Through 48 years in the NHL, the New York Islanders have had some of the best players ever to play the game. They are also a very diverse team with many different players coming from around the world. Let us take a look at the best player to play for the Islanders from each country and what impact they made not only with New York, but for their home country as well.
Austria: Michael Grabner
For all the weak moves Garth Snow made with the Islanders, he was able to claim Michael Grabner off waivers. Grabner was a Calder Trophy finalist after scoring 34 goals in his first season with the team. He followed that up with 20 his next season and 16 in the shortened 2012-13 season. His biggest weakness, though, was his inability to score on breakaways. Perhaps one of the quickest skaters in the NHL during his early part of his career, he seemed to have a breakaway every night but rarely converted.
However, he scored an exciting overtime goal against the Jets in a 7-6 win for New York. Grabner also scored a goal and had three helpers in six games during the 2012-13 playoffs before going on to play for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. He also excelled playing for Austria in the 2014 Olympics, scoring five goals, including a hat trick against Finland after his team failed to qualify in 2009 after their loss to Germany.
Belarus: Mikhail Grabovski
In his final two seasons in the NHL, Mikhail Grabovski played for the Islanders. He signed a four-year contract worth $20 million, but never really lived up to it with all the injuries he had. In his two seasons, he scored 18 total goals. His most memorable goal came against the St. Louis Blues in overtime. He later was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights after they selected J.F. Berube under the condition that they would acquire Grabovski as well as Jake Bischoff and a first and second-round draft pick in the expansion draft in 2017. Grabovski never played for Vegas and ended up retiring and is currently coaching in the KHL.
Canada: Mike Bossy
Not only is the best player ever to wear to represent Canada for the Islanders, but Mike Bossy will also go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the NHL. Among all of the awards he won, Bossy never scored fewer than 50 goals in his 10 seasons other than his final season in 1986-87 when he was limited to 63 games. He had as many as 147 points in a single season and became the second player in NHL history ever to score 50 goals in 50 games in the 1980-81 season.
Named among 100 greatest players of all time, Bossy scored 573 regular-season goals and had 1,126 points. In the postseason, he added another 85 goals. He was the only player to score consecutive Stanley Cup-winning goals in 1982 and 1983 as well as the lone player to score four-consecutive game-winning goals in the 1983 Conference Final. Bossy was forced to retire due to a back issue, but ranks third all-time in goals and points in the regular season. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
Bossy played two seasons for his home country in the Canada Cup and scored 13 goals in 15 career games, including an overtime winner against the Soviet Union in the semifinals in 1984. Canada eventually went on to win the championship after falling in the finals in 1981.
Czech Republic: David Volek
David Volek only played five professional seasons in the NHL, but they all came with the Islanders. His career was cut short due to a herniated disc, which required surgery. However, in his stay with the Islanders, he had 249 points and scored one of the most important goals in Islanders’ history. In Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he scored in overtime to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup champions on a two-on-one with Ray Ferraro.
In his first season with the Islanders, he had a career-high of 25 goals but had the most points in his career in the 1991-92 season when he had 42 assists for 60 points in the season. Volek also added three playoff goals along with his overtime winner in 10 games during the Islanders’ run to the Eastern Conference Final and averaged a point per game in the playoffs in 1990. He spent seven seasons representing the Czech Republic internationally starting in juniors. He played in the World Hockey Championships twice, Canada Cup once and in the 1988 Olympics where he had a goal and three points helping the Czech Republic advance to the final round.
Denmark: Frans Nielsen
There are less than a dozen players currently in the league from Denmark, but Frans Nielsen was the first Danish player to play in the NHL. He was a terrific Islander during his time. Approaching 900 NHL career games, he spent 10 seasons on Long Island and was one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He had two seasons scoring 20 or more goals with his career-high of 25 coming in the 2013-14 season.
While he was with the Islanders for much of their rebuild, he was able to participate in three playoff series and score 4 goals in 24 games. However, he is most remembered for his patented backhand move in the shootout. He ranks second all-time in shootout goals with 49 and has had 23 of them come as the game-deciding goal to lead the NHL.
Nielsen also had the chance to represent Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where he won a bronze medal and played seven seasons with Denmark in the World Championship. He is currently playing for the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings, where he struggled along with his teammates in a disappointing 2019-20 season.
Finland: Mikko Makela
On a team that consisted of four future Hall of Famers, Mikko Makela from Finland finished the 1987-88 season as the second leading goal scorer on the Islanders. His 36 goals were a career-high as he spent five seasons with the team to begin his career. He finished five goals shy of 100 in his time on Long Island but had three in the playoffs. He was later traded in 1989 for Hubie McDonough and Ken Baumgartner and only played in the NHL for seven seasons.
