Even though the initials stand for National Hockey League, the NHL has a distinctly international flavor as far as its players are concerned. Yet progress wasn’t instant as it took over 48 years for an overseas player to arrive in the league. This happened when Sweden’s Ulf Sterner signed for the New York Rangers in 1965.
Now, however, the NHL is regarded as North America’s most international league. For the 2019/2020 season, over 30% of players are from outside both Canada and the USA. As a result, foreign-born hockey stars are having a more significant impact on the sport than ever before.
This also means the league has a plethora of outstanding overseas talent hitting the ice. For an insight, here are five of the best international players in the NHL right now.
What better place to start than with the previous season’s MVP in the NHL? Nikita Kucherov has been recognized as one of the league’s finest offensive performers for several years of now. Playing for Tampa Bay Lightning, the Russian amassed a stunning 128 points overall during the 2018-2019 season with 41 goals and 87 assists. While he hasn’t quite hit the same heights this season, the 27-year-old Kucherov is sure to be fighting it out for individual titles for many years to come.
He might be approaching his 35th birthday, but Alexander Ovechkin is still at the top of his game. Aptly nicknamed “Alexander the Great”, the Russian left-winger is regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time.
The Washington Capitals captain led his team to Stanley Cup triumph in 2018, and his goal-scoring exploits are the stuff of legend. He has over 700 career NHL goals to date and is one of just three players to score at least 50 goals in seven separate seasons.
If you were to visit the Betway Ice Hockey page and back a team to win the 2020 Stanley Cup, many would recommend you choose the Boston Bruins. This is thanks in large part to the form of David Pastrňák. The Czech right-winger was the joint top scorer – alongside the aforementioned Ovechkin – for the 2019-2020 season with 48 goals.
Still only 24 years old, Pastrňák is in line to be a dominant fixture in the NHL for the next decade.
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov is officially spotlighted by the NHL as one of the top ten players in the league right now. The Finnish-Russian Barkov, 24, is a prolific all-rounder with his goals and assists. Aside from his dazzling attacking talent, he also won last season’s Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for his upstanding sportsmanship.
One of the NHL’s best defensive players right now is undoubtedly Victor Hedman. The six-foot-six Swedish rock ensures no opposing team has an easy time scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His performances at the back saw him win the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2018, and he was a finalist for the award in both 2017 and 2019, respectively.