By Matt Wagner and Andy Newman, The Cannon
With a relatively young franchise, it can be difficult to figure out who has been the “best” player from a given country – particularly in some cases where only one or two players of that nationality have actually dressed for the club. This may change in a few years, thanks to a diverse group of prospects working their way up to the big show, but for now, the cupboard is occasionally rather bare.
Despite that, we think we’ve been able to find a few worthy candidates, and probably start a few conversations along the way.
There’s simply no way to get around it – the former Rocket Richard winner and perennial All-Star is clearly the best Canadian to have ever dressed for the Blue Jackets, regardless of what you think about his exit from the team. At his best, Nash is a powerful skater who can completely take over a game and make his opponents look silly. Having won Gold in Vancouver, there’s really only one piece of hardware missing from his resume. It’s just a shame he didn’t feel he could win it here. (Honourable Mention: Ray Whitney, Adam Foote)
The only Finn to ever make a major impact in Columbus, Norenna was signed as a backup goaltender, but regularly took over as the starter during his tenure due to Pazzy LeClaire having a small “I will shatter like glass in the face of a stiff wind” problem. In fact, Norenna would rack up enough wins in the 2007-2008 season to briefly set a team record before being supplanted by some kid named Steve Mason. Lo, how the mighty have fallen.. (Kunniamaininta: Sami Lepisto)
It’s fair to say the man of 10,000 minutes is a divisive figure. Fans in Columbus and LA have raved about his attitude, his ability to play heavy minutes, and his dangerous shot. On the other hand, his defensive stats make coaches wake up in the middle of the night screaming about negative Corsi. He’s also been a leader both in the locker room and in international competition, with many fans expecting him to be on the short list for the Jackets’ vacant captaincy and potentially to take the reins for Team USA in Sochi after being awarded the C for the 2012 World Championship. (Honorable Mention: Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Berard)
We had a pretty good debate on this one that came down to valuing overall credentials including international play vs. their actual NHL performances. “Juice” really never moved the needle for Team Sweden, but he was a genuine impact player in the NHL, particularly in Calgary and Columbus before groin and shoulder injuries ended his career. Able to work as a playmaker or a scorer, his speed and hands made him a versatile weapon, particularly on the power play. (Hedersomnämnande: Fredrik Modin, Dick Tarnstrom)
You were expecting someone else? There’s no doubt that Sergei Bobrovsky is the future for the Blue Jackets, but “Tyuuts” has been a key part of helping the franchise rise from the cellar to respectability. Arriving in town in exchange for Nikolay Zherdev, he was the first of many players to make the trip from New York to the 614. Leading by example from day 1, Tyutin has been a model of consistency, taking the toughest minutes and becoming the team’s leading scorer from the blue line almost every year since he arrived. Tyutin has been a regular on Russia’s Olympic teams since 2006. Even more significantly to the Blue Jackets, it was Tyutin’s shootout goal against Chicago that clinched their first playoff berth. (Похвальный Отзыв: Sergei Bobrvosky, Sergei Fedorov)
Admittedly, Gaborik has an easy time here – he’s one of a handful of Slovaks to have suited up for the Jackets. Fortunately, he’s also another perennial All-Star who defenders have to focus on unless they want to get burned. Gaborik turned a lot of heads when he agreed to waive his NMC to come to Columbus, and a lot of fans expect to see him put in a big showing as the club moves to the Eastern Conference. (Čestné Uznanie: Milan Jurcina, Radoslav Suchy)
In many ways, Vyborny’s career sums up the early years of NHL hockey in Columbus: Quiet, unassuming, but shows up every day and works hard. He averaged 45 points and 78 games played over seven full seasons during his time in Union Blue. In 2008, he decided to return to the Czech Republic to continue his career. Although he likely could have played elsewhere in the NHL, Columbus was the only place away from home that mattered to Vyborny. Over a 21-year career, he’s put up respectable and often very impressive numbers. He has an Olympic Bronze and eight World Championship medals to his credit (five Gold). In the end, some Blue Jackets fans wondered if his number 9 might get retired. Although that may seem preposterous to many, it’s the best way to sum up what Vyborny meant to Columbus. (Čestné Uznání: Rostislav Klesla, Jakub Voracek)
Norway: Espen Knutsen
Before there was Rick Nash, before there was Mase, before there was “BOBROVSKY!”, there was Shampoo. The first Norwegian player to be named an NHL All-Star, Knutsen was finding his game with the young franchise as playmaker with a bit of a scoring touch when his career was derailed by the tragic death of Brittanie Cecil, an event that Knutsen never really recovered from emotionally. Retiring from the NHL midway through the 2003-4 season, he eventually found closure and made his way to the coaching ranks, but fans still remember those flowing blond locks streaming down the ice at Nationwide Arena. (Estiminda Mencio: Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Nikolay Zherdev)
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