The London Knights have been one of the most consistently successful teams in Major Junior, period. With two Memorial Cups (2005, 2016) and four OHL Championshionships in the last 15 years, the Knights know how to build a successful roster. With that, their alumni network is far-reaching, making assembling this list a difficult task.
For example, the Knights have the most first-overall picks in NHL Draft history, not only more than any other Major Junior team but more than any club in the world. With all that being said, let’s get to the task at hand, which is determining the five most successful, former London Knights players.
5. Rick Nash
The fifth pick is the toughest selection by far on this list. For this spot, I had, Bo Horvat, Mitch Marner, Corey Perry, John Carlson, and Jason Allison as potential candidates. In the end, I went for the iconic Rick Nash, who in my opinion, does not nearly get enough credit for the career he had.
Two Olympic gold medals, a Rocket Richard Trophy with conditions, and six All-Star game appearances are only some of the reasons Nash is the best Columbus Blue Jacket of all-time. He finished his career in 2018 with 805 points in 1,060 games and is arguably the greatest power-forward of the 21st century.
Debatably, his most important accomplishment is how he represented the Blue Jackets. In an expansion era which was anything but easy for the organization, Nash helped the team become relevant, hopefully keeping them in the city for decades to come. This impact is none-the-more evident by his role as the cover athlete on NHL 2K9, which represented his impact on hockey culture.
In his prime, I hated watching him play against my Vancouver Canucks, but maybe that’s the best compliment I can give the gritty yet prolific power forward. Saying that, I will never forget his impact on that 2010 Olympic roster, and I firmly believe he deserves to be at No. 5 on this list.
4. John Tavares
It seems like when I do these CHL pieces, I’m always talking about John Tavares, and that’s for a good reason. This pick may become an unfair selection, as Tavares only played 24 games with the London Knights, but I still unequivocally believe he should be on this list.
In those 24 games for the Knights, Tavares had 50 points, and he was still yet to be drafted into the NHL. From those numbers, he was the near-consensus top overall prospect in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
He ended up playing nine seasons with the New York Islanders (the team he was drafted by), before making the move to his boyhood club the Toronto Maple Leafs. As of July 2020, Tavares has played over 800 games and has 769 points. He has an Olympic gold medal and was a Hart Trophy finalist in 2015. His career is far from over, but even if he retired now, he would be in contention for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
3. Patrick Kane
One of the greatest American players of all-time, and he’s still only 31 years old. Patrick Kane’s time with the London Knights was short but sweet. Arriving after he broke all of Phil Kessel’s records with the United States National Development Team, Kane did not skip a beat in his transition to the OHL. After 145 points in 58 regular-season games for the Knights, it’s easy to see how Kane had such success in the NHL.
Drafted first-overall to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, Kane came out-of-the-box immediately ready to make an impact. In his rookie season in Chicago, Kane had 72 points, and he never looked back from there.
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As of writing, Kane has played 973 games, with 1,022 points in the NHL, and it makes you daydream just how many points he can get once his career is said and done. Kane is undoubtedly one of the greatest American players of all time, and his story is still far from over.
2. Darryl Sittler
The first of the oldtimers on this list, Sittler is the only player of the London Nationals and the Knights to make the grade. (from ‘Darryl Sittler says it is right to remember the London Nationals,’ London Free Press, 01/16/2015) With over 250 points in three seasons with the Knights/Nationals, Sittler was a star coming out of Junior. Even with those impressive point totals, he was only drafted eighth overall in the 1970 NHL Draft, but that’s only the beginning of the story.
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in that 1970 draft, Sittler struggled to make an immediate impact in his first two seasons. Fast forward to the 1972-73 season, and he was averaging a point-per-game which he would average until his time with the Leafs ended in 1982.
What may be overlooked by many in the younger generation is just how much of a playoff performer Sittler was. Although he never won a Cup with the Leafs, he had some awe-inspiring stat lines. In 1977, he had 21 points in just nine playoff games! He was a point-per-game player in the postseason four times over the 14 times he made it to the post-season.
If we are discussing the playoffs, we also have to discuss the only knock on one of the greatest Maple Leafs of all-time, and that is the lack of a Stanley Cup. Especially when the guy behind him and in front of him on this list has multiple, Sittler’s lack of a ring is about the only thing in his career that disappoints.
1. Brendan Shanahan
When you discuss individuals who bleed hockey, Brendan Shanahan’s name is one that always has to come up. He played over 20 seasons in the NHL, then went on to spend time in the front office of the league itself, then went to work for the Toronto Maple Leafs as their President of Hockey Operations.
Although I could spend all day listing his accomplishments, let’s step back one second and talk about his time in London. With the Knights, Shanahan had 154 points and 198 PIM over two seasons in the OHL. These performances were good enough for him to be selected second overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.
As I said earlier, I could spend all day listing his NHL accomplishments, so I’m going to launch them at you rapid-fire, ready? Olympic gold medal (2002), World Championship gold (1994), three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002) – ok, let’s take a breath. How about individually? Well, let’s wind it up again. Eight All-Star game appearances, the only player to end their career with more than 600 goals and over 2000 penalty minutes, and the second-most goals ever by a left-winger are what set him apart on an individual level.
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The worst part about those lists above is I left off things because there is just too much to talk about. With all of that being said, the real reason Shanahan is No. 1 on this list is his impact on the game of hockey. (from ‘Shanahan Made the N.H.L. a Safer Place,’ New York Times, 04/12/2014) His work with the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs has dramatically influenced both cultures and has had a visible effect on the hockey world. Shanahan’s mark on the league will always be there, and that’s what makes him the top London Knights Alumni.
Who’s Up Next?
There are many top London Knights of the past and the present who could eventually make their way onto this list, but as of right now, these are the top five. How will Patrick Kane’s career end? Will John Tavares win a Stanley Cup? If you have a question, feel free to put it in the comments below, and let’s start a discussion!