(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
By Andrew Williams, North Carolina Sports Buzz
Canada: Rod Brind’Amour
My choice for the Hurricanes’ all-time Canadian player should be an obvious pick. Statistically speaking, nobody is better in franchise history than Ron Francis. But seeing as how this is a Carolina Hurricanes list, I’d be remiss if I didn’t choose the man who captained the team to the ultimate promise land. That’s why my pick for best Canadian has to go to Rod Brind’Amour.
Traded to Carolina in 1999, Rod the Bod was one of, if not the best two-way center the team has ever seen. He was presented the captaincy in 2005, and immediately led the Hurricanes to the Holy Grail in his first full season wearing the 'C.' He won two Selke trophies (’06, ’07), and is one of three jerseys in the rafters at PNC arena to this day. Brindy remains behind the bench today as an assistant coach, showing that leadership doesn’t stop after the skates come off. If that’s not enough to sway you, just remember the infamous scene after game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, when Brind’Amour snatched the Cup right out of Commissioner Bettman’s hands with the unbridled joy of a child.
Brind’Amour compiled 473 points in 694 career games in a Canes sweater, but his intangibles that he brought to the team were unmatched by anyone. He was a key component in the BBC line (Bates Battaglia, Brind’Amour, Erik Cole) that led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and scored 18 points during the Cup run in ’06.
He may not have been the first captain for the Canes, or even statistically the best, but the picture of him standing underneath the Cup with nothing but pride on his face will forever live in infamy here in Raleigh.
The Hurricanes have had an abundance of Finns in recent seasons. Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen all recently donned Hurricanes sweaters, but the nod goes to someone who played for the team during its inaugural season in Greensboro. Sami Kapanen is the Carolina Hurricanes’ best Finnish player in the history of the team.
Kapanen moved to Carolina from Hartford when the Hurricanes were born, and he played for the team from 1997-2003. What he lacked in size, he made up in speed. Kapanen was one of the fastest players in the NHL during his tenure in the league and won the title twice during the skills competition on All-Star Weekend, once in 2000 and again in ’02. He was always a threat to score on the ice, and he put up 314 points in 440 career games for the Canes.
During the 2001-02 season, Kapanen was one of the main playmakers throughout the playoffs. The team eventually fell to the powerhouse Red Wings in the Finals that year, but Kapanen dished out 8 assists during 23 playoff games. While regular season stats are good measurements of how good a player is, playoff scoring is where careers are made. He scored a career high 69 points that season, and will go down in history as one of the best Finns to ever play for Carolina.
USA: Erik Cole
Another component in the 2002 BBC line was the Canes’ best American player: Erik Cole. Known as Coletrain in the Triangle, Cole was one of the best, and fastest, skaters that has ever graced the Sightless Eye. He had speed and fluidity on the ice that was unmatched by anyone else on the team. His patented power move down the right side of the ice wreaked havoc among goaltenders and defensemen, and he brought the physicality on a nightly basis, finishing second in hits during the 2010-11 season.
Drafted by Carolina in the third round in 1998, he made the jump to the big leagues in 2001. He played for the Hurricanes until 2008, and was traded to Edmonton at the trade deadline. Following a brief stint north of the border, he returned to Carolina in 2009 before being picked up by Montreal via free agency in 2011. He had 360 points in 563 games with the Hurricanes, but his biggest claim to fame happened mid-way through the 2005-06 season.
After scoring 30 goals and racking up 59 points in the first 60 games of the season, a big hit from Brooks Orpik resulted in a broken vertebra. Cole returned to the lineup in time for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Edmonton. While Game 6 was lost, the emotional boost he gave the home crowd may or may not have directly resulted in Canes winning game 7. Cole has the third most points scored in a Hurricanes sweater, behind only Eric Staal and Rod Brind’Amour.
In his later years as a Hurricane, Cole played the role of mentor to youngster Jeff Skinner in Skinner’s rookie season in the NHL. Under Cole’s leadership, Skinner went on to win the Calder Trophy.
Sweden: Niclas Wallin
Nobody in Carolina Hurricanes history has been more clutch than the Secret Weapon, Niclas Wallin.
For his career, Wallin scored 4 playoff goals, three of which came in overtime (3 more playoff OT winners than Lemieux, and only one shy of Gretzky). One of the biggest goals he ever scored in overtime was game 2 of the second round in 2006, where he beat Marty Brodeur 5-hole when the puck careened off of his skate blade.
Wallin epitomized the Carolina Hurricanes the year they won the Cup. He was strong on the defensive side of the puck, physical, and contributed in the most unlikely situations to make himself and his teammates champions.
