As my quarantined tween passes her days fixated between Disney+ and TikTok, I find myself subject to a constant barrage of public service announcements advising “We’re all in this together” mixing with the background strains of the eponymous song from Disney’s “High School Musical.” While the experience has caused the excruciating (and repetitive) tune to lodge indelibly in my brain, it has had its silver lining by inspiring me to contemplate not just high school cliques and the interconnectivity of the world and its peoples, but also the growth of hockey’s international player base over the last 50 years.
According to Hockey Reference, players born in 45 different countries have played in the NHL. In 1967-68, the first season after expansion doubled the league from six teams to 12, only 11 players born outside Canada played in the NHL. However, some of those non-Canadian born players, including Hall of Famers Walt Tkaczuk and Stan Mikita, moved to Canada as young children. Three teams’ rosters — Montreal, Toronto, and St. Louis — consisted entirely of players born in the Great White North. The first (and only) non-Canadian-born player to “foil up” for the Kings that inaugural season was Poul Popiel, who was born in Denmark. However, like so many other non-North American-born players before and since, Popiel immigrated from Europe to Canada (and then to the United States) before he was ten years old.
In assembling this list I note that “country of birth” is often different from “nationality” or “citizenship.” This issue was particularly confusing (and intellectually enlightening) when researching why QuantHockey lists Finnish-born Juha Widing under a Swedish flag. (Answer: Widing was born in Finland but moved to Sweden when he was four years old. Widing’s father was a member of the “Finland-Sweden” ethnic group, an ethnic and language minority comprising 5.2 percent of the Finish population.) Finally, if a player was born in a country which no longer exists (for example, Czechoslovakia) but in a town identifiably part of a present-day country (i.e. Slovakia or the Czech Republic), I considered him as being from the present-day country. Similarly, players from the former Soviet Union were considered as born in their true homelands, not the Soviet Union or the generic (and historically naive) “Russia.” Lastly, as to countries that are the birthplace of more than one player, any dispute as to which player was “best” was determined solely on his performance while with the Kings.
Canada - Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky was born in Brantford, Ontario. While playing for the Kings, the Great One broke the 100-point mark five times, the most by any player in franchise history. His first season in Los Angeles, 1988-89, was his best year statistically with the Kings, tallying 54 goals and 114 assists for 168 points, setting single-season team records for points and assists. Gretzky’s 168 points that season still stands as a franchise record. His 114 assists, which broke the previous franchise mark of 80 assists set by Marcel Dionne in 1984-85, would still be a team record but for Gretzky breaking that mark the following season when he recorded 122 assists on his way to a 163-point season. During the 1992-93 playoffs, the Great One led the NHL in goals, assists, and points.
United States - Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick was born in Milford, Connecticut. He has backstopped the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships. He is a past winner of both the Conn Smythe and Jennings trophies, and holds every significant franchise mark for goalies, including games played, playoff games played, wins, playoff wins, shutouts, save percentage, and goalie point shares. His number 32 is guaranteed to hang from the Staples Center rafters as soon as he retires. Most importantly, Quick received the high honor of being named the best goalie in franchise history in my January 2020 “Jewels from the Crown” post.
Sweden - Matias Nordstrom
Matias Nordstrom was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He was a solid stay-at-home defender for nearly eleven seasons with the Kings, spanning the latter half of the 1990’s through the first half of the next decade (the “aughts”?) He not only ranks eighth in franchise history in all-time games played, but he also accumulated the most penalty minutes of any non-North American born player in Kings history. Fans of American history may recognize Nordstrom to be the Kings’ “Benjamin Harrison” to Rob Blake’s “Grover Cleveland”, the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Nordstrom, the Kings’ first non-North American-born captain, began wearing the “C” in February 2001, when Blake was traded to the Avs. When Nordstrom was traded to Toronto in February 2007, Blake, who had rejoined the Kings prior to that season, reassumed the captaincy.
Czech Republic - Jaroslav Modry
Jaroslav Modry was born in Ceske-Budejovice, Czechoslovakia, a town which is now part of the Czech Republic. He logged 454 career games over parts of 10 seasons with the Kings, placing him 32nd on the team’s all-time games played list. The 6’2” 220-pound defenseman ranks second in penalty minutes among non-North American born Kings’ players, behind only the aforementioned Nordstrom. Modry’s career Kings’ plus/minus ties him with Wayne Gretzky on the franchise’s all-time register. Unfortunately, they’re tied for 330th place at minus-5.
