With a tally late in an Oct. 27 contest against the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers winger Mats Zuccarello became the highest goal-scoring Norwegian NHLer of all-time.
His 31st career marker was one more than Espen Knutsen, who the 27-year-old Zuccarello trails by only 14 total points. Knutsen’s 111 points has been the high-water mark for Norwegian NHLers and has stood since he left the league in 2005.
With the young Ranger well on his way to surpassing Knutsen’s mark and becoming the most prolific Norwegian to play in the NHL, it’s time to look at some of the other great scorers from similar sized nations.
Norway – Population: 5,147,792
Leading Scorer: Espen Knutsen, 111 points
Knutsen could have created a wider margin between himself and other Norwegian NHLers if he would have stuck around longer. Knutsen played a handful of games with Anaheim early in his career before returning to the NHL to suit up with the Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons. His stint with the Jackets was his most prolific, but also included the most tragic incident in NHL history when an errant puck that entered the seating area struck 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil and resulted in her death.
Active Norwegians: Mats Zuccarello (97 points)
Ireland – Population: 4,832,765
Leading Scorer: Jim McFadden, 226 points
In the expansion era, there hasn’t been a single Irish NHLer. Some would argue that Owen Nolan qualifies, but the rugged winger didn’t spend much of his life – or any of his development time – in Ireland. Nolan played for Canada internationally and while his 885 points in 1,200 games would have been the best for an Irish national, Nolan is for all intents and purposes a Canadian player. McFadden, who claims sole possession of the top spot for Irish NHLers, played seven seasons in the league from 1947 to 1954.
Active Irish: N/A
Croatia – Population: 4,470,534
Leading Scorer: Joel Prpic, 3 points
Just the opposite of Nolan, Prpic was born in Canada but represents Croatia in international play. He played all of 18 games, but it was enough to be the highest scoring Croatian national to ever play in the NHL – in large part due to the fact Prpic is the only Croat to ever suit up in the league. He registered all three of his points during his 14 games with Boston in 1999-00. Prpic would only play three more NHL games, all with Colorado in 2000-01. Coincidentally, those same Avalanche signed Croatian winger Borna Rendulic just this off-season. In 10 games in the American League, Rendulic has two points.
Active Croats: Borna Rendulic (0)
Lithuania – Population: 3,505,738
Leading Scorer: Dainius Zubrus, 576 points
Zubrus is undoubtedly the best player to ever come out of Lituania, and somewhat of a hockey hero in the country. Though Darius Kasparaitis was born in Lithuania, he represented Russia internationally. Zubrus on the other hand remained true to his roots, making his only international hockey appearances with his home country. His efforts were rewarded with the Order of Merits from the Lithuanian president.
Active Lituanians: Dainius Zubrus (576)
Wales – Population: 3,064,000
Leading Scorer: Jack Evans, 99
Evans doesn’t have tough competition to be the greatest Welsh player of all time. In fact, only one other Wales native has played in the NHL, Cy Thomas. Thomas’ 14 games and four points come a bit shy of Evans’ 99 points in 752 games. A bruising defenseman, Evans’ final penalty minute tally was 989.
Active Welsh: N/A
Latvia – Population: 2,165165
Leading Scorer: Sandis Ozolinsh, 564 points
A veteran of over 850 NHL games, Ozolinsh is one of the few on this list who has a legitimate challenger to his throne. Zemgus Girgensons found his place with the Buffalo Sabres last season, and at 20 years old, he’s got an entire career ahead of him to catch up to the one-time Norris finalist and Stanley Cup champion. Ozolinsh retired from hockey in May 2014 as a 42-year-old.
Active Latvians: Zemgus Girgensons (26), Viktor Tikhonov (16)
Slovenia – Population: 1,988,292
Leading Scorer: Anze Kopitar, 549 points
It’s probably safe to say Kopitar will be the greatest talent Slovenia ever produces, but you never know – maybe Jan Mursak comes back to the NHL and puts up some consecutive 100-point seasons. All right, maybe not, but it’s pretty impressive that a country with only seven total indoor rinks has been able to produce two NHL-worthy talents. As his career moves forward, Kopitar will only continue to rack up the points.
Active Slovenians: Anze Kopitar (549)
Jamaica – Population: 1,951,591
Leading Scorer: Graeme Townshend, 10 points
He only played 45 games in the NHL, but Townshend made his mark as a trainer, working for the Toronto Maple Leafs as their skating coach for several years and the San Jose Sharks as a player development coordinator. More recently, Townshend was approached to become the coach and face of the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation. Jermaine Loewen, who plays with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, was born in Jamaica and adopted by a family in Arborg, Man. If drafted to the NHL, he could become just the second Jamaican player in NHL history.
Active Jamaicans: N/A