The Greatest

10 greatest NHL players born in Illinois

10 greatest NHL players born in Illinois
Chicago native Ed Olczyk bookended a 16-year NHL playing career with his hometown Blackhawks. (Photo by Ian Tomlinson/Allsport via Getty Images)

When Illinois celebrated its statehood sesquicentennial, a dense crop of local hockey talent was barely taking the ice. If it was not quite the height of the Blackhawks’ Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita era, it was close. And the influence would become apparent over the ensuing decades.

In December 1968, Chicagolanders Chris Chelios, Tom Fergus, Tony Granato, Todd Krygier and Ed Olczyk ranged in age between two and six. Two other Windy City-born skaters — Lee Fogolin and Mike O’Connell — turned 13 that year.

As of this past Monday, their original home state now marks 200 years of Union membership. Meanwhile, Illinois has seen 68 of its natives skate at least one NHL shift. A dozen, all but one born in the 1990s, are still active, but the sons of the ’60s remain the standard-bearers.

Besides the eldest of the NHL’s active Prairie Staters, the current and upcoming stock have these retirees to emulate. All statistics and award information are according to Hockey Reference.

10. Bates Battaglia
Born in Chicago, Battaglia went to Lake Superior State via the Team Illinois elite travel program. Within three years of his NHL debut, he appeared on the 1999-00 Selke Trophy ballot. It was a head-turning feat, as the 24-year-old was one of only eight wingers in a pool of 30 forwards to do so that year

Two years later, Battaglia peaked offensively amidst the Carolina Hurricanes’ unlikely run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. He placed fifth on the team in regular-season and second in playoff scoring with 46 and 14 points, respectively.

Battaglia breached the 30-point threshold two other times in his nine-year career, including his final full season in 2006-07.

9. Rick Zombo
The stay-at-home defenseman from Des Plaines mustered 652 NHL games over a 12-year career (1984-96).

At his height, Zombo received postseason all-star votes three years running in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The second of those seasons saw him lead the Detroit Red Wings with a plus-22 rating.

8. Joe Corvo
Over 11 seasons with five teams, the Oak Park native broke the 40-point plateau from the blue line three times. He fell two points shy of that barrier in 2008-09, one year after receiving a few all-star and Norris votes.

After logging 708 NHL games, Corvo closed out his career close to home with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He had previously spent the 2004-05 lockout year there, leading all Wolves blueliners with nine playoff points. Two years later, he posted the same total for the Ottawa Senators en route to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.

7. Lee Fogolin
Fogolin’s father and namesake was a Blackhawk when he was born in 1955. He would follow his elder to the blue line and amass 13 NHL seasons with the Sabres and Oilers.

A two-time Stanley Cup champion with Edmonton’s dynasty, Fogolin made the 1986 NHL All-Star Game and finished fifth on the league’s plus-minus leaderboard that year.

6. Mike O’Connell
To start his 13-year career, the Chicago native played portions of four seasons with his hometown Blackhawks. The middle-tier defenseman’s best years, though, were still to come elsewhere in the Original Six.

Two years after being traded to Boston, O’Connell quickly found his all-round ceiling. At his defensive peak, he tied for eighth on the 1983 Norris Trophy ballot with 2.07 percent of the vote. Other Bruins up for the award included Ray Bourque (who finished third), Mike Milbury (10th) and Brad Park (12th).

The next year, O’Connell tallied a career-high 60 points, sixth-most among Boston skaters. He would also receive all-star votes in each of those seasons, and again as a Red Wing in 1986-87. The next season, he tied the aforementioned Zombo for first among Detroit defenders with a plus-24 rating.

5. Tom Fergus
In his second of 12 NHL seasons, the Chicago native