Germany: Thomas Greiss
Thomas Greiss was a backup goaltender for much of his career until he became a member of the Islanders. At the time of his signing, he was the second man behind Jaroslav Halak, but ended up playing in half the regular-season games in the 2015-16 season. When Halak went down with an injury late in the season, Greiss was in net and stole the show, helping the Islanders win their first playoff series in 23 seasons against the Florida Panthers. He won five games during the playoffs that season, including three games that went into overtime.
The following season, he played in a career-high 51 games where he went 26-18-5 and then shared the Jennings Trophy with Robin Lehner for allowing the fewest goals as a team in 2018-19. Greiss alternated in net with Semyon Varlamov before the suspension of the season, but will likely find a new home in 2020-21 with Islanders young net-minder Ilya Sorokin planning to come to the NHL.
Jamaica: Graeme Townsend
Graeme Townsend was the first Jamaican-born player ever to appear in the NHL. He was raised in Canada, where he began his professional career and had two seasons with the Islanders where he played in just nine games. However, he scored his first goal with the team against the Quebec Nordiques in an Islanders 5-2 win in his second game. His very next game, Townsend assisted on the first two goals scored by Ferraro in a game where he scored four goals in another 5-2 win this time over the Detroit Red Wings.
Kazakhstani: Evgeni Nabokov
Despite Evgeni Nabokov not wanting to join the New York Islanders, when it was all said and done, he had a nice little run with New York. He played in 123 games for the Islanders and won 57 games as well as two playoff games. He also played for Kazakhstan in the IIHF World Championship back in 1994 before going to play in a pair of Olympics for Russia.
Latvia: Grigorijs Pantelejevs
The only player from Latvia to ever play for the Islanders was Grigorijs Pantelejevs. He played in four games and did not register a point. Before coming to the Islanders, he scored in all eight of his NHL games with the Boston Bruins and went to play overseas for much of his career. He also played in the World Championship from 2000-2007, scoring at least a goal in his first five tournaments.
Lithuania: Darius Kasparaitis
Darius Kasparaitis from Lithuania was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders in the 1992 NHL Draft and played parts of five seasons with the team. Prior to playing with New York, he won a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics and has played in the most Olympic Games for a Russian National Team with 28.
While with the Islanders, Kasparaitis had his best season in his rookie year when he scored 4 goals and tallied 21 points. He also had his only season with a positive plus-minus and had five assists during the 1993 playoffs. He also spent time in the penalty box as he combined for over 200 penalty minutes in his first two seasons.
Norway: Anders Myrvold
The Islanders only had one player come from Norway and it was Anders Myrvold. The defenseman played in 12 games with New York and picked up his lone point on the power play as he set up Garry Galley in an Islanders 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. He played in 46 World Championship games for Norway and scored 7 goals and had 19 points.
Poland: Mariusz Czerkawski
Mariusz Czerkawski had a six-season run with the New York Islanders and was the first Polish hockey player to play the NHL. He scored at least 20 goals in all but one season and had a career-high of 35 in the 1999-2000 season as well as making it to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. He again scored 30 goals the following season and played in 12 playoff games and scored twice. He represented Poland internationally on many occasions and participated in the 1992 Olympics as well as the World Championship in 2002.
Russia: Alexi Yashin
Despite being part of the deal that sent Zdeno Chara to the Ottawa Senators and his $87.5 million contract, Alexi Yashin was one of the few Russian-born players to find any success with the Islanders. After back-to-back 40-goal seasons in Ottawa, Yashin scored 32 goals in his first season on Long Island and added three goals in the memorable playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002.
Prior to being bought out by the Islanders, Yashin struggled to produce. He finished his five-season stay with the Islanders scoring 119 goals, which ranks 24th all-time in team history. He also participated in the Olympics three times, including twice while playing for the Islanders, and won two medals in his career.
Slovakia: Ziggy Palffy
The Islanders have only had 12 players score 40 or more goals in a season, and Slovakian forward Ziggy Palffy accomplished that for three consecutive seasons in his tenure with New York. In the 1995-96 season, he scored 43 goals and then topped that the next season with 48. He also added 42 assists to reach 90 points for the only time in his career and then scored 45 goals in 1997-98.
The only negative part of his time with the Islanders was that he never played in any playoff games — the team around him did not give him much help in the late 90’s when the Islanders went seven straight seasons of missing the postseason. A three-time Olympian for Slovakia, Palffy was recently passed in goals by current captain Anders Lee at 168 and currently sits 30 points ahead of Lee at 20th all-time in Islanders’ history.
