Friday November 9th, 2007

To date, players born in 40 different countries have appeared in NHL contests. Using the current definitions and geographic partitions recognized by the United Nations, here is my list of the greatest NHL player born in each of the countries represented. Debate is encouraged, but not required:

AUSTRIA: Thomas Vanek The third-year winger has scored 142 points in his first 177 games, including a 43-goal campaign for the Sabres last season.

BELARUS: Ruslan Salei The ninth overall pick of the 1996 draft (by Anaheim), the bruising Panthers defenseman is still dishing the hits in his 11th season.

BELGIUM: Jan Benda If you blinked, you missed Benda, who played nine games for the Capitals in 1997-98, recording no goals, but three sparkling assists that some people are still talking about.

BRAZIL: Robyn Regehr The son of missionaries is now a mainstay of the Calgary Flames defense, just what the Lord intended.

BRUNEI: Craig Adams The low-scoring winger raised the Cup in his fifth season with the Hurricanes. Fun fact to know and tell: His father, Mike, worked for Shell Oil when Brunei was a British protectorate.

CANADA: Wayne Gretzky Sorry Gordie, Bobby, Mario and Maurice. He's the Great One.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Dominik Hasek The netminding institution's six Vezinas and two Harts trump Jaromir Jagr's five Rosses and one Hart.

DENMARK: Poul Popeil Not a particularly great Dane, but still the best of the bunch, this dogged defenseman scored 13 goals in seven seasons (1965-72) while bouncing among the Bruins, Kings, Wings, Canucks and Oilers before settling down with the Houston Aeros of the WHA for five years.

ENGLAND: Ken Hodge The former All-Star who potted 328 goals in 880 games for the Blackhawks, Bruins and Rangers (1964-78) was a sticky wicket pick over Steve Thomas and Byron Dafoe.

FINLAND: Jari Kurri Gretzky's sidekick as well as Finland's all-time leading scorer netted 601 goals and was solid defensively, too.

FRANCE: Paul MacLean His father served abroad in the Canadian Armed Forces and Paul came into the world in beautiful Grostenquin in 1958. The 1985 All-Star forward posted three 40-goal seasons for the Winnipeg Jets in the '80s and a pair of 30s for the Red Wings.

GERMANY: Walt Tkaczuk His Ukranian father, Mike, moved coal in a German labor camp before the family emigrated to Ontario in 1949. The center played all 15 of his NHL seasons with the Rangers, scoring 227 goals and 678 points.

HAITI: Claude Vilgrain His father, Alix, was on business in Port-au-Prince when Claude showed up. Raised in Quebec City, the winger split five seasons with the Canucks, Devils and Flyers, enjoying a career-best 19-goal, 46-point campaign in 1991-92 for New Jersey.

INDONESIA: Richie Regehr The older blueline brother of Robyn made a brief appearance in Calgary (20 games) the past two seasons, scored four points (enough to claim his place as his birth nation's all-time leader), and is now toiling in Frankfurt, Germany.

ITALY: Nelson DeBendet His family name was Debenedetto before it was shortened, most likely to spare Nelson bouts of writer's cramp while signing autographs. The defenseman had cups of coffee in Detroit and Pittsburgh in the mid-'70s.

JAMAICA: Graeme Townshend And you thought Jamaica only had a bobsled team. The winger's family moved to Canada when he was two, and he later played 45 NHL games for the Bruins, Islanders and Senators, sprinkled between 1989 and 1994.

KAZAKHSTAN: Evgeni Nabokov The Sharks netminder won the 2001 Calder Trophy and has posted three 30-win seasons with a career 2.43 GAA. That's good enough for us.

KOREA: Richard Park When his family moved from Seoul, South Korea, to L.A., they enrolled the now 10th-year Islanders center in figure skating and he rewarded them by breaking into the NHL with the Penguins in 1995. (Kim Jung Il has not been especially keen on letting people out of the northern half of Korea.)

LATVIA: Arturs Irbe The diminutive (5-8, 190) goaltender won 218 games in 13 seasons with the Sharks, Canucks and Hurricanes.

LEBANON: Ed Hatoum This Beirut product manned the right wing for Detroit and Vancouver in the late '60s and early '70s, contrbuting nine points in 47 NHL games.

