The NHL has had 7,623 players suit up since it first started in 1917. Of those 7,000-plus players, only about 80 have been of Indigenous heritage, which makes up only 1.5 percent of the players in the NHL (From Recasting the History of Pro Hockey’s Indigenous Players, New York Times, June 25, 2018). The first recorded Indigenous player was Fred Saskamoose, who played 11 games with the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season. Since then, there have been several successful Indigenous players in the NHL – this is a look at the top five First Nations, Metis and Inuit players in the NHL.
5. T.J Oshie – Ojibwe
T.J. Oshie was born in Mount Vernon, Washington in 1986 but lived most of his life in Everett, north of Seattle. It wasn’t until 2002, when Oshie moved to Warroad, Minnesota, that he learned he was of Ojibwe descent. The St. Louis Blues drafted Oshie in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, 24th overall.
Oshie is currently in his 13th season, having six 20-goal seasons and a 30-goal season once. He played his first seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to the Washington Capitals in 2015. In 2018, Oshie won his first Stanley Cup, having helped the Capitals get there by scoring 21 points in 24 playoff games. He had 43 points in 53 games this past season and finished second in the league in power-play (PP) goals with 13. Oshie has accumulated 260 goals and 610 points in 856 career NHL games.
4. Theo Fleury – Metis
Theo Fleury was born in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, in 1968. Fleury’s grandmother was Cree, and he is of Metis heritage. He started playing hockey at the age of five, and even though he was small in stature, he quickly became a highly skilled player through hard work and determination. Fleury played in two World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) for Canada, one being the infamous 1987 tournament, where Canada and Russia were both disqualified for a bench-clearing line brawl.
Fleury was an eighth-round draft pick in 1988 and won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in his rookie season in 1989. He played 11 seasons with the Flames before being traded to the New York Rangers, then finished off the last two seasons of his 15-year career with the Colorado Avalanche and the Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury had 1,088 points in 1,084 games played in the NHL. He was successful internationally as well, having won gold at the WJHC in 1988, a Canada Cup championship in 1991, and Olympic gold in 2002.
3. Reggie Leach – Ojibwe
Reggie Leach will always be remembered as a Philadelphia Flyer, but the Boston Bruins drafted him in the 1970 Amateur Draft. By 1972, the Bruins had traded him to the lowly California Golden Seals. After three seasons there, fortune turned in Leach’s favour, and they traded him to the Flyers in 1974. Leach won the Stanley Cup with the Flyers in 1975, the team’s second in a row and Leach’s first.
Leach’s most successful season was in 1975-76 when he led the league with 61 goals; he continued his scoring pace in the playoffs, scoring a record 19 goals in 16 games. Leach won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP in 1976 even though he was on the losing team, one of only five players to ever do so. Leach is of Ojibwe heritage and a member of the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba. He scored 666 points — 381 goals — in 934 NHL games.
2. Carey Price – Ulkatcho First Nation
Carey Price has been the superstar goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens for the past 14 seasons and is considered by many the best goaltender in the NHL. Price was born in Vancouver, but grew up in Anaheim Lake and is of Nuxalk and Southern Carrier Aboriginal heritage; his mother, Lynda Price, is the Chief of Ulkatcho First Nation. Price was born with goaltending in his blood: his father was a Flyers draft pick in 1978 as a goaltender, but he never made the NHL.
Price has had many accomplishments both internationally and with the Canadiens. He has won the Vezina Trophy for top goaltender, Hart Trophy for league MVP, William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed, and the Ted Lindsay Award for best player in the NHL as voted by the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) in 2015. He was only the second player in Canadiens franchise history to win four awards in one season. Internationally, Price has won WJHC gold in 2007, Olympic gold in 2014, and World Cup of Hockey gold in 2016. He was also made honorary co-chair of the 2010 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.
1. Bryan Trottier – Metis
Bryan Trottier is an iconic New York Islanders legend who helped the franchise win four Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1983. He himself won two more Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992 before retiring after the 1993-94 season. Trottier was raised in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, and his father is of Cree/Metis descent. His accomplishments over his 18-year career have made him one of the greatest Indigenous players in the NHL.
The Islanders drafted Trottier in 1975, and he made his professional debut in the 1975-76 season, scoring 95 points and winning the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He won the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s top scorer with 134 points and the Hart Trophy in 1978-79; he had six seasons with 100 or more points but only one 50 goal campaign in 1981-82. Trottier was a core piece in the Islanders’ run of four Stanley Cups, winning the Conn Smythe in 1980. Over his career, he scored 524 goals, 1425 points in 1279 games, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.
There are six active Indigenous players in the NHL: Ethan Bear, Cree – Edmonton Oilers; Zack Whitecloud, Sioux – Vegas Golden Knights; Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens, T.J. Oshie – Washington Capitals, Brandon Montour, Mohawk- Florida Panthers; and Travis Hamonic, Métis – Calgary Flames.
With the recent tragic discoveries happening across Canada involving residential schools, it’s good to know that there are success stories from all walks of life and sports. We cannot change the past but must learn from it to make a better future.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.