He took home the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenseman in 2012-13 when he finished with 38 points in 42 games, leading the Habs to a first place finish in the Northeast Conference.
Subban’s electrifying play earned him acclaim throughout much of his seven seasons with the Canadiens, but it also drew the ire of the team’s coaching staff and critics around the league, like Don Cherry, who felt at times that he was “acting like a hot dog.” Still, when he’s not coughing up the puck while trying to skate around the entire opposing team, he is one of the best all-around players in the game, and he should only improve now that he’s out of the eye of the Montreal media.
Although he’s gotten off to a slow start this season, even at 39 years of age, Jarome Iginla remains one of the top players in the league, coming off a 22-goal, 47-point season last year with the Colorado Avalanche.
At the peak of his career with the Calgary Flames, Iggy was the best goal-scorer in the league, with two Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophies to his name and two 50-goal seasons. As it stands, he is 16th all time in goals, with over 600, and given that he’s showing very little signs of aging, he could very well end up a few spots higher on the list by the time he’s done. Who knows, he might even end up having the kind of longevity that Jagr has had.
Drafted in the 8th round, Minnesota native Dustin Byfuglien wasn’t necessarily expected to be a star player in the NHL, but after a breakout season with the Blackhawks in 2010, wherein he played a big role in the team’s Stanley Cup win by scoring 16 points on 11 goals, he broke out in a big way and is now considered one of the league’s top defensemen.
Since leaving Chicago in 2010, he has put up at least 50 points in four out of six seasons (not including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).
Now with the Jets, Byfuglien was named the 20th best defenseman in the entire league, and the third-best American-born defenseman, by Sportsnet at the start of the season.
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds is the kind of player who seems to get better as he goes along. He had a career year last season, putting up personal bests in goals (32), points (60, tied with 2013-14), and penalty minutes (147).
Like Evander Kane, Simmonds uses his hands for more than just scoring. Last season, he dropped the gloves five times, coming out on the winning end of his fights 60% of the time, according to hockeyfights.com. In 2011-12, he had his most physical season, fighting 10 times, skating away with five Ws and one draw—not bad for someone who led his team in goals.
Simmonds is off to his best start yet this year, with 12 points in 13 games.
Character issues aside—like asking for a trade from Winnipeg, or posing on social media with stacks of money, or the recent sexual assault allegations—Buffalo forward Evander Kane is one of the most promising young players in the league, even if he is already in his eighth season.
Drafted fourth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers, Kane would quickly make his presence known by knocking out Matt Cooke in a fight. And he would go on to score 57 points on 30 goals in his third season.
Unfortunately, he cracked three ribs in the opening game of the 2016-17 season, leaving him out of action indefinitely, and he’s struggled with injuries for much of the last few years. But given a full season, Kane has the potential to be one of the best all-around players in the league.
After a decade in the league, last season 35-year-old Joel Ward was hoping to win his first Stanley Cup, but his San Jose Sharks fell just short, despite his best efforts, scoring 13 points in 24 games in the playoffs.
Call him a late bloomer, because Ward’s best seasons have come within the last few years, scoring at least 19 goals in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 24 (with 49 points, another career-high) with the Capitals in 2013-14.
Ward is more than aware of the significance of being one of the few black players in the history of the sport, as he recently petitioned to have Willie O’Ree’s number 22 retired throughout the league, just as Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is retired throughout the MLB.
After being named the most valuable player on his junior team, Kyle Okposo would go on to have success at the collegiate level with his home state University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, scoring 40 points in 40 games his freshman season, which led to him being drafted 7th overall by the New York Islanders in 2006.
Okposo had success right away in the NHL, scoring 18 goals his first season, but he broke out in 2013-14, averaging nearly a point per game with a career-best 27 goals.
After being considered one of the top free agents on the market this offseason, he signed with the Buffalo Sabres to a seven-year, $42 million contract, and so far he has rewarded them with a team-best 8 points in 11 games.
Playing in his first full season last year, Coyotes forward Anthony Duclair proved that he is a player to watch, scoring 44 points on 22 goals, thanks in part to the chemistry he developed with teammate and fellow young gun Max Domi, leading fans to label them the “Killer Ds.” As Dhiren Mahiban of Vice Sports put it, “Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are turning heads and front and centre in the thick of the rookie-scoring race.”
