There are some NHL players who are perennial contenders for places on all-star teams, and then there are others who come right out of nowhere to top the voting leaderboards – even if they don’t end up making the team for whatever reason. Furthermore, there are some whose path to the All-Star Game isn’t really that surprising, but their path to the NHL itself is one that came very much as a surprise considering their initial circumstances. These kinds of players are the ones this list will be focusing on, as we’ll be counting down the top 10 most unlikely or surprising players to be tied to the NHL All-Star Game.
The top two entries on this list aren’t players that actually made all-star teams, but were (or in the case of one of them, currently are) ones that were the subjects of surprise campaigns that caught a significant amount of steam over the Internet – even if their playing abilities aren’t exactly all-star quality. For players earlier on in the list, they’ve made it either because all odds seemed to be stacked against them on their way to the NHL – whether because of size issues or prolonged careers in Europe or the minors – or because their age seemed like it would be a hindrance. Whatever the reason, the NHL All-Star Game is far from being as cut and dry as one might think.
With the exception of the top two (especially since one of them is just beginning their NHL career), these players have certainly accomplished enough through their careers to justify a place in the league’s most fun mid-season game. Without further ado, here are the 10 most surprising NHL All-Star players or candidates, regardless of whether they actually made the game or not.
10 Peter Stastny: Played in 6 NHL All-Star Games – 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988
Arguably one of the best players to ever have to defect from overseas to play in the NHL, Peter Stastny’s rise to becoming an NHL All-Star isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is the fact that he made it to North America as one of the first players to defect. A trailblazer alongside other players defecting from communist countries in the early ‘80s, Stastny ended up scoring 109 points in his rookie season with the Quebec Nordiques to kick off a career that ended with six All-Star Game appearances and a place in the Hall of Fame. By doing something other players in his situation weren’t, Stastny was able to become the NHL All-Star he always had a reputation for being.
9 Martin St. Louis: Played in 6 NHL All-Star Games - 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011
If there’s any great example out there of a small player taking his lack of size and making up for it in every way imaginable, look no further than Marty St. Louis. After failing to make the grade in Calgary and Ottawa, St. Louis eventually signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. What would follow was a glittering career consisting of six trips to the NHL All-Star Game, a Hart Memorial Trophy win in 2004, and a Stanley Cup championship that same year. At 39 years of age, St. Louis is still a consistently high point-getter with the New York Rangers.
8 Joe Mullen: Played in 1 All-Star Game - 1988
Though he wouldn’t really be a small guy by today’s standards, Joe Mullen was considered to be at a disadvantage for his height during his playing days in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Not only that, but he was a late bloomer of sorts due to the fact that he didn’t start skating until he was 10. The former Miracle on Ice player for the U.S. national team also went undrafted, but he turned his disadvantages into triumph: he played in three All-Star Games and became the first U.S.-born player to get 1,000 points in a career. That led to him eventually being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
7 Chris Chelios: Played in 11 NHL All-Star Games: 1985, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2002 (At Age 40)
In Chris Chelios’ last season in 2009-10, he played seven games with the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) at 48 years of age. Far older than most players are able to keep playing in the NHL, Chelios did something else players of his age rarely do: play in an NHL All-Star Game at the age of 40, which is exactly what happened to him in 2002 when he was selected for his 11th trip to the game. What’s even more impressive is that he put up a pretty big point total of 40 points in 79 games, and helped the Detroit Red Wings capture the Stanley Cup that very season.
6 Brian Rafalski: Played in One All-Star Game - 2007
If you’re a North American hockey player but have had to spend some seasons plying your trade overseas, chances are your odds of making the NHL are slim. Brian Rafalski took this logic and laughed in its face, coming back to the United States after several seasons in Sweden and Finland in the ‘90s to have a fantastic career with both the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings. In addition to becoming a consistent member of the U.S. national team as a result, Rafalski played in one NHL All-Star Game in 2007 and also won three Stanley Cups.
5 Eddie Giacomin: Played in 6 NHL All-Star Games - 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1973
Spending such a long time in the minors prior to reaching the NHL doesn’t exactly bode well for the careers of a lot of players, but for Eddie Giacomin, his patience ended up paying off. Since during the days of the Original Six each NHL team had one goalie and no backups, it was extremely difficult for goalies on the outside looking in to break into an NHL club. Giacomin was traded to the New York Rangers from the AHL’s Providence Reds, bringing the Rangers to a then-rare appearance in the playoffs in his second season and finding himself named to six All-Star Games.
4 Tim Thomas: Played in 4 All-Star Games - 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012
Say what you will about Tim Thomas as a person, but you’ve got to admit that his journey to the NHL was a remarkable one – not to mention he knows what it takes to win it all. Like Rafalski, Thomas cut his teeth playing in Finland and Sweden in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and bounced between the ECHL, AHL and IHL in between. It would take him until the 2005-06 season to really get a good number of NHL games in with the Boston Bruins, who he’d eventually backstop all the way to the Stanley Cup in 2011, and the current free agent has four All-Star Games to his name as well.
3 Gordie Howe: Played in 23 All-Star Games - Last in 1980 at age 51
Arguably the biggest example of playing at a high level and defying age in the process, Gordie Howe’s last NHL All-Star Game was in 1980, after he was selected by Scotty Bowman to the team at the age of 51 – in which Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena gave him two standing ovations. The only NHLer to go through five decades still actively playing the game, Howe had returned from the NHL after a number of years playing in Houston and New England in the WHA. Although he’d only put up 41 points in 80 games in his final season, the fact that he was able to play at that level for someone of his age is nothing short of astounding.
2 Zemgus Girgensons: First All-Star Game - 2015
Unlike all of the other players on this list, Zemgus Girgensons’ career has barely just begun. A member of the struggling Buffalo Sabres, the Latvian has been high atop the leaderboard of votes for this year’s NHL All-Star Game, largely due to votes coming from people in his home country. Far from being an elite scorer, Girgensons is likely to make the game barring a catastrophe of epic proportions, as voting for this year’s All-Star Game is now closed. Perhaps the moral of this story is: never underestimate a small country and their proficiency with computers. Speaking of viral online All-Star Game campaigns…
1 Rory Fitzpatrick: Nominated for 1 NHL All-Star Game - 2007
Though this former NHL journeyman never actually made it to the game, many still remember his gigantic campaign backing him as a write-in candidate for the 2007 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas. A member of the Vancouver Canucks at the time, Fitzpatrick was never more than a depth defenseman for any of the six teams he played for throughout his career, and his campaign to get into the game was started by a user of the website SomethingAwful to expose a loophole in the NHL’s voting system to show that anyone could get voted into the game if there were enough votes. Fitzpatrick finished third in voting for Western Conference defensemen behind Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom.