Have you ever sat in bed wondering what NHL teams would look like if they could only employ players born in that city?
When Paul Thompson took the ice for the New York Rangers in 1926, he officially became the first Calgary-born player to suit up for an NHL game. Nearly a century later, the city of Calgary boasts one of the largest minor hockey programs in the entire world, including the world’s biggest minor hockey tournament, Esso Minor Hockey Week.
With long-time Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips becoming the first Calgary-born player to have his number retired by an NHL team, it seemed appropriate to wonder what a team of the finest Calgary-born players currently in and around the NHL would look like. For pettiness sake, we’ll also create the Edmonton team, and perhaps see if there truly is a superior hockey city.
First, some rules. For increasing the talent pool’s sake (especially goaltending), we’ll give each city two satellite towns. For Calgary, Airdrie and Cochrane, and for Edmonton, Sherwood Park and St. Albert. We’re only counting the official locations of birth for the players, not where they perhaps moved or trained.
Only players who have played in the NHL this season, or are currently a prospect of an NHL team will be counted.
Taylor Hall – Brayden Point – William Nylander
Alex Nylander – Brett Howden – Taro Hirose
Austin Wagner – Jay Beagle – Jaret Anderson-Dolan
A bonafide NHL first line is the backbone of the entire Calgary squad. With two 90+ point players (and a former MVP) in Taylor Hall and Brayden Point, as well as a resurgent William Nylander, this could be a top line on any team today. Both Nylanders were born in Calgary while their father Michael played in Calgary from 1993-99. Of course they’re both Swedish by blood and have only ever played for Sweden internationally, but hey, this is my article and they were indeed born here.
The second line includes the younger Nylander, and up-and-comers Brett Howden and Taro Hirose. Nylander has had a resurgent season in Chicago, after failing to stick in Buffalo, after being drafted there 8th overall in 2016. Howden was a first round pick in 2016 as well, by Tampa. He was traded to the New York Rangers in the deal for JT Miller and Ryan McDonagh at the 2018 trade deadline. Howden has struggled to produce in the NHL, but is also stuck behind Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome on the depth chart at center. Hirose was signed by the Detroit Red Wings upon completing his career at Michigan State, and was a pleasant surprise for the Red Wings to finish last season, putting up 7 points in his first 10 career games.
The third line is a true utility line, with Stanley Cup champion Jay Beagle holding down center. Austin Wagner played 62 games as a rookie last season and performed adequately scoring 12 goals, but has had his production fall off this season much like most of his fellow LA Kings. Anderson-Dolan is also in the Kings system, being a second round pick in 2017. He represented Canada in the 2019 World Junior Championships and is in his rookie AHL season with Ontario.
Jake DeBrusk – Bryan Little – Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Benson – Tyson Jost – Tyler Ennis
John Quenneville – Colton Sceviour – Carter Rowney
As with Calgary, there’s a steep drop in talent after the first line. For Edmonton, their top line wouldn’t have as much offensive upside, but the combination of DeBrusk and Gallagher would make for an effective, pestilent line. Little has always had an offensive touch, and would benefit from the heavy hitting bodies on either side of him. Gallagher and DeBrusk are both talented goal scorers and would benefit from Little’s playmaking.
The line I’ve dubbed the Ty-Guy line is an interesting combination of a highly touted prospect, a once-promising young player, and a seasoned veteran. Benson, who is actually in the Oilers system, made his NHL debut for his hometown team this season. A high-scoring junior prospect who fell back in his draft year due to injuries, Benson has torn up the AHL over a very short span, puttng up 105 points in 119 games. Jost is teetering on bust status, having yet to hit 30 points in a year over three full seasons, after the Colorado Avalanche made him their 10th overall choice in 2016. However, he is still only 21 and plays on one of the most offensively skilled teams in the league. Ennis was never quite able to put it all together in Buffalo, and has played for three different teams the past 3 seasons. He has proven to be a valuable leader, as well as his evident offensive skill.
