The country of Slovakia has only 5.4 million inhabitants, about half of what LA County’s population is. But that has not prevented them from being a hockey powerhouse on the world stage, with the likes of the Stastny brothers, Marian, Peter, and Anton or the Hossa brothers, Marcel and Marian being amongst the best to come out of the small Eastern European nation. This article will explore the top five best Slovak players to come through the Los Angeles Kings over the franchise’s history. This list will come in no particular order; however, I will give my thoughts on who the best player is in the final verdict.
Visnovsky was drafted by the Kings in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft in the 4th round, 118th overall. The only player on this list to be drafted by the Kings, Visnovsky was a small and mobile defenseman. He skated and passed well and put up a lot of points for a defenseman. Je played a total of seven seasons with the Kings and was even awarded the assistant captaincy in his final year with the team. He earned some impressive accolades and achieved impressive statistics during his tenure with the team.
In his rookie season, Visnovsky was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team, in 2006-2007, he was invited to NHL All-Star Game. In 2005-2006, he scored 67 points. That would be considered a good mark for a forward but for a defenseman, that’s considered elite. In his seven seasons with the team, Visnovsky played 499 games, scored 70 goals and tallied 209 assists for a total of 279 points.
Handzus was drafted in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth round, 101st overall. Handzus is a massive center. He stood at 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 220 pounds. His size was helpful in winning faceoffs and makes him a good defensive forward. In the summer of 2007, Handzus signed a four year deal with the Kings and would play out the entire deal with the team.
Thus, Handzus holds the second shortest seasonal tenure with the team at only four seasons behind only Marian Gaborik. In those four seasons, Handzus was a very durable and reliable player, missing only one game out of a possible 328. In 327 games, Handzus scored 57 goals, tallied 78 assists for a total of 135 points with the Kings.
Gaborik was a Minnesota Wild draft pick, third overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He went that high for a reason. He was a fast and explosive skater and had a very accurate shot, which is what made him one of the best Slovak players in league history. Gaborik was towards the tail end of his prime when the Kings acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
He was still in his prime nonetheless, which proved to be an extremely valuable acquisition by the Kings as Gaborik helped them win a Stanley Cup in 2014, leading the league in playoff goals that season with 14 and being the only player on this list to win the Stanley Cup. Gaborik spent three seasons with the Kings, playing in 228 games, scoring 61 goals and tallying 59 assists for 120 points.
Stumpel was a second-round pick (40th overall) at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins. He was a big, strong center with excellent hockey IQ and a useful two-way player who had a strong passing game. The Kings acquired Stumpel in the summer prior to the start of the 1997-98 season. Stumpel is one of the most successful Slovaks in league history and was a prolific center for the Kings during his time with the team. He is the best Czech or Slovak center who ever played for the team and the one who has played the most games, which goes hand in hand. In his career, he tallied 76 goals and dished out 191 assists for 267 points in 334 games. These totals are good enough for second in goals, assists and points on this list.
Palffy, sometimes referred to as “Ziggy,” was a second-round pick (26th overall) in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, 14 spots ahead of his lifelong friend, Jozef Stumpel. Palffy was a fast and strong skater, something common among the Slovaks on this list. The other commonality he had was a sharp shot he used often to put up lots of goals.
The Islanders traded Palffy to the Kings during the 1999 offseason, where he’d put up impressive points totals. In five seasons in Los Angeles, he played 311 games, scoring 150 goals and adding 190 assists for 340 points. That’s well over a point-per-game, making Palffy the most successful point getting Slovak in the team’s history.
The Final Verdict
Of these five players, picking the best Slovak to have ever played for the Kings was tough. Stumpel had a long tenure and was a solid all-around player. Palffy was another tough choice, he scored lots of goals and points but his off-ice issues and shorter tenure made me decide against him. The best Slovak in LA Kings’ history is Visnovsky and he has a lot to show for it along with the fact he spent 150 more games than Stumpel. Visnovsky also went to the All-Star Game as a King and was named to the all-rookie team.
Visnovsky also had a higher points-per-game average (P/G) in his tenure with the Kings than Drew Doughty has had so far during his career, although not by much; .56 P/G for Visnovksy and .55 for Doughty. What should also be taken into consideration is that Visnovsky played only half the amount of games in his tenure with the Kings, 499 games vs 930 games for Doughty. It may be a bold decision but Visnovsky is one of the best defensemen in the team’s history. Period.
My name is Nicholas Chudoba and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I am a life long Kings fan and have been around hockey in some capacity being, watching it, writing about it or playing it. I am an avid gear nerd and I take great interest in what equipment the players use. I also take great interest in observing the game and learning from what the professionals do and integrate it into my own skill set. Hockey is the greatest game and I couldn’t be happier having the oppurtunity to write about it!