Wisconsin has been one of the underrated hockey hotbeds in the United States, and housing a six-time NCAA champion Badgers team does a lot to help the process. With names like Dany Heatley and Mike Richter donning the red and white, it’s no surprise that young Wisconsinites would want to follow in their footsteps.
The Badger State produced 39 NHLers – with No. 40 on the way soon once Cole Caufield makes his NHL debut., and some of those 39 are some of the top players in the game today.
With more young players like Caufield coming through the pipeline, things could change within the next few decades, but here is Wisconsin’s all-time NHL starting lineup.
G – Troy Grosenick
Wisconsin’s goaltending depth wasn’t deep, so we’re going to have to go with Troy Grosenick here. In three NHL games, he has posted a 2-1-0 record with a .957 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.35 goals-against-average (GAA). Not the biggest sample size, but he’s played well in the opportunities he’s received at the NHL level.
Grosenick spent the majority of his career as an AHLer in the San Jose Sharks organization, staying with the Worcester Sharks/San Jose Barracuda organization for his first five professional seasons.
He posted his best season in 2017, when he won the AHL’s award for best goaltender, posting a 30-10-7 record with a .926 SV% and a 2.04 GAA.
D – Ryan Suter
The first part of an uncle-nephew duo on the blue line, Ryan Suter has been a dependable defenseman for over a decade for the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild. Playing in 1,176 games, Suter has totaled 91 goals and 600 points.
Suter finished in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting for six straight years, spanning from 2011-12 to 2016-17, including a second-place finish in 2012-13, his first season with the Wild. Since his arrival in Minnesota, he’s been a very reliable defensive blueliner for nearly a decade.
Not only is he solid defensively, but he’s also averaged around 45 to 50 points a season, with his best offensive numbers coming in 2017-18, where he scored 51 points in 78 games. His stability and longevity make him a must on this team, and he’s been one of the most underrated players in the game this past decade.
D – Gary Suter
The second half of this deadly uncle-nephew duo on the blue line, Gary Suter has some of the same traits his son has. His longevity sticks off the page, as he registered 1,145 NHL games, and he was also efficient on the offensive end of the ice, scoring 203 goals and 844 points.
The most impressive season of the elder Suter’s career came in 1987-88, where he scored a whopping 21 goals and 91 points, finished third in Norris Trophy voting, and eighth in Hart voting. He was in the same conversation as Ray Bourque that season, which tells you enough about how good he was that year.
Suter was also a crucial part of the Calgary Flames team that won the Stanley Cup in 1989, as he had 13 goals and 62 points in 63 games that season, playing only five games in the playoffs.
LW – Craig Smith
Craig Smith has flown under the radar as one of the more dependable top-six forwards in his decade-long NHL career. In nine seasons with the Nashville Predators, Smith put up 162 goals and 330 points, ranking sixth all-time in points and fifth all-time in goals in franchise history.
Smith’s Predators tenure earned him a three-year, $9.3 million deal with the Boston Bruins, and it has paid dividends for them. In 32 games, Smith has 6 goals and 14 points, which isn’t bad for second or third liner on such a deep offensive team like the Bruins.
Smith’s M.O. has been to be a dependable secondary scoring option, and that was exactly what he was for the past decade. He is a five-time 20 goal scorer, and would arguably have one more if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cut the 2019-20 season short, as he finished the abbreviated season with 18.
C – Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski has been arguably one of the most dependable two-way forwards in the NHL for the past 15 years. Of his 15 seasons in the league, Pavelski has received votes for the Selke Trophy in 11 of them, and he hasn’t been a slouch offensively either. In 1,064 games, Pavelski has 384 goals and 826 points.
Pavelski’s best season came in 2013-14, when he scored 41 goals and 79 points in 82 games, finishing seventh in Hart Trophy voting and eighth in Selke Trophy voting. That was the best of his five seasons with at least 30 or more goals, and he has also been dependable in the playoffs.
The magnum opus of his playoff runs came in 2015-16, when he led the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final and scored 14 goals and 23 points, leading all players in the postseason in goals. He also made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last season, scoring 13 goals and 19 points in 27 playoff games.
RW – Phil Kessel
Simply put, there isn’t an all-time Wisconsin lineup without Phil The Thrill. Everyone’s favorite hot dog-eating two-time Stanley Cup champion leads all Wisconsinites in goals (385) and points (887), which is especially impressive considering the man beat cancer.
Phil Kessel was one of the more polarizing players of the early 2010s, receiving a lot of undeserved hate from Toronto media and fans. Despite the horrid treatment, Kessel put up 181 goals and 394 points in his six seasons as a Maple Leaf, leading them to the playoffs in 2012-13.
Upon his trade to Pittsburgh, Kessel became a crucial part of the Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. He showed up in the playoffs too, scoring 22 and 23 points respectively in both playoff runs. He had his best season the following year, scoring 34 goals and 92 points in 82 games in 2017-18.
Things could change over the next few decades, but the way things are, Wisconsin has produced some amazing talent. With Cole Caufield and many others on the way, Wisconsin should be a state to watch for when it comes to producing hockey talent.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a social media manager and photographer for FAU Owls Nest. Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press.