Duclair’s sudden surge has come as a bit of a surprise to many around the league. Drafted in the third round by the Rangers, he was quickly traded away, much to the satisfaction of Arizona, who finished in 4th place in the Pacific Division last year.
After being traded to Columbus midway through the season last year, defenseman Seth Jones saw a significant improvement to his play, registering 20 points in just 41 games with the Blue Jackets. And he’s picking up from where he left off last year this season, having already scored 6 points on 3 goals in just 10 games.
At this rate, the former 4th overall pick from Arlington, Texas, is shaping up to be one of the most promising young defenders in the league, which is why Columbus locked him in to a 6-year, $32.4 million contract this summer.
Unfortunately, his ascent to superstardom will have to wait until he returns from the injured reserve list after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot, but at just 22 years of age, there’s still plenty of time for him to further develop.
Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse is looking to turn his OHL success into NHL success. Drafted 7thoverall by the Oilers, he averaged nearly a point per game while playing shutdown defense his last season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, leading his team to a West Division championship.
Now in his third season in the NHL, after scoring 10 points in 69 games last year, Nurse will be looked upon to help turn around the franchise with the help of fellow young stars, like Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaiti. Thanks to the addition of veteran Milan Lucic, the team’s off to a great start, currently sitting atop the Pacific Division.Now in his second season with the Dallas Stars, defenseman Johnny Oduya has quietly carved out a decent career for himself in the NHL after spending four years in Sweden, with 177 points in 11 seasons while playing for five different teams.
His best season came with the Devils in 2009-10 when he collected 22 assists and 29 points, but he has been a steady defender his entire career, playing an important role in the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championships in 2013 and 2015.
Born in Stockholm to a Kenyan father, Oduya is unique in that he is one of only two Swedish-born black players in the history of the sport, with the other being fellow Stockholmer Oliver Kylington, who played one game for the Flames last year.
After 10 years in the NHL, never so much as registering double-digits in goals, Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley snuck up on everyone in the league during the 2014-15 season and scored 38 points on 16 goals in just 68 games. His sudden offensive outbreak shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, however. As a junior player with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he averaged nearly a point per game his final two seasons.
SB Nation described the stay-at-home defenseman as a “minute-munching blueliner,” because since 2004-05 he ranks 19th in total ice time, averaging more than 20 minutes per game for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year while registering 28 points.
Chris Stewart can do a bit of everything: score, assist, and fight. He recorded his first Gordie Howe hat trick in 2009, and quickly followed it up with another one during a three-point game the following season.
In 2009-10, however, the scoring far outweighed the fighting, as he picked up 64 points on 28 goals. Unfortunately, he hasn’t come close to replicating those numbers in following seasons, due in large part to injuries, but he still remains a threat, both with the stick and the fists.
So far this season with the Minnesota Wild (his second stint with the team), he has 5 points on 2 goals and 19 penalty minutes in 11 games.
Devante Smith-Pelly is onto his third NHL team in six seasons. In that time, he’s collected 71 points in 223 games. But his game isn’t scoring; it’s hitting and forechecking. He’s been described as a “hard-hitter who can score big goals.” For the most part, however, the offensive output has been lacking at the NHL level, but he saw an uptick in points last season, especially after being traded to the New Jersey Devils. In just 18 games, he tallied 13 points on 8 goals, finishing with 14 goals total on the year, double his previous highest, which he accomplished his first year in the league.
Born in Long Beach, which isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, Emerson Etem chose not to follow in the family tradition of water sports (his sister is a swimmer and his mother and brother were rowers). Instead, he chose to play on water of the frozen variety. And it’s a good thing, too, because he would go on to make the U.S. National Under-18 Team. From there he was drafted into the WHL, putting up 107 points in 65 games in his final season before being taken in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks.
He’s still looking to find his scoring touch in the NHL, but he managed to net 24 goals in just 50 games with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, in 2013-14. After a brief stint with the Canucks, scoring 7 goals in 39 games last year, he is now back with his original team, the Ducks, and looking to break into the everyday roster.
The history of black players in North American ice hockey has roots dating back to the late 19th century. The first black ice hockey star was Herb Carnegie during the Great Depression. Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s black color barrier with the Boston Bruins.
