson has had 134 goals and an impressive 465 assists. Karlsson had twice been awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which goes to the best defenceman in the NHL.
TAMPA, FL – MARCH 05: Winnipeg Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) skates against Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) during the NHL game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning on March 05, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)