Finland - Juha Widing
Juha “Whitey” Widing was born in Oulu, Finland. He played for the Kings from 1969-1977, leading the team in scoring each of his first three seasons with the club. Widing ranks 17th on the franchise all-time scoring list, including 19th in goals and 17th in assists. In a 2016 interview for NHL.com both former Kings’ trainer Pete Demers and long-time NHL play-by-play man Jiggs McDonald had high praise for Whiting’s skating ability. Demers, who was head Kings’ athletic trainer from 1972 through 2007, called Whiting “the most skilled skater the Kings ever had.” Jiggs, who broadcast the Kings their first five seasons, further noted Whiding “could play in today’s league, where speed is so essential, without any problem at all.”
Russia - Alexander Frolov
Moscow-born Alexander Frolov played six seasons for the Kings, during which he placed first or second on the team in points four times, and in goals three times. Frolov ranks 14th on the Kings’ all-time career list for points, 13th in goals, and 16th in assists. Among non-North American-born Kings’ players, he trails only Anze Kopitar in all three categories.
Slovakia - Ziggy Palffy
Ziggy Palffy was born in Skalica, Czechoslovakia, a town which is now part of Slovakia. He ranks third among franchise leaders in all-time plus/minus, as well as 16th in goals scored, and 18th in points. Posting 340 points in 311 games, Pallfey is the only player among the top-18 in all-time club scoring other than Charlie Simmer (who played 384 games) to play less than 539 games.
Slovenia - Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar was born in Jesenice, Slovenia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. He joined the Kings in 2006 after being selected in the first-round (11th overall) of the 2005 NHL draft. His number 11 is guaranteed to hang from the Staples Center rafters when he retires. In addition to being an integral part of both Kings’ Stanley Cup winners, “Kopi” ranks fourth on the all-time franchise scoring list, holding top position among non-North American born skaters. At 33 years old, the current team captain still has an outside chance of passing Marcel Dionne as the franchise’s top point-scorer before he hangs up the skates for good. In 2017-18 he not only registered career highs in goals, points, and assists, but also won the Selke Trophy for being the NHL’s top defensive forward, the second time he received that honor.
Ukraine - Alexei Zhitnik
A native of Kiev, Alexei Zhitnik was drafted by the Kings in the fourth round (81st overall) of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He played 170 games with the club, spanning two full seasons and part of a third. In 1992-93, Zhitnik placed ninth in team scoring on a Kings team on which five of the top seven scores were later inducted into the Hall of Fame. He also led Kings’ defensmen in playoff scoring that year, with 12 points in 24 games. In 1993-94 Zhitnik placed fifth in team scoring, with all four skaters ranked ahead of him later named to the Hall of Fame.
Latvia - Raitis Ivanans
The 6’4” 231-pound winger was born in Riga, Latvia during the Soviet era. He played 276 games over four years with the Kings, spanning the latter half of the first decade of the 2000’s. Although he scored only six goals and 18 points during his time in Los Angeles, Ivanans led the team in penalty minutes all four years, despite playing 66 games or fewer in two of those seasons. Ivanans left the Kings in 2010 to join Calgary as a free agent. In his Flames debut he suffered a debilitating concussion during a fight with Edmonton’s Steve MacIntyre, essentially ending Ivanans’ career.
Switzerland - Mark Hardy
Hardy was born in Samedan, Switzerland where his father was playing professional hockey, The family moved to Montreal when he was a child. Hardy was drafted by the Kings in the second round (30th overall) of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He ranks 14th in all-time franchise games played and ninth in penalty minutes. Among Kings defensemen, Hardy ranks fourth all-time in games played, third in assists, and fifth in penalty minutes. After being traded to the Rangers in 1988, Hardy returned to Los Angeles for the 1992-93 stretch run, helping the team to the Finals and landing this thunderous hit on the Canadiens’ Mike Keane during Game 3.