The third Edmonton line is ugliest of the 6 so far. Quenneville is likely on his last legs as an NHL tweener, as he just could never translate his scoring in the AHL to anything meaningful in the NHL. Sceviour has been a reliable albeit average utility player for both Dallas and Florida over his career. Rowney broke into the league as a 27 year old rookie in 2016, and has been a serviceable bottom six player for Pittsburgh, and now Anaheim.
Both teams would clearly have a comically large drop off after their first lines, but the raw talent of the first Calgary line is just too far superior to Edmonton’s.
Josh Morrissey – Cale Makar
Jake Bean – Mike Green
What a first pairing. Two of the finest young defencemen in the league provide a drool-worthy duo. Despite being in just his 4th full NHL season, Morrissey is the unquestioned defensive leader of the suddenly defensively-void Winnipeg Jets. He’s on pace to surpass his career high in points, and post his second straight 30 point season. Makar has torn up the NHL in his rookie season, similarly to how he tore up the Flames in April last year. With the Calder being prepped for his name this summer, it won’t be long before a Norris and more will follow.
More a victim of the deepest blueline in the NHL than anything, Jake Bean is a promising prospect for the Carolina Hurricanes. Like many players on this list so far, he was a first round pick in 2016, 13th overall. He’s scored like it too, putting up 82 points in just 129 AHL games with Charlotte. It can’t soon be forgotten that Mike Green once scored 31 goals for the Washington Capitals in 2009-10, or the back-to-back 70 point seasons. Now, he finds himself competing for the Master’s Green Jacket like most Red Wing players this season, and sits at an impressive -30 under par. Still, he has never scored less than 5 goals in a full NHL season. Who could turn down the possibility of a Green Bean d-pair?
Jared Spurgeon – Colton Parayko
Johnny Boychuk – Deryk Engelland
While the Edmonton Oilers have had a mediocre group of defencemen for at least the past decade, the city itself has turned out an exorbitant amount of quality defencemen. Jay Bouwmeester, Matt Benning, and Brett Kulak are just a few of the players who didn’t make this top 4. Spurgeon has been a solid offensive presence on a historically offensively dry Minnesota Wild team, and his partner Colton Parayko is one of the most complete defencemen in the league, boasting a terrifying shot.
Not many players would tangle with a duo of Boychuk and Engelland, who wouldn’t have many opposing players leave the arena unbruised by game’s end. However, both players have their best days behind them, and have not aged too gracefully.
I originally had this scored as a tie. Edmonton has the more complete, shutdown group, but age and offense have to be factors. Parayko is likely the only player of that group who will be in the NHL in 5 years. The upside of Makar/Morrissey, and even Bean, pushes the Calgary group over the top.
With Darcy Kuemper still out with injury, Calgary-born Adin Hill has been able to split starts with Antti Raanta, and is putting up the best numbers of his young career. However, it’s simply a matter of when Kuemper returns, and Hill will be reassigned. Dell, out of Airdrie, is one of just a handful of employed goaltenders 6 feet or shorter. That hasn’t stopped him at all, and he at times has wrestled the starting job away from Martin Jones. The Sharks are terrible this season, and Dell nor Jones has helped their cause.
Carter Hart is a full two years younger than the next starting goaltender in the NHL. The average debut age for goalies lies somewhere around 23, whereas Hart has now been a full-time goalie since he was 20. His play from junior and representing Canada has almost seamlessly translated to the NHL, and the Sherwood Park born Hart has given Flyers fans redemption for the ill-advised loss of Sergei Bobrovsky. Comrie took a nice waiver claim trip from Winnipeg to Detroit at the start of the season, before taking the same trip back to the Jets. Comrie and Zach Fucale were a deadly World Junior tandem back in 2015.
This one isn’t even close. Hart may win his namesake trophy one day, and he seems to get better with every passing game. The combination of goaltending and a strong defensive core would make this Edmonton team a tough one to score on.
by Gordie Taylor