Best Jets/Thrashers from Around the World

Throughout its two-decade history, the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise have had great players from all around the globe.

322 players have suited up for either the Thrashers, Jets, or both since the Thrashers were established in 1999. Those 322 players have hailed from 15 different countries.

Best Jets and Thrashers from Around the World Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Marian Hossa

Here’s a look at the best player from each locale.

Note: This list includes only Jets 2.0 players. If you’d like to do some reading about the greatest players from their 1.0 era, check out the following THW pieces: Bobby Hull — The Golden Jet, Jets 1978-79 Avco Cup Winning Season, Jets 50-Goal Scorers, Jets with 100-Point Seasons and the Top 5 Jets 1.0 Draft Picks of All Time.

Austria — Marko Dano

Marko Dano was a promising youngster the Jets acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016 as part of the trade that sent captain Andrew Ladd the other way, and is only Austrian-born player to play for the franchise so far.

the 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick and Eisenstadt native was touted as someone with top-six potential but never found a foothold with the Jets or showcased his skills consistently, bouncing between the press box and the bottom six.

Jets Left Wing Marko Dano
Marko Dano had trouble showcasing his skills on a consistent basis in his tenure with the Jets. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After recording 10 goals and 12 assists in 82 games over parts of three seasons, the Jets waived him in October, 2018 and he was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche (although the Jets re-claimed him a month later and assigned him to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.)

Dano has since returned to the Blue Jackets organization.

Canada — Mark Scheifele

The Jets’ first-ever draft pick, Mark Scheifele has proven GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s choice to draft him over Sean Couturier as the right one.

The Kitchener, Ontario native has evolved from a gangly kid who fans called ‘Bambi’ — a reference to how much trouble he had staying upright on the ice — to a bona-fide superstar centre and a key to the Jets’ rise to competitiveness.

Now in his ninth professional season, Scheifele has more points than any other Canadian in Thrashers/Jets history. He’s shown his great hockey sense and outstanding offensive instincts in spades as he’s racked up 180 goals and 264 assists for 444 points and a plus-83 rating. He also has 16 goals and 10 assists for 26 points in 27 playoff games and was particularly outstanding in the Jets’ 2018 run to the Western Conference Final in 2018, lightning the lamp 14 times in just 17 games.

The man in the middle on the team’s top line and number-one power play unit, Scheifele is a dedicated and passionate individual who is a true student of the game and takes conditioning and nutrition extremely seriously. He is constantly striving for better, and as he’s said himself: “there’s not a waking moment when I’m not thinking about hockey.”

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele stands just a bit above all the other Canadians in Thrashers/Jets history. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It shows. An utterly consistent player, he’s operated at a point-per-game clip in each of the past four seasons and has been selected as an All-Star twice.

Related: Jets’ Report Cards 2018-19: Mark Scheifele

Scheifele, whose 6.125 million annual cap hit is an absolute steal for all he brings, will likely be a point-per-game guy for the next number of seasons and should be their next captain after Blake Wheeler.

Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia — Ondrej Pavelec

Say what you will about Ondrej Pavelec’s middling career numbers or his penchant for letting in a soft goal at the worst time, but he was still a competent backstop who started more than 350 games for the Thrashers and Jets combined.

Born in Kladno, Czechoslovakia and drafted by the Thrashers in the second round of the 2005 draft, Pavelec owns a career 41-51-16 record, 3.03 GAA, and .908 SV% in 119 appearances with the Thrashers between 2007 and 2011 and a 111-107-31 record, 2.88 GAA, and .907 SV% with the Jets between 2011 and 2017.

Ondrej Pavelec Winnipeg Jets
Pavelec started 252 games for the Jets over six seasons. Photo: Andy Martin Jr.

Pavelec’s best work with the Jets came in the 2014-15 season, when he played the part of a brick wall down the stretch and was a key reason the team qualified for the postseason for the first time.

Related: The Saga of Ondrej Pavelec

Although he was eventually supplanted by Connor Hellebuyck — who came into the fray the season after and has become an elite goaltender and the franchise’s shutout leader — Pavelec still ranks second in wins, minutes, and shutouts.