He played with the Hurricanes from 2000 until 2010, and was a staple on the blue line for several years. Wallin was always known for his quiet demeanor on the ice, but he never shied away from contact. He was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2000 and played 37 NHL games the same year.
Defensemen don’t get as much recognition as offensive players, but Nicky was one of the most important pieces on the Stanley Cup winning team in 2006 and is definitely one of the organization’s most notable Swedes of all time.
Russia: Sergei Samsonov
My pick for the Hurricanes’ best Russian player of all time is Sergei Samsonov.
Sammy landed in Raleigh well after his prime, but was one of the better waiver wire pickups by General Manager Jim Rutherford. He played from 2008-2011 in a Carolina jersey and put up 103 points in 249 games. His biggest attribute on the ice was blazing hand speed and very good on-ice vision. Small in stature, Samsonov was able to maneuver through defenders better than most anyone the Hurricanes had at the time. Although Sergei was on several bad teams with Carolina, he was a big part of the run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. He had 8 points in those particular playoffs, and most of them came against the Big Bad Bruins in a very memorable 7-game series.
The Hurricanes’ notable lack of Russian players throughout the years, coupled with Rutherford’s hesitance to draft or trade for Russians, plays a big role in my decision. While Alex Semin just signed a long term deal and may be one of the better players the Hurricanes have ever had, Samsonov brought stability and leadership to the bottom 6 in a time of need.
I also may be biased towards Sergei because he happens to be one of my favorite Hurricanes of all time. How many people can say they have a signed Samsonov jersey framed on their wall?
Slovakia: Andrej Sekera
My choice for best Slovakian boiled down to two players. The player I chose, humorously enough, hasn’t played a single game in a Hurricanes sweater. Andrej Sekera WILL BE the best Slovakian player to ever wear the jersey. One of two Slovakian players to ever be on the roster (the other being Tomas Malec, who has 2 career games for Carolina), Sekera will be a huge part of the blue line in the upcoming 2013-14 season.
Traded for Jamie McBain and the second pick in this year’s draft from Buffalo, Sekera is already an upgrade to the Hurricanes’ depleted defensive corps. Although he hasn’t suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes as of yet, one figures that he will have a good season alongside the other new additions that Carolina has made to the defense. Sekera is a career plus defenseman, and was only a -2 last season on a bad Buffalo team.
Czech Republic: Josef Vasicek
Josef Vasicek will always have a soft spot in all of our hearts.
Big Joe was drafted by the Hurricanes in 1998, and played five seasons with the Hurricanes, culminating in the hoisting of the Stanley Cup in the 2005-06 season. Vasicek led the team in points during the 2003-04 campaign, and was a big part of the depth down the middle of the ice during the Stanley Cup run.
At 6’4, 220 lbs., Joe was one of the biggest skaters the Hurricanes have ever put on the ice. He worked hard, even though several of his seasons were cut short due to injury.
During his 2011 season with the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Vasicek died at only 30 years old when the team’s plane crashed shortly after takeoff. In remembrance, the Hurricanes played the rest of the season with a black patch on their sweaters with the number 63 highlighted in red. There’s also a banner in the rafters at the PNC center to commemorate his life and time with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Big Joe compiled 114 points in 265 games during his 6 seasons with the Hurricanes.
REST OF THE WORLD CATEGORY
Latvia: Artrus Irbe
My choice for a player outside of most of the major nationalities found in the NHL was a fairly easy pick.
Artrus Irbe of Latvia was one of the most exciting players to ever play for the Carolina Hurricanes. Irbe’s unorthodox goaltending style led to several years of inconsistent results, but at his pinnacle, he led the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup Finals in 2002. He minded the net for Carolina from 1998-2004, and had several ups and downs along the way. Archie stood taller than his 5-8 stature would suggest between the pipes for the Hurricanes during the 2001-02 playoff run. He posted a fantastic 1.67 goals against average, and led the team to their first finals in franchise history.
Irbe’s play style was vastly different from those who played before him. His methods led to jaw-dropping saves. Following the 2001-02 season, Irbe was demoted to the AHL for inconsistent play. He made another brief stint in Raleigh the following season, before going back down to the ECHL. After 10 more games in the NHL, Irbe returned to Latvia to finish his career.
There has never been a more polarizing and exciting player to watch in the organization, who at his highest of highs could take his team to the top.
Ultimately, his inconsistencies cost him a starting job in the NHL, but he remains one of, if not the biggest reason the Hurricanes made it to their first Finals ever.
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