* this was originally published June 2021
The NHL has had 7,623 clothed players since it began in 1917. Of those more than 7,000 players, only about 80 have been of Native American descent, representing just 1.5 percent of NHL players (since Recasting the History of Professional Hockey’s Indigenous Players, New York Times, June 25, 2018).
The first registered Native American player was Fred Saskamoose, who played 11 games for the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season. Since then, there have been a number of successful Indigenous players in the NHL: Here’s a look at the top five First Nations, Mixed Race, and Inuit players in the NHL.
5. t.j oshie – Ojibwe
t.j. oshie was born in mount vernon, washington in 1986 but lived most of his life in everett, north of seattle. It wasn’t until 2002, when Oshie moved to Warroad, Minnesota, that he learned he was of Ojibwe descent. the st Louis Blues selected Oshie in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, 24th overall.
oshie is currently in his 13th season, with six 20-goal seasons and a one-time 30-goal season. He played his first seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to the Washington Capitals in 2015. In 2018, Oshie won his first Stanley Cup, having helped the Capitals get there by scoring 21 points in 24 playoff games. He scored 43 points in 53 games last season and finished second in the league in power-play goals (pp) with 13. Oshie has amassed 260 goals and 610 points in 856 NHL games in his career.
4. theo fleury – metis
Theo Fleury was born in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, in 1968. Fleury’s grandmother was Cree, and he is of mixed descent. He started playing hockey at the age of five and, although he was short in stature, he quickly became a highly skilled player through hard work and determination. Fleury played in two World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) for Canada, one of which was the infamous 1987 tournament where Canada and Russia were disqualified for a bench punt fight.
fleury was selected in the eighth round of the draft in 1988 and won a stanley cup with the calgary flames in his rookie season in 1989. he played 11 seasons with the flames before being traded to the new york rangers and then ended up with the last two seasons of his 15-year career with the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury had 1,088 points in 1,084 games played in the NHL. He was also successful internationally, as he won gold at the WJHC in 1988, a Canadian Cup championship in 1991, and Olympic gold in 2002.
3. reggie leach – ojibwe
reggie leach will always be remembered as a philadelphia midfielder, but the boston bruins selected him in the 1970 amateur draft. in 1972, the bruins traded him for the humble california golden seals. After three seasons there, fortunes turned in Leach’s favor, and he was traded to the Flyers in 1974. Leach won the Stanley Cup with the Flyers in 1975, the team’s second in a row and Leach’s first.
leach’s most successful season was in 1975-76 when he led the league with 61 goals; he continued his goalscoring streak into the playoffs, scoring a record 19 goals in 16 games. Leach won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff Most Valuable Player in 1976 even though he was on the losing team, one of only five players to do so. Leach is of Ojibwe descent and a member of the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba. he scored 666 points (381 goals) in 934 nhl games.
2. tortoiseshell price – ulkatcho first nation
carey price has been the superstar goalie for the montreal canadiens for the past 14 seasons and is considered by many to be the best goalie in the nhl. Price was born in Vancouver, but grew up on Lake Anaheim and is of Nuxalk Aboriginal and Southern descent; His mother, Lynda Price, is the chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation. price was born with goalkeeping in his blood: his father was selected in the flyers draft in 1978 as a goalie, but never made it to the nhl.
price has had many achievements both internationally and with Canadians. He has won the Vecina Trophy for Best Goalkeeper, the Hart Trophy for League Most Valuable Player, the William Jennings Trophy for Fewest Goals Allowed, and the Ted Lindsay Award for Best Player in the NHL as voted by the National Players Association. of the Hockey League (NHLPA) in 2015. He was only the second player in Canadian franchise history to win four awards in one season. Internationally, Price won WJHC gold in 2007, Olympic gold in 2014 and World Cup of Hockey gold in 2016. He was also named honorary co-chairman of the 2010 Aboriginal National Hockey Championships.
1. bryan trottier – metis
bryan trottier is an iconic new york islanders legend who helped the franchise win four stanley cups between 1980 and 1983. he himself won two more cups with the pittsburgh penguins in 1991 and 1992 before retiring after the 1993-94 season. Trottier grew up in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, and his father is of Cree/Metis descent. His accomplishments during his 18-year career have made him one of the best indigenous players in the NHL.
The Islanders drafted Trottier in 1975, and he made his professional debut in the 1975-76 season, scoring 95 points and winning the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He won the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s top scorer with 134 points and the Hart Trophy in 1978-79; he had six seasons with 100 or more points but only one 50 goal campaign in 1981-82. Trottier was a core piece in the Islanders’ run of four Stanley Cups, winning the Conn Smythe in 1980. Over his career, he scored 524 goals, 1425 points in 1279 games, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
There are six active indigenous players in the NHL: Ethan Bear, Cree – Carolina Hurricanes; Zack Whitecloud, Sioux – Golden Knights of Vegas; Hawksbill Price – Montreal Canadiens, T.J. Oshie – Washington Capitals, Brandon Montour, Mohawk – Florida Panthers; and Travis Hamonic, Métis-Vancouver Canucks.
with the recent tragic discoveries taking place in canada regarding boarding schools, it’s good to know that there are success stories in all walks of life and sports. we cannot change the past, but we must learn from it to make a better future.