Denmark — Nikolaj Ehlers

The electric Nikolaj Ehlers has no competition on this list as he’s the only Dane to ever skate for the Thrashers/Jets franchise.

It’s quality over quantity in this case. A pure offensive talent known for his blazing speed, creativity with the puck, and ability to both create chances and finish them off, Ehlers has amassed 115 goals and 142 assists for 257 points since the Jets chose him ninth overall in 2014.

Related: Winnipeg Jets 2.0 First-Round Draft Picks — Ranked

Ehlers’ best offensive season was his 60-point 2017-18 campaign, although he was set to eclipse that mark as he notched 58 in 71 strong games this season prior to the season pause.

Nikolaj Ehlers Winnipeg Jets
Ehlers was having a strong 2019-20 prior to the shutdown and posted 25 goals and and 33 assists in 71 games. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

2018-19 was a down year for the left-winger as he posted a career-low 37 points while being limited to 62 games due to injury, leading to many trade rumours last summer.

A trade never came to fruition and Ehlers — who reviewed every single shift of his campaign over the offseason to improve his overall game —rebounded nicely this season in a top-six role. Just 24 years old, he still has huge potential to evolve and improve. Combine that with his team-friendly contract, he is too valuable of a player to give up.

Germany — Dany Heatley

Although he competed internationally for Canada, Dany Heatley was actually born in Fribourg, Germany.

The left-winger, chosen second overall in 2000 after Rick DiPietro, was one of the Thrashers’ most recognizable faces and productive players in their early days.

Heatley played three seasons in Atlanta and won the Calder Memorial Trophy for a 67-point rookie 2001-02 campaign. His sophomore season was ever better, as he recorded 41 goals and 48 assists.

Dany Heatley Atlanta Thrashers
Dany Heatley played the first three seasons of his career with the Thrashers and won a Caldner Memorial Trophy in 2001-02. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Heatley’s third campaign — in which he played only 31 games — came after he pleaded guilty second-degree vehicular homicide, driving too fast for condition, failure to maintain a lane, and speeding in connection with a September car crash that tragically claimed the life of teammate Dan Snyder. Heatley was driving his Ferrari at 130 km per hour down a narrow, two-lane road in Atlanta when he spun out of control and smashed into a fence, a CBC report at the time said.

After requesting a trade, Heatley was dealt to the Ottawa Senators and enjoyed many productive seasons there — twice eclipsing the 100-point plateau — before moving on to stints with the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, and Anaheim Ducks.

Related: Ottawa Senators With 100-Point Seasons

Heatley ended his career with 869 games played, 372 goals, and 419 assists for 791 points.

Finland — Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine, at the tender age of 22, already has 112 more goals than the second-highest scoring Finn in Thrashers/Jets history (that’s Joel Armia with 26 tallies, by the way.)

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine stands head-and-shoulders above any other Finnish player in Thrashers/Jets history. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The pride of Tampere — who also won a gold medal at the 2016 World Juniors in his home country — possesses a once-in-a-generation shot and has racked up a cool 138 goals in 305 games since being selected second overall in 2016.

Laine, consistently underrated for his playmaking abilities, also has 109 assists in those contests for 247 total points. He’s already sixth in Jets’ 2.0 history in points, one ahead of Andrew Ladd.

While the Finnish phenom was rightly criticized in past seasons for being a one-trick pony and a liability when he wasn’t lighting the lamp, his defensive play, awareness, and effort levels progressed by leaps and bounds in 2019-20, in which he recorded 28 goals and 35 assists for 63 points in 68 games while skating a career-high 19:25 per game.

Related: Jets’ Laine Has Evolved into a Complete Player

If Laine plays similarly next season — which will be the second of a two-year “prove yourself” bridge deal he signed just a few days before this season began — he will cash in handsomely.

Italy — Luca Sbisa

The Jets claimed Ozieri, Italy’s Luca Sbisa off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks last October.