South Korea: Richard Park
There are very few players to come from South Korea, but Richard Park was always a fan-favorite during his days. His game wasn’t flashy by any measures, but coaches always knew what they were going to get from him. He scored at least 10 goals in his first three seasons with the Islanders and then had nine in the 2009-10 season.
Park was an alternate captain for one season and played the game the right way. He was an exceptional skater and helped out the penalty kill on some of the least talented teams in Islanders’ history. Park is currently an assistant coach for the South Korea National Team under head coach Jim Peak.
Switzerland: Mark Streit
Swiss defenseman Mark Streit played four seasons with the Islanders and was one of 15 captains in team history. He signed a five-year contract extension worth $20 million to make him — at the time — the second-highest-paid Swiss athlete behind the great Rodger Federer. Despite playing defense, Streit was very active with the offense leading the power play and scored a career-high 16 goals for New York in 2008-09.
He later had one more season where he scored at least 10 goals which came in 2009-10, but suffered a scary shoulder injury the following season in a team scrimmage after being hit by former Islander Matt Moulson and missed the entire season.
After coming back in 2011, he played two more seasons with the Islanders, where he scored a memorable overtime goal against the Los Angeles Kings. He appeared in the playoffs once with the team, scoring twice in five games before eventually winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Streit played in 10 consecutive World Championships and a pair of Olympics, including 2006 when he was named the team captain.
Sweden: Bobby Nystrom
Bobby Nystrom scored the biggest goal in franchise history to win the team their first-ever Stanley Cup and at the time became the 12th player ever to do that in NHL history. While he is most remembered for that one goal at 7:11 of overtime, he scored the game-winner in the extra session in both the 1978 and 1979 playoffs. He was also the hero in Round 2 of the 1980 playoffs with a goal at 1:20 into overtime against the Buffalo Sabres.
For a long time, he was the only Islander player to have his jersey retired for someone who is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame until Jon Tonelli and Butch Goring were honored this season. Nystrom’s career-high in goals came in 1980 when he scored 30 goals and is considered Mr. Islander for playing his entire NHL career with New York. He routinely accumulated over 100 penalty minutes a season and has the Bob Nystrom Award named after him for the Islander that exemplifies leadership, hustle, and dedication.
Ukraine: Alexei Zhitnik
The Islanders only two players to come from Ukraine were Alexei Zhitnik and Ruslan Fedotenko. While both players’ time with the Islanders was brief, Zhitnik made a bit more of an impact from the blue line. In his first season in 2005-06, he finished second on the team by defenders with 29 points while missing the final 18 games of the season with a fractured ankle. He then played half a season the following year before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Zhitnik was a three-time Olympian playing for Russia and was teammates with Yashin during the 2006 Olympic games. Earlier in his career, he won an Olympic gold medal playing for the Commonwealth of Independent States where his team won 11 of the 13 games.
United Kingdom: Steve Thomas
Steve Thomas played for the Islanders for four seasons and was one of the best goal scorers in team history. He reached the 40-goal plateau in 1992-93, but had 12 more points in his previous season with 87. Also that year, in 18 playoff games, Thomas scored nine goals and was basically a point per game type player, becoming the hero after Pierre Turgeon was injured by Dale Hunter after his game-winning goal.
Expectations were always high for him as he was acquired in a deal for Brent Sutter and then was eventually traded for Claude Lemieux from the New Jersey Devils. Thomas was undrafted and went on to score 10 goals in international play and finish 67 points shy of 1,000 in his NHL career.
United States: Pat LaFontaine
Even with all the success the Islanders had with their four straight Stanley Cups, they were able to bring on Pat LaFontaine to the team in the 1983 NHL Draft. While he never won a championship with Longs Island, he had a tremendous career with the Islanders. He was one of four players to ever score 50 goals in a season for New York when he had a career-high 54 in the 1989-90 season.
LaFontaine had three other seasons with the Islanders, where he scored at least 40 goals and was able to reach 50 again when he was with Buffalo after he left the Islanders. The goal he is most remembered for with the Islanders came in the fourth overtime against the Washington Capitals in what many people call the Easter Epic. LaFontaine advanced the team to the Division Final and also scored in overtime in 1988 in Game 1 of the Divisional Semifinals against the New Jersey Devils.
While some of these players were only here for a short time, they all have helped the Islanders at one point in time. Some of them were part of the greatest dynasties in all of sports when the team won four-straight Stanley Cups and won 19 consecutive playoff series. They have made long runs in many other postseasons and seem to be back to being a Stanley Cup contender with their new head coach Barry Trotz.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.