LITHUANIA: Darius Kasparaitis The physical Rangers defenseman, a 14-year NHL veteran, is currently on loan to SKA St. Petersburg of the Russian Super League.

NIGERIA: Rumun Ndur His father, a pediatrician, moved the family to Toronto when Rumun was six months old. The defenseman scored two goals in parts of four seasons (1996-2000) with the Sabres, Rangers and Thrashers, but he was consideably older at the time.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Owen Nolan The future Olympian for Team Canada grew up on the Catholic side of the Belfast Peace Line. Now skating for Calgary in his 16th NHL season, Owen has recorded 366 goals and 778 points in 1007 career games.

NORWAY: Espen Knutsen The immortal center, whose first name may have been inspired by a major network that often televises sporting events, scored 111 points for the Ducks and Jackets in the five years before the 2004-05 lockout. After that, fuhgeddaboudit, as they say in Oslo.

PARAGUAY: Willi Plett In 14 seasons the 1977 Calder Trophy-winner amassed more than 200 goals and 2,500 penalty minutes for the Flames, North Stars and Bruins.

POLAND: Mariusz Czerkawski Currently plying his trade for Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss-A league, the 12-year NHL veteran is the owner of 215 goals and a spare z or two.

RUSSIA: Sergei Fedorov Presently skating in his 17th NHL season, the first European to win the Hart Trophy (1994) has compiled 10 30-goal seasons and more than 1,100 points. Not too shabby, eh?

SCOTLAND: Steve Smith Ironically, the Glasgow native played junior hockey in London (Ontario) before beginning a stellar 16-year career as an NHL defenseman that was marred only by a tiny flub in Game 7 of the 1986 Western Conference divisional final.

SERBIA and MONTENEGRO: Ivan Boldirev Boldirev scored an impressive 866 points in 1,052 games for the Bruins, Golden Seals, Blackhawks, Flames, Canucks and Red Wings from 1970 to '85.

SLOVAKIA: Stan Mikita We chose this Hall-of-Famer over another (Peter Stastny) because he was the first player in NHL history to win the Art Ross, Hart and Lady Byng trophies in the same season (1966-67).

SLOVENIA: Anze Kopitar The Kings' prized young star was raised in a country that had six rinks and 300 registered players. He is apparently the best of them.

SOUTH AFRICA: Olaf Kolzig Truly international, Kolzig is approaching 300 NHL wins and has represented Germany, his parents' homeland, in the Olympics. Axel and Renate Kolzig were traveling hoteliers, although we're not quite sure if their hotels went with them when they traveled.

SWEDEN: Mats Sundin The Leafs' all-time leading scorer recorded his 500th goal and 1,200th point last season. Borje Salming, Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom would all have been worthy picks, too.

SWITZERLAND: David Aebischer This Fribourg product has won 106 games for the Avs, Habs and Coyotes since 2000, but his career seems to have taken a wrong turn. He was last seen in San Antonio, which is an AHL town not much like Switzerland.

TAIWAN: Rod Langway The Hall-of-Fame defenseman grew up near Boston, but was born on a Naval base in what was once Formosa. For his ranking among American players, see our top 20 gallery.

TANZANIA: Chris Nielsen The former Columbus defenseman, who hasn't been spied in the NHL since 2002, was born in Moshi, where his father, Jim, was busy teaching folks how to farm.

UKRAINE: Peter Bondra Recently retired from the sport, the winger netted 503 goals in 16 seasons with the Capitals, Senators, Thrashers and Blackhawks. He'll next be seen lurking around the gates of the Hall of Fame.

UNITED STATES: Chris Chelios Please peruse our top 20 gallery for an explanation.

VENEZUELA: Rick Chartraw His place of birth did not get in the way of the Montreal Canadiens making the defenseman the first U.S. citizen ever taken in the first round of an NHL draft (1974). Until age three Chartraw lived in Caracas, where his father built power stations.

WALES: Wilf Cude The 5-9, 150-pound (and that's being very generous) Cude won 100 NHL games while spending most of his 10 seasons with Montreal in the 1930s. Known to be just a tad touchy, the pint-sized proprietor of the pipes winged a steak at his wife one evening when she happened to make an offhand remark about the team's struggles.

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