The veteran of 500-plus games provided a quiet and mostly-sturdy presence to a Jets blue line decimated by an offseason exodus, Dustin Byfuglien’s last-minute decision to sit out the season, and injury after injury.

Related: Jets Need to Persevere With a Patchwork Defence

The fearless Sbisa played 44 games, posted two goals and eight assists for 10 points, dished out 91 hits, blocked 71 shots, and skated an average of 17:56.

Kazakhstan — Nikolaj Antropov

Nikolai Antropov will always best be remembered by Jets fans for scoring the first regular season goal in Jets 2.0 history, at 2:27 into the third period of the Jets’ season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, on a rebound from a Mark Stuart shot.

Related: Winnipeg Jets 2.0 — Reliving Their Firsts

Prior to the historic marker, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Kazakh spent two seasons with the Thrashers, scoring 40 goals and adding 68 assists for 108 points after a brief stint with the New York Rangers and nine seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who drafted him 10th overall in 1998.

Nik Antropov
A veteran of 788 career games, Nikolai Antropov had his best statistical season with the Thrashers.

Antropov’s time with the Jets was brief and not nearly as successful as his time with the Thrashers. While he recorded a career-high 67 points in the Thrashers’ 2009-10 campaign, he produced only 35 in the Jets’ inaugural season and 18 the following season before signing with the KHL’s Astana Barys and wrapping up his career there.

Antropov is currently working for the Maple Leafs as a skills consultant with a focus on Russian players.

Latvia — Herbert Vasiljevs

Vasiljevs, a right-winger from Riga, didn’t have a long NHL career. He played a combined 30 games for the Thrashers in their first two seasons, recording five goals and five assists in those games.

Interestingly, he also played 31 games for the Manitoba Moose, an entire decade before the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg.

While Vasiljevs wasn’t long for North America, he had a long and distinguished career in the DEL, almost entirely with German squad Krefeld Penguins. In 13 seasons between 2004 and 2017, he recorded 203 goals and 305 assists for 508 points in 627 games.

Nigeria — Rumun Ndur

The first Nigerian-born player to play an NHL game, defenseman Rumun Ndur suited up for 27 contests in the Thrashers’ inaugural 1999-00 season after stints with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. He scored one goal and racked up 71 penalty minutes and a minus-17 rating while skating an average of 13:12.

Ndur never played in the NHL again after that season, but played in other various professional leagues in North America and Europe through 2008-09.

Russia — Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk was by far the best Thrasher and Russian in team history.

The second of the Thrashers’ two all-time first-overall picks, the uber-talented and versatile Ilya Kovalchuk was the most decorated and dominant Thrasher, undoubtedly the face of the franchise.

The Tver, Russian born left-winger racked up 328 goals and 287 assists for 615 points in just 594 games over eight seasons with the Thrashers. He eclipsed the 50-goal mark in 2005-06 and 2007-08, and scored 40 goals in three other campaigns. In fact, he remained the Thrashers/Jets all-time points leader until Blake Wheeler surpassed him in late December.

In 2010, the Thrashers traded Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils. That offseason, the Devils re-upped him to a massive 15-year, $100-million contract.

Related: 8 Former Thrashers Still Active in the NHL

In 2013, after fulfilling only one-fifth of that deal and playing 222 games with the Devils, he elected to retire from the NHL and return to Russia. He spent five seasons with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg before returning to North America with the Los Angeles Kings for the 2018-19 season.

After he disappointed in the City of Angels and Kings terminated his contract in its second year, he signed as a free agent with the Montreal Canadiens in early January but was traded to the Washington Capitals in February.

Ilya Kovalchuk Washington Capitals
Kovalchuk is currently with the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Kovalchuk has also competed extensively for his country: he won a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang representing “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and bronze at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He also has seven World Championship medals including two golds, won in 2008 and 2009.

Slovakia — Marian Hossa

After seven seasons with the Ottawa Senators, the Thrashers acquired Marian Hossa from the Ottawa Senators in the Dany Heatley deal prior to the 2005-06 season.

