Black History Month is upon us providing the perfect moment to look at Africa's contributions to the game of hockey. The month of February also sees the NHL celebrate Hockey is for Everyone with events that include clubs, players, alumni and non-profit youth hockey programs. To learn more about the programs and the black players that have competed in the NHL, have a look at the two videos shown below prior to the listing.
While blacks have been a minority in the sport of hockey, more and more players are breaking into the league with increased opportunities and awareness becoming available. Finding lists that name the best players from Russia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden or the Czech Republic isn't very problematic. But there hasn't been an authentic look at the talents of black performers and frankly, they deserve it.
In terms of the criteria, current players will only be looked at so don't expect to find Grant Fuhr or other former players here. We'll analyze their skills and specialties while also focusing on the importance of their roles and how far along they are in reaching the primes of their years. That means younger individuals will be ranked higher than some of the experienced veterans whose greatest seasons are behind them. And of course, their statistics from this season will factor heavily into the decisions.
Despite not owning the largest body, Dawes crashes the net recklessly and puts in tiring efforts to set himself up for scoring chances. The 24-year-old has soft hands and a goal-scorer's wisdom but hasn't totaled more than 14 goals (career-high) since 2008. Strange as it is, that's what the inconsistent Dawes is on pace for through 51 games in Calgary.
What he must do is learn from the Mike Cammalleri's and Martin St. Louis' who have proven how irrelevant height is if you have the drive and will to succeed.
Grier's prior one and only campaign with the Buffalo Sabres resulted in a lengthy postseason run. It's unknown whether that will happen in his second stint here but a playoff berth looks to be on the horizon; we know that much. A veteran of 12 seasons, Grier is a heart-and-soul type of forward with terrific leadership traits and good awareness of the game itself.
As one of the penalty-killers used as often as possible, his defensive pursuits and toughness make him a guy who stands out easily. Grier will always live up to his expectations even playing through injuries.
For a rookie, Kane has courage because of his willingness to face physical situations and grind out inspiring shifts. Now that Ilya Kovalchuk is officially a member of the New Jersey Devils, expect him to be one of the men searching for extra responsibilities primarily in special teams.
The highlight of his freshman year may have come last week when he skated by Chris Pronger twice setting up a goal on each instance in a 4-3 Thrashers win over Philadelphia. I'm sure it's the first of many times the youngest current player in the NHL will out-muscle All-Star defenders en route to a goal.
Ward spent four years in the OHL. And then? Afterwards, he represented Prince Edward Island in the CIS for four more seasons. And then? He had three more years in the AHL with 11 games dressing for the Minnesota Wild squeezed in. It wasn't until he joined the Nashville Predators that the journeyman got his first true taste of the big show and he broke out with 17 goals and 35 points as a rookie.
A team player, Ward is a determined forechecker with a work-ethic second to none. When you work for achieving an ambition as hard as he did, the last thing you'll do is throw it away because of apathy.
He's big, he's intimidating, he's Dustin Byfuglien. Constructed like a brick house, the Minnesota native can play either wing and has experience as a defenseman which is where his heavy shot extends from. While his puck movement is improving, Byfuglien has to develop a nasty streak more often and get goaltenders off of their game like he did to Roberto Luongo last year.
Chicago's depth and contract issues may turn him into a dispensable piece, but Byfuglien will gather attention as a possible trade option.
Already surpassing his rookie numbers, Simmonds should reach 20 goals and possibly 50 points in a splendid sophomore year that has seen him become a key force in Los Angeles' success. Averaging just over 15 minutes of ice time per game, the former property of Owen Sound is sixth among all Kings in points and leads the squad with a plus-19 rating.
With his constant movement and level of energy, Simmonds is becoming a suitable two-way performer for head coach Terry Murray and he's only going to get better.
Slotted onto Colorado's first line with Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, Stewart has responded to the trip he received to the minors in late October by becoming a go-to individual offensively. The second-year professional uses his size and strength extremely well to win battles in the corners and has a nose for the net.
Aside from Wolski, nobody has taken more shots in Colorado this year. Stewart is continuing to round out his overall game but he is sure to fit the billing as a superb power forward for the Avalanche.
Okposo's primary special assets are his deadly shot and shiftiness which allows him to find a way past defensemen. A persistent attacker, the 21-year-old doesn't let his shorter stature stop him from heading towards the crease constantly and has superb wheels to assist his scoring prowess.
He's been New York's best producer for the majority of the season and shows up to compete every day.
The jury is still out on Emery's capabilities of putting a hockey club's needs before his. There's no denying Razor's gifts between the pipes but his focus can get lost and the mystery is if he can backstop the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals as he did with Ottawa three years ago.
Just like the rest of the team, Emery has had his ups and downs thus far but appears to back in form winning five of his last seven starts. More athletic than a lot of goaltenders, the 27-year-old has won a few contests on his own showing no rust from his Russian escapade.
1) Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)
Iginla is the prototypical bulking forward and the only factor that has slowed him down is the lack of a playmaking center. As Calgary's all-time scoring and points leader, he will shoot, grind, push and fight towards victory for the Flames representing an ideal captain.
If he can't beat his opponent one way, he will place emphasis on another area as he also carries brilliant speed and finesse. Iginla truly is the complete package and hopefully the Stanley Cup won't evade this franchise winger's grasp too much longer.