Latvia was globally recognized as the hub of international hockey when the nation of 2 million put forth the maximum number of entries during fan voting before the NHL All-Star game in 2015. Zemgus Girgensons became the frontrunner by over 300,000 votes, which earned him a spot in the squad. Girgensons, however, is not the only Latvian to find success at the NHL. We’ve listed the five most influential hockey players in Latvia.
Top 5 Latvian Players in the NHL
1. Sandis Ozoliņš – Ozoliņš was a key player for the San Jose Sharks. Having scored 26 goals and 38 assists for a total of 64 points as a defenseman during his rookie year. Ozoliņš finished at the fifth spot overall as the Rookie of the Year for the Calder Trophy. Over the course of his career, Ozoliņš played for the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, and the San Jose Sharks.
2. Artūrs Irbe – Irbe was one of the NHL’s legendary goaltenders during his prime in the 90s. He found a place in the top 10 list in the Vezina Trophy four times thanks to his lucid butterfly style. In his 13-year career, he posted 218 wins from 568 games in the regular season. Irbe was a cornerstone for the Sharks and an inaugural member. The 2001-02 season was his most memorable as he helped the Hurricanes step into the Stanley Cup finals.
3. Kārlis Skrastiņš – Perhaps one of the most underrated defensemen of his time, Skrastiņš never missed a regular game season between 2000 and 2006. His consecutive win streak earned him the “Ironman” tag and nothing seemed to faze him inside the arena. Skrastiņš regularly put himself between the puck as he relentlessly prevented goals. He was a favorite with his defense partners and goaltenders. He played 832 matches between the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, and Florida Panthers.
4. Sergejs Žoltoks – A highly talented player who suffered cardiac arrhythmia and collapsed in the locker room playing for HK Riga 2000 in 2004. He scored 111 goals and 157 assists from 588 NHL appearances. And his most unexpected playoff perhaps arrived during 2003-04 playing for the Minnesota Wild. With a defense mentality, Žoltoks finished the season with 16 goals and 26 assists in 78 games scoring 42 points in total.
5. Zemgus Girgensons – One of the icons of modern-day NHL, Girgensons was drafted into the league during 2012 by the Buffalo Sabers. Girgensons played his 300th NHL game during the 2017-18 season and despite being young, he is among the most prominent Latvian hockey players of all time. The man adds a nice tone to any team he plays for and whatever success he manages to dole out, he’ll make his countrymen proud.