The left winger, entering the prime of his career, played with Ilya Kovalchuk and the two simply lit it up. In his two full seasons with the Thrashers, Hossa showed off his great hands and superb shot, tallying 92 points in 2005-06 and an even 100 in 2006-07, the two best statistical seasons of his career. His 100-point 2006-07 campaign was one of the key reasons the Thrashers made the playoffs for the first and only time.

Hossa’s time with the Thrashers was brief — just shy of three seasons — but was hghly productive. He put up 248 points in just 222 games. (kaatiya/Flickr)

In 2007-08 — the last year of Hossa’s three-year deal — the Thrashers were unable to ink him to a new contract and traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he played 12 games and helped the Pens reach the Stanley Cup Final.

After one season with the Detroit Red Wings, Hossa won a trio of Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks during their dynastic three-Cups-in-six-season run between 2010 and 2015 before retiring due to a skin disorder with 525 goals and 609 assists for 1134 points in 1309 games played.

Sweden — Tobias Enstrom

No Swede suited up for nearly as many games for the Thrashers/Jets franchise as Tobias Enstrom did.

A hidden gem selected in the 8th round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the native of Nordingra, Sweden’s best seasons were his first four, before the Thrashers relocated. Despite being undersized at just 5-foot-10, Enstrom emerged as a top-four d-man and proved his worth as excellent skater and accurate passer who could be counted on to make smart decisions. With the Thrashers, he twice recorded 50-plus points in a season, which is quite a feat for a defenceman.

Enstrom’s offensive numbers weren’t as good with the Jets — his highest points total was 33 — and he struggled with some injuries over his six seasons in Winnipeg. However, he still dressed for 401 games, recorded 137 points, and was one of the Jets’ best blueliners when it came to advanced stats and possession numbers.

Tobias Enstrom Jets
Enstrom spent a combined 11 seasons with the Thrashers/Jets franchise, playing in 719 games. He’s seen here in the Jets’ inaugural season. (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

Regardless, he was a lightning rod for criticism. “He was among their most polarizing players as a guy who routinely excels on the analytics front but frustrates with the eye test,” former THW contributor Rob Mahon wrote in 2018, the final season of Enstrom’s contract.

Enstrom has spent the past two seasons with MODO Hockey.

Ukraine — Peter Bondra

Peter Bondra came to the Thrashers in the twilight of his NHL career.

Peter Bondra, Washington Capitals
Peter Bondra came to the Thrashers after 14 seasons with the Capitals as their main goal-scoring threat. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images/NHLI)

Atlanta was the Lutsk, Ukraine native’s second-last big-league stop. After 14 seasons with the Washington Capitals, a brief stint with the Ottawa Senators, and the 2004-05 lockout, the then 37-year-old signed with the Thrashers and suited up for 60 games in the 2005-06 season. He ended up fifth on the team in scoring with 21 goals and 18 assists for 39 points.

Related: Washington Capitals’ 50-Goal Scorers

Bondra played 37 games with the Chicago Blackhawks the season after before retiring.

United States — Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler leads the Jets on the ice as captain and the Thrashers/Jets franchise in goals and points by an American by a wide margin.

The prolific playmaker of Plymouth, Minnesota has lit the lamp 207 times and amassed 427 apples in 687 games. has recorded 74 points or more in his last five campaigns, had back-to-back 91 point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and has been an All-Star seven times.

For the past three seasons, Wheeler has been a highly-competent captain. His leadership skills, dedication, and work ethic are all unparalleled and the veteran has helped many Jets’ youngsters blossom into bona fide super stars.

Blake Wheeler
A prolific power forward, Blake Wheeler has become the face of the Jets. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Wheeler’s role with the Jets is mostly to make things happen from the right-wing wall, but he selflessly slid to centre for most of this season after Bryan Little suffered a serious injury after taking a Nikolaj Ehlers slap shot to the head in November.

Wheeler is now the franchise’s all-time points leader. In late December, in one of the Jets most exciting games of the season, he surpassed Kovalchuk with a slick assist on a Laine one-time power play marker.