Aside from the freedoms given to people all across Europe that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the continent now opened itself up to players coming to North America to compete in the NHL. Up until the 1990s the league was primarily made up of players from Canada and the United States. NHL teams saw the European players as risky draft picks. Coming from overseas was never a guarantee, but soon the league would realize that some of the NHL’s biggest stars were from Europe.
Jaromir Jagr could arguably be the best NHL player from Europe of all-time. The Czechoslovakia native is in the Top 10 in goals and points all-time. A name associated mostly with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jagr has gone on to have success with other teams later on his career including scoring 54 goals for the New York Rangers in the 2005-2006 season. Jagr is also one of only 7 players to have ever scored 700 goals in a career. Most notably this is more than former teammate Mario Lemieux, a man often discussed as one of the best players from anywhere of all-time.
From Finland, Teemu Selanne was one of the best goal-scorers in the 1990s. In his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets he scored 76 goals. While he never matched this number ever again, he still had a tremendous career. Selanne’s success went beyond the NHL too. Selanne was a constant on the Finish Olympic hockey team. Since 1992 he racked up 21 goals, a record for ice hockey in the Winter Olympics.
Swedish born Mats Sundin was the first overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques. He would, however, spend the majority of his career playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs where he had a great career. Sundin averaged slightly over a point per game in his career having played in 1346 NHL games with 1349 points. He never once led the league in goals, assists, or points but thanks to his consistency still manages to rank among the all-time greats.
Overshadowed because he played with Wayne Gretzky on the Edmonton Oilers and on the Los Angeles Kings, Jari Kurri is one of the best to ever lace up the skates for an NHL game, European or not. A product of Finland, Kurri scored 601 career goals ranking him near the top. Kurri also won 5 Stanley Cups and was an All-Star 8 times. If not for Kurri, the Oilers would have had one less threat during their dynasty years in the 1980s. Who knows if they would have been as big of a threat to the rest o the league?