When one creates a list such as this, the most difficult aspect is not deciphering talent but rather not wanting to leave anyone out. Across 24 American Hockey League seasons, many players began their professional careers in Albany with either the Albany Devils or Albany River Rats. A solid number of them went on to star in the National Hockey League.
For our purposes in this space, we look at the top 25 NHL players who began their careers in Albany. There are many who came and went through Albany and perhaps made more contributions with Albany but if I named them all, we’d be here until July.
25. Krzysztof Oliwa
The “Polish Punisher” learned how to play and fight under late head coach John Cunniff. His 767 penalty minutes are fifth in Albany AHL history. He totaled 1,447 NHL penalty minutes and helped the New Jersey Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1999-2000. He also helped the River Rats win the 1994-95 Calder Cup.
24. Jiri Bicek
Bicek worked his tail off and paid his dues, playing an Albany AHL-high 423 games, totaling the third-most points with 242. The speedy, shifty left wing was a member of the Devils’ Stanley Cup title team in 2002-03.
23. Jamie McBain
McBain played parts of two seasons with the River Rats and displayed a solid shot on the blue line. In 348 NHL contests, McBain posted 110 points.
22. Stephen Gionta
Much like the aforementioned Bicek, “Gio” toiled in Albany and paid his dues with both the River Rats and eventually as captain of the A-Devils. Playing nearly 300 NHL games, Gionta has carved out a nice career as a defensive catalyst. His line with Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter helped energize the Devils on their run to the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Final.
21. Scott Clemmensen
“Clemmer” appeared in 172 games with the River Rats and A-Devils. At the NHL level, the Boston College product posted 73 victories, seven shutouts, a 2.79 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
20. Pascal Rheaume
The former River Rats captain and Calder Cup champion also won the Stanley Cup with the 2002-03 Devils. Rheaume ranks second in Albany AHL history with 110 tallies and 243 points. The center accumulated 91 points in 318 NHL games.
19. Brandon Sutter
A skilled two-way forward, Sutter has 120 goals in his nearly 600 NHL games.
18. Mike Rupp
“Rupper” was always a gamer during some lean years with the River Rats. In 2003 the big guy netted the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils. Rupp totaled 855 penalty minutes in 610 NHL contests.
17. David Clarkson
Much like the above-mentioned Rupp, Clarkson would always grind, bang and dig in the corners. In 570 NHL games, the Toronto native netted 114 goals and recorded 200 points and 992 penalty minutes. Helping the Devils reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the rugged right wing registered 30 goals.
16. Jay Pandolfo
“Pando” was a solid defensive forward and an elite penalty killer. In 899 NHL contests, Pandolfo netted 100 goals, including seven shorthanded. The Boston University product helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1999-2000 and 2002-03.
15. Adam Henrique
“Rico” skated with the A-Devils in their inaugural 2010-11 campaign and posted 25 markers. His overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final sent the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. A solid all-around forward, the Brantford, Ontario native has 117 career goals and netted 30 for the first time in 2015-16.
14. Travis Zajac
Yes, he only played two games with Albany but he did start there. In addition to being a smart player and solid on the draw, Zajac has registered 433 points in 773 games.
13. Colin White
“Whitey” ranks sixth in Albany AHL history with 676 penalty minutes. A no-nonsense, stay-at-home defenseman, White helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1999-2000 and 2002-03. The New Glasgow, Nova Scotia native totaled 869 penalty minute in 797 NHL contests.
12. Cale Hulse
Yet another tough customer, Hulse manned the blue line on the River Rats’ Calder Cup title team. The powerhouse Hulse accumulated 1,000 penalty minutes in 619 NHL games.
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11. Mike Dunham
The Johnson City, New York native was the co-MVP of the 1994-95 Calder Cup playoffs, earning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy. Dunham also earned the Harry (Hap) Holmes Award and was an AHL All-Star with the River Rats. Across 394 NHL games in net, Dunham registered 19 shutouts, 141 victories, a 2.74 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
10. Sergei Brylin
“Sarge” played the majority of the 1994-95 campaign with the Calder Cup champion River Rats and he totaled 137 points during his time with Albany. The Moscow, Russia native won three Stanley Cup titles with the Devils as a consummate role player and timely goal scorer. In 765 NHL games, Brylin notched 129 goals and 308 points.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) August 25, 2016
9. Sheldon Souray
Tough and blessed with a howitzer on the blue line, Souray was a three-time NHL All-Star. The hard-hitting Elk Point, Alberta native registered 109 goals, 300 points and 1,145 penalty minutes.
8. Willie Mitchell
Always standing up for his teammates, Mitchell was a shutdown defenseman on two Stanley Cup title teams with the Los Angeles Kings. A bruising blue liner, the Port McNeill, British Columbia native racked up 787 penalty minutes, 180 points and was a plus-119 through 907 NHL games played.
7. Brian Gionta
The “Rochester Rocket” has been a skilled spark plug in his 1,000-game NHL career. In addition to holding the single-season franchise goal mark with 48 in 2005-06, Gionta also helped the Devils win the 2002-03 Stanley Cup. The Rochester, New York native has 289 goals and 585 points. The Buffalo Sabres‘ captain was also the second American-born captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 28, 2017
6. Brendan Morrison
The former Hobey Baker Award winner and University of Michigan product was an AHL All-Star with 35 goals in 1997-98. Across 934 NHL games, Morrison netted 200 goals and accumulated 601 points.
5. John Madden
“Mad Dog” recorded a Devils-affiliated River Rats single-season high of 98 points in 1998-99. The University of Michigan product was a no-nonsense, hard-nosed player. Madden won three Stanley Cup titles between the Devils and Chicago Blackhawks. A leader on both ends of the ice, Madden earned the Selke Trophy in 2000-01. In 898 NHL games, he notched 348 points and netted 18 shorthanded tallies.
4. Zach Parise
Parise was an AHL All-Star with Albany in 2004-05. An NHL All-Star and former captain with the Devils, the Minneapolis, Minnesota native has 316 goals and 656 points in 824 NHL contests.
3. Steve Sullivan
A member of the River Rats Hall of Fame, Sullivan was a top-flight performer with 31 tallies on the 1994-95 Calder Cup-winning squad. Playing 1,011 career NHL games, the “Timmins Tornado” registered 290 goals, 457 helpers and 747 points. A spark plug and playmaker, Sullivan earned the 2008-09 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
2. Brian Rolston
Playing parts of two seasons with the River Rats, including early in their Calder Cup campaign, Rolston could do it all. An NHL All-Star, the Flint, Michigan native possessed a powerful slap shot and could finesse the puck as well. A Stanley Cup champion with the Devils, Rolston played in 1,256 NHL contests, netted 342 goals, dished out 419 assists and totaled 761 points, along with leading the league twice in shorthanded goals.
1. Patrik Elias
Elias tallied 133 points in 134 games and was an AHL All-Star with the River Rats. The star left wing was a four-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Devils. In Devils franchise history, Elias ranks first with 408 goals, 617 assists, 1,025 points, 113 power-play goals and 80 game-winning tallies.