Tuesday, 23 July 2013

NoDak's Best

North Dakota has a rich hockey history with the NCAA's University of North Dakota being a perennial favorite to capture collegiate hockey's highest honor. The USHL's Fargo Force have shown some talent over the last five years as shown yesterday, and high school hockey is on the rise in the state. In short, hockey is doing well in North Dakota, so it was a surprise to me that there have only been thirteen players who were born in North Dakota that have skated in the NHL!

Everyone is aware of Minnesota's propensity for sending players to the NHL, so you'd think that the neighboring state would want to keep pace with the Land of Lakes, right? Apparently not. Of the thirteen North Dakota-born players who have skated in the NHL, only four have played more than 100 games! And of those four, only one has more than 100 career NHL points! This list is going to be short, but here are, in my opinion, the top-five North Dakota-born NHL players.

5. MIKE PELUSO - BISMARCK. Mike didn't play in the NHL for a long time, but his 38 games is enough to get him on this list. Mike played 37 games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2001-02, and played one game with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003-04. Mike recorded four goals and two assists with the Blackhawks, giving him career totals of four goals and two assists. Mike has had a better AHL career, though, where he played 335 games, amassing 116 goals and 126 assists with the Portland Pirates, Worcester IceCats, Norfolk Admirals, and Philadelphia Phantoms. He didn't win any awards, but he does come in as the fifth-best North Dakotan to have played in the NHL as per HBIC.

4. FIDO PURPUR - GRAND FORKS. Fido had an interesting career as he broke into the NHL with the St. Louis Eagles in 1934-35 at the age of 20 after spending three seasons with the CHL's Minneapolis Millers. He spent 25 games with the Eagles before being sent back to the minors. In 1935, he joined the American Hockey Association's St. Louis Flyers where he played for six seasons before joining the Kansas City Americans in 1941-42. His contract, however, would be bought by the Chicago Black Hawks, and he would finish the season in Chicago with an eight-game stint. Fido would spend the next two seasons in Chicago before being sent down to the minors in 1945 for good. In his 144 NHL games, Fido Purpur scored 25 goals and 35 assists. Like Mike Peluso, Fido Purpur didn't win any awards, but he is, in my opinion, the fourth-best North Dakotan to make it to the NHL.

3. RYAN POTULNY - GRAND FORKS. Ryan Potulny wasthe 87th-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft thanks to the Philadelphia Flyers. He broke into the NHL with the Flyers in 2005-06, playing 44 games over three seasons with the club. He was traded to the Oilers for Danny Syvret in the summer of 2008, and he would play 72 games for the Oilers over the next two seasons. It was in Edmonton where Potulny would post career-best marks of 15 goals and 17 assists in 64 games. He was shuffled between Chicago and Ottawa in 2010-11, but he has been a very popular AHL player for a long time. He helped the 2010-11 Binghamton Senators capture the Calder Cup, and was the man who ended the longest playoff game in AHL history with his goal after 142:58 of game play.
Potulny is currently playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL. The third-best North Dakotan has a Calder Cup championship and a memorable AHL goal to his name! Not bad for a guy who played 126 NHL games with 22 goals an 27 assists!

2. TIM JACKMAN - MINOT. Tim Jackman was chosen 38th-overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2001, and broke into the league with Columbus in 2003-04 by playing 19 games. He was off to Phoenix in October 2005 in the trade that sent Geoff Sanderson to the desert, but he saw action in only eight games with the Coyotes. In March 2006, he moved again as he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. He played in a mere five games with the Kings in 2006-07, and moved on as a free agent with the New York Islanders. In three seasons on Long Island, Jackman saw more ice time, scoring ten goals and 15 assists in 159 games. But he would be on the move again in 2010-11, signing with the Calgary Flames. It was in Calgary that his defensive game began to flourish, and Jackman has scored 12 goals and 23 assists in his 199 games with the Flames. Jackman last played in the AHL in 2008-09, making him a full-time NHLer for the last few seasons. While he has yet to win any awards, he has played in 390 NHL games, amassing 23 goals and 40 assists in his defensive role.

1. PAUL GAUSTAD - FARGO. Paul Gaustad was drafted 220th-overall by the Buffalo Sabres, and he quickly established himself as a full-time NHL player in the 2005-06 season. Gaustad is a solid defensive forward who is used to kill penalties, check top lines, and win key face-offs. He was valued in Buffalo for these assets, but Gaustad also put up some points when given the opportunity. In 479 games with the Sabres, Gaustad scored 71 goals and 110 assists while playing primarily in a defensive role. The Nashville Predators acquired Gaustad in a 2012 trade deadline deal for his defensive and face-off abilities as they looked to push deep into the playoffs. Gaustad was a key face-off man as the Predators knocked off the Anaheim Ducks in their first playoff series win in franchise history. While he was injured for the majority of last season, Gaustad has had the most NHL success of any North Dakotan as he has played 516 games while scoring 73 goals and adding 117 helpers. He signed a four-year, $13 million deal in 2012 to remain with the Predators, ensuring he'll add to his totals until 2016 at least.

While Ryan Potulny certainly has won more accolades in his career, Paul Gaustad has obviously scored the most NHL points, arguably making him the most successful North Dakotan to have played the game at the highest level. There could be a case made for each of the North Dakotans on this list, but these five men have played at the highest level the longest, and fit the mold as the best hockey players North Dakota has produced.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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