New York Islanders All-Time International Greats

It's like a "Wayne Gretzky of" obscure hockey nations out here. - Paul Bereswill

We do the Puck Daddy "League of Nations" exercise, with a deeper "rest of the World" twist.

Each summer Yahoo's Puck Daddy does a different 30-team exercise during the slow August days to feed the hungry hockey masses. Sometimes we play along to solicit your own takes here.

This year they are doing a great "League of Nations" series, soliciting views on the best players from each major hockey country from each team's history. Expect the Islanders entry any day now (not from us) [EDIT: It's published and readable here now], consider our own submission below (which doesn't follow their rules exactly), and have fun comparing the two.

Canada

This is the toughest one for any team, but particularly so for the Islanders because they have five Canadian Islanders legends in the Hall of Fame. There is Mike Bossy for the sniping, Clark Gillies for the banging and scoring, Bryan Trottier for the two-way dominance and Billy Smith for stopping pucks and scaring people.

And then there's Denis Potvin, who defines "franchise defenseman" and frankly rivaled Bobby Orr as the greatest defenseman ever. (That's not Islanders fan hyperbole. Some outsiders make that case given Potvin's physical element added to his offense.)

As a fan I had greater affection for some of the other Islanders greats, but it's hard to argue Potvin and his 1052 points in 1060 games from the blueline make up the greatest Canadian Islander ever. He'd probably tell you so himself.

United States

There is another prominent Islander in the Hall of Fame, even if his ties to the team were cut twice. Pat LaFontaine came a minute late and some goals short of being part of the dynasty, but he's the top-scoring American Islander (566 points) and sixth on the franchise list despite playing "only" 530 games for the Isles.

Russia

Now, a moment to give a maligned star his due: Alexei Yashin was a great NHLer and a very good New York Islander. It's too bad, for his sake and ours, that he exhibited some of the traits that too easily get one labeled a "Russian enigma" and such. His playoff struggles going back to Ottawa were the stuff of media narrative. His quietly playing through injuries exacerbated the impression that he wasn't always there.

But he was critical to the team's 2001 revival and was a team leader -- if not in the spiritual sense -- for all five of his seasons. Maybe if Ted Nolan isn't here or Garth Snow doesn't go all in on Ryan Smyth, then Yashin is still here and finishing his career way, way up the all-time scoring list. Instead, his 290 points in 346 games for the Isles in the dead puck era puts him 19th overall in franchise scoring.

Sweden

Do you choose guys who were major but unheralded contributors to the dynasty, or a guy who came later but would have possibly matched them if he were born 20 years younger?

Stefan Persson was the original, key Swede on the Islander and a key blueline producer throughout the dynasty. Tomas Jonsson arrived midway through the dynasty and produced even more (.62 points per game vs. Persson's .59) throughout the '80s.

Kenny Jonsson, meanwhile, was an all-zone defensemen who bridged the darkest Milbury years and the 2001 revival. Injuries limited him and the captaincy burdened him, but he deserves honorable mention here -- as does Anders Kallur, who only played five seasons (he arrived at age 27) but was a scorer throughout the dynasty.

Still, the nod goes to Persson.

Finland

Sorry Sean Bergenheim, but this one is all Mikko's. Mikko Makela was more than a fun thing to say. He actually had a point-per-game season (in the high-scoring '80s, sure) when he scored 36 goals and put up 76 points in 72 games during the 1987-88 season.

He never recreated that fine peak at age 22 and was dealt in 1989 and out of the league at age 25 save for an 11-game stint with the Bruins at age 29 in the lockout shortened 1995-95 season. But as far as Islanders Finns go, he stood out with the biggest high.

Czech Republic

We've paid tribute to Radek Martinek multiple times before, so I won't go too far into his story here. But the nice guy, steady-but-oft-injured defenseman was a big contributor in every other year spanning 2002 through two lockouts.

Slovakia

Although it's tempting to pick future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara here -- and he would certainly qualify under Puck Daddy's "career" award in this exercise -- he wasn't an Islander for long enough, and hadn't neared his true potential before Milbury included him in the Yashin deal.

Anyway, Chara would have had to do a lot for the isles to beat out Ziggy Palffy, who was the team's only star -- a superstar at that -- during its darkest period. Palffy's Islanders line in six seasons reads a tidy 331 points in 331 games, good for 16th on the all-time franchise list.

Poland

I mentioned we're bending Puck Daddy's rules, which lump non-majors in a "Rest of the World" category. The Islanders have too many great stories from the rest of the world, and this exercise is too suited for Islanders nation obscurity, to pick just one.

Just behind Palffy but ahead of Yashin on the all-time list is Marius Czerkawski, "the Polish Wayne Gretzky." Czerkawski arrived just as Palffy was leaving, and after not affording Palffy the Isles surely benefited from Czerkawski's bargain-rate contributions.

Czerkawski put up five 20+ goal seasons in six years with the Isles, twice topping 30 goals and scoring 25 goals after Milbury brought him back from a one-year detour to Montreal.

Denmark

I guess the Islanders have "the Danish Wayne Gretzky" too, because Frans Nielsen is the best Denmark has produced to date. He does it mostly quietly, mostly anonymously (except around here), and his defensive orientation and usage helps limit his notoriety. But he'd already be a top "Rest of the World" candidate and naturally defaults into "Best Islanders Dane" anyway.

Austria

So turns out the Islanders have "the Austrian Wayne Gretzky" as well. Michael Grabner too goes about his business quietly (it's hard to hear pure speed) and is the franchise's only Austrian. [Ed. note: Though I tried really, really hard to forget Thomas Pöck, alas I must recognize his Austrian nature too.] Still, Grabner's success so far and his leadership among Austrian NHLers deserves recognition here.

South Korea

Man, the Islanders have "the South Korean Wayn"--okay let's just stop that now. But Richard Park was an effective, multipurpose forward for the rebuilding Islanders and an understated leader. The Isles may have made the right call letting him go to Europe rather than re-signing him for multiple years in 2010. But he logged 316 hard, effective games for the Isles in a variety of roles.

Switzerland

Nino Nieder-just kidding.

I guess Mark Streit is "the Swiss...Bobby O"--I said stop that. He's the best NHLer Switzerland has produced so far, but by any nationality he'd have made a damn fine defenseman for the Islanders. Five years, four seasons (the middle season ruined by injury) and one captaincy, he was the star of the early rebuild years.

Lithuania

Some of you may have read "Yashin" under Russia and protested that Darius Kasparaitis deserves the nod for his 1993 rookie-year terrorizing of Mario Lemieux alone.

Thankfully, Kasparaitis is really from Lithuania -- a Soviet Republic under the USSR but an independent country in its own right. Kaspar gets the nod here by default and by deserved technicality.

Kazakhstan

Well on that note, even if he plays internationally for Russia, Öskemen-born Evgeni Nabokov defaults into the nod in these learnings for great glory of Kazakhstan.

Disagree? See one we missed? Have another obscure country for "Wayne Gretzky of" status? Let us know below.

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