Pennsylvania is anchored by cities with a proud history of hockey on each side. The sport is best-known in the Keystone State for their two NHL franchises, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who clash in one of the league’s greatest rivalries.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are both home to highly competitive junior hockey systems. Each year, the winners of the eastern high-school division in the Flyers Cup and the western high-school division in the Penguins Cup face off for the state championship in the two NHL arenas on an alternating basis.
The best hockey players from the state have little experience playing for the Flyers and Penguins. Yet, Pennsylvania boasts a former elite NHL goaltender, two accomplished forwards now in their prime, and many fascinating nuggets of information throughout hockey history.
G- Mike Richter
Former New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter is the best hockey player born in Pennsylvania. A native of Abington, he grew up playing youth hockey across Philadelphia, notably for Germantown Academy and the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. He later played NCAA hockey at the University of Wisconsin.
Richter played 14 seasons for the Rangers from 1989-2003. He retired as the franchise’s all-time leader in wins. The pinnacle of his career was in the 1994 Playoffs when the Rangers won their only Stanley Cup since 1940, and Richter finished with a 16-7 record and a 2.07 goals-against average (GAA).
Richter was a mainstay on Team USA for international competitions during his career. He led the Americans to a World Cup of Hockey championship in 1996 and was named tournament MVP. He was the number one goalie at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, the first in which NHL players competed. He started four of six games at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, helping Team USA to a silver medal.
Richter was selected as an NHL All-Star in 1992, 1994, and 2000. His no. 35 is retired by the Rangers, and he was inducted in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. Although a legitimate case can be made for him, he still hasn’t gotten the nod for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is the namesake of the Richter Award, given annually to the best goaltender in NCAA hockey.
C- Vincent Trochek
Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trochek, now in his eighth NHL season, is the best center born in Pennsylvania. Although he’s earned little fanfare while playing in smaller markets in his career, the Pittsburgh native is an offensive producer down the middle. He notched a career-high 75 points in 2017-18 and is just below a point-per-game pace this season. Trochek will receive more recognition if the Hurricanes can follow up their stellar regular season with a strong performance in the 2021 Playoffs.
The 27-year-old ranks fourth in all-time points scored by a native Pennsylvanian and will likely continue to climb the list. Although their depth at center will make it extremely difficult for him to land a roster spot, Trochek will be in consideration to represent Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.
LW- Brandon Saad
Colorado Avalanche left winger Brandon Saad is playing in his tenth NHL season at just 28. He was a key contributor for the Chicago Blackhawks during his first four seasons, a stretch that included Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. After an unexpected trade sent him to Columbus, Saad spent two seasons with the Blue Jackets and earned a 2016 All-Star selection. He returned to Chicago in 2017 for three additional seasons.
Saad, a native of the Pittsburgh area, is just 26 points shy of passing former center R.J. Umberger to become the state’s all-time leader in points scored. Two additional 82-game NHL seasons would also make Saad the all-time leader in games played by a native Pennsylvanian.
RW- George Parros
Former right-winger George Parros is Pennsylvania’s all-time leader in NHL penalty minutes by a landslide with 1092. Given the tough, physical nature of the state’s greatest hockey rivalry, it felt appropriate to include a player of his style.
Parros was a feared enforcer for the Anaheim Ducks for parts of six seasons from 2006-12, a span that included a Stanley Cup in 2007. He also had shorter stints with the LA Kings, Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Montreal Canadiens. He was born in Washington County just outside of Pittsburgh. Although he only lived there for three years, he brought the Cup to Pittsburgh, the city he called “home,” during the 2007-08 regular season when the Ducks faced the Penguins.
D- Bob Beers, Mike Weber
Former defenseman Bob Beers played for the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, and New York Islanders in parts of eight NHL seasons from 1989-1997. He notched 107 career points, more than double any other defenseman born in Pennsylvania. Beers, a native of the Pittsburgh area, played for the University of Maine during the 1980s. He is now a radio broadcaster for the Bruins.
Mike Weber is the league’s all-time leader in games played by a defenseman born in Pennsylvania with 351. He spent nine seasons in the Buffalo Sabres‘ organization from 2007-2016 before finishing his career with a short stint with the Washington Capitals. Weber was considered a gritty, stay-at-home defenseman and scored 53 points and 437 penalty minutes during his NHL career.
Pennsylvania’s Best of the Rest
Oilers superstar Connor McDavid was not considered despite that he played junior hockey in Pennsylvania for the Erie Otters, one of only three American-based teams in the Ontario Hockey League.
Umberger was left off of the lineup despite being the all-time league leader in both points and games played among Pennsylvanians. He played 11 NHL seasons with the Flyers and Blue Jackets but his career never reached a pinnacle as high as players like Trochek and Saad.
Left-winger Ryan Malone put together a successful career over 11 NHL seasons, first playing for his hometown Penguins and later the Lightning and Rangers. “Bugsy” will soon be passed by Saad as the second leading scorer among native Pennsylvanians.
Goaltender John Gibson grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He is in his eighth season in Anaheim, where he helped the Ducks reach the Western Conference Final in 2017. He has a modest .917 career save percentage, and he is likely to back up Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for Team USA in Beijing.
Former center Eric Tangradi was drafted in the second round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft after starring in the Philadelphia area’s high school division for Archbishop Carroll. He scattered 150 career games with five NHL teams.
The Philadelphia area has also produced several other noteworthy players. Nick Luukko, son of Panthers executive Peter Luukko, was drafted by Philadelphia in 2010 as a feel-good story while his father was a well-respected senior member in the Flyers organization. Goaltender Eric Semborski, a former Temple University club hockey player, signed two contracts as an emergency goaltender with the Flyers and Blackhawks in two remarkably unforeseeable circumstances involving last-minute injuries during the 2016-17 season.
As players like Trochek and Saad continue their careers as two of the best-ever born in the state, more are sure to follow. It’s a densely populated northeastern state, and the popularity of the sport promises a bright future for NHL talent in the Keystone State.