Venezuela - Rick Chartraw
Rick Chartraw was born in Caracas, Venenzuela, while his American father was employed there as an engineer. The family moved back to the United States when Rick was three, and he grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. Chartraw was acquired from Montreal in February 1981, in exchange for the Kings’ second-round pick in the 1983 draft. He logged 85 career games in the “Forum Blue and Gold”, posting a stat line of six goals, 19 assists, 25 points, and a plus/minus of minus-23. He was waived by the Kings midway through the 1983 season. Interestingly, Chartraw never played more than 68 games a season during his nine-season NHL career, but was a proven “winner”, playing on five Cup champions.
Brazil - Robyn Regehr
Robyn Regehr was born in Recife, Brazil to Canadian Mennonite missionary parents. The family returned to Canada when Regehr was only nine month old, but then moved to Indonesia a short time later, where they spent five years before returning back to Canada when Regehr was seven years old. He played 158 career games for the Kings, posting six goals, 23 assists and 29 points. More importantly, he played 79 games for the Kings 2013-2014 Stanley Cup winning team before suffering a knee injury, which limited him to eight playoff games. A stay-at-home defenseman who played 15 years in the NHL, Regehr was given the honor of receiving the Stanley Cup hand-off from captain Dustin Brown after Brown took the traditional first lap with the chalice.
England - Byron Dafoe
“Lord Byron” Dafoe was born in Worthing, England, but moved to Canada when he was two months old. In 1995-96 Dafoe shared the nets with Kelly Hrudey, playing 47-games for the Kings, going 14-24-8, with a 3.87 goals against average, and .887 save percentage. The following year, Dafoe split time with Stephane Fiset, playing 40 games, with a record of 13-17-5, and a much improved 3.11 goals against-average and .905 save percentage. Dafoe was traded to Boston prior to the 1997-98 season.
South Korea - Jim Paek
The 6’1” 200-pound defenseman was born in Seoul, South Korea but moved to Toronto at the age of one. After being acquired from Pittsburgh with Marty McSorely midway through the 1993-94 season (in exchange for Tomas Sandstrom and Shawn McEachern), Paek played 18 games for the Kings posting one goal, one assist, and 10 penalty minutes. Soon after the season ended, he was traded to Ottawa in exchange for a seventh round draft choice in the 1995 draft.
Japan - Yutaka Fukufuji
Yutaka Fukufuji was born in Kushiro on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, He was drafted by the Kings in the 8th round (238th overall) of the 2004 draft. In 2007, Fukufuji made four appearances for the Kings, starting one game, posting an 0-3 record, a 4.37 goals against average, and a porous save percentage of .837. He was demoted to the ECHL the following year and never again saw NHL action.
Kazakhstan- Konstantin Pushkarev
Konstantin Pushkarev was born in Soviet-era Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan. He was drafted by the Kings in the second round (44th overall) of the 2003 draft, ahead of Patrice Bergeron (45th overall) and Shea Weber (49th overall). The 6’0”, 180 pound right wing played 17 career games for the Kings, posting two goals, three assists, and five points. At the age of 21, the Kings sent Pushkarev down to the AHL, where he stayed until eventually returning to the former Soviet Union to play in the KHL.
France - Cristobal Huet
Cristobal Huet was born in St. Martin d’Here, France. He was selected by the Kings in the seventh round (214th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Huet played 53 games over two seasons with the club, including 41 games in 2003-2004, when he split time with Roman Cechmanek. Huet finished his Kings’ career with a record of 14-20-11, a goals against-average of 2.42, and a save percentage of .908.
Germany - Marco Sturm
This was a tough call. Only three German-born players have suited up for the Kings, with Chrstian Ehroff, who played 40 games during the 2015-16 season, posting the longest tenure with the club. Thus, based on his Kings’ career stats of nine points in 17 games, I’m selecting Dingolfing-born Kings assistant coach Marco Sturm as the franchise’s best (West) German-born player. That’s it, I’ve got nothing else to possibly say on that subject.
As I noted at the beginning of this post, many of the websites I consulted during my research classify players by nationality, ethnicity, or citizenship, rather than country of birth. Thus if I missed a particular country, or you disagree with any of my selections as to the best Kings player from each nation, please feel free to comment below or hit me up on Twitter at @MarkDevoreNHL. Make your case and I’ll respond. As Dr. Jake Houseman said to Johnny Castle in “Dirty Dancing”, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.” That and oh yeah, “We’re all in this together.”