The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes began in 1895, as an initiative of black Baptist churches in Nova Scotia. The aim was to increase and retain male membership. The league consisted of teams from Halifax, Africville, Hammond’s Plains, Dartmouth, Truro, Amherst and Charlottetown, P.E.I. All games were on an invitational basis with the trophy still residing in a private home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Historically, they were the first league to allow the goaltender to drop to the ice to stop the puck.
- First black player in an NHL Game: Willie O’Ree (January 18, 1958)
- First black player to surpass 20 goals in a single season: Alton White, Los Angeles Sharks, WHA, 1972–73 season
- First black player to surpass 100 PIM in a NHL season: Bill Riley (1976–77)
- First black player to surpass 20 goals in a single NHL season: Tony McKegney (1979–80)
- First black goalie in the NHL: Grant Fuhr (1981–82)
- First black player to surpass 100 goals in the NHL: Tony McKegney (1982–83)
- First black player to win the Stanley Cup: Grant Fuhr (1983–84)
- First black player to surpass 500 NHL Points: Tony McKegney (1987–88)
- First black player to surpass 200 NHL Wins: Grant Fuhr (1988–89)
- First black player to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy: Dirk Graham (1990–91)
- First black player to win the William M. Jennings: Grant Fuhr (1993–94)
- First black player to surpass 200 PIM in a NHL season: Donald Brashear (1995–96)
- First black player to earn 20 shutouts: Grant Fuhr (1996–97)
- First black player to surpass 1,000 PIM in the NHL: Donald Brashear (1997–98)
- First black head coach in the NHL: Dirk Graham (1998-99 Chicago Blackhawks)
- First black player to surpass 400 NHL Wins: Grant Fuhr (1999-00)
- First black player to surpass 50 goals in a single NHL season: Jarome Iginla (2001–02)
- First black player in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Grant Fuhr (2003)
- First black player to surpass 2,000 PIM in the NHL: Donald Brashear (2005–06)
- First black player to surpass 500 goals in the NHL: Jarome Iginla (2011–12)
- First black player to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy: P. K. Subban (2012–13)
Willie O’Ree is referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of ice hockey” due to breaking the black colour barrier in the sport. He was called up to the Boston Bruins of the NHL to replace an injured player. He made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18 of the 1957–58 NHL season, against the Montreal Canadiens, becoming the first black player in league history. O’Ree is still heavily involved with the NHL, in promoting the league’s Diversity Program all over North America with amateur youth and adult hockey players.
Mike Marson played five seasons in the National Hockey League for the Washington Capitals and the Los Angeles Kings. He was drafted in the 2nd Round, 19th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1974 NHL Entry Draft and would become the second Black Canadian to play in the NHL. Mike Marson and Bill Riley (the third black player in the NHL) became the first two black players to play in an NHL game together. The two played with the Capitals.
On April 3, 2001, Jay Sharrers made NHL history as the first black referee to officiate an NHL game. He worked his first game as an NHL ref when the Philadelphia Flyers faced the visiting Florida Panthers.
- Mike Grier was born in Detroit, Michigan, and made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers. With the 1996–97 season, Grier became the NHL’s first African American player born and trained in the United States.
- Grant Fuhr was the first black goalie in the NHL and the first black player to win the Stanley Cup. When his career was over, he was the first black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Jarome Iginla is a five-time NHL All-Star, who is also the Flames’ all-time leader in goals, points, and games played. At the start of the 2003–04 season, he was named the Flames captain. This made Iginla the first Black Canadian captain in NHL history. In 2002 he became the first black man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
- At the start of the 2006–07 season, Swedish player Johnny Oduya, whose father was a Luo from Kenya, made his NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils, becoming the first European-trained player of black African descent to play in the NHL.
- Wayne Simmonds, who first played with the Los Angeles Kings, and then played with the Philadelphia Flyers, his current team.
- P. K. Subban, whose father immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, from Jamaica, plays for the Nashville Predators, and in 2013 became the first black player to win the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defenseman.
- Kevin Weekes, a goaltender who played for seven different NHL teams for 14 years and is now a broadcaster on the NHL Network in Canada and the United States.
- Anthony Duclair, a Canadian ice hockey player currently with the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL). Duclair was selected by the New York Rangers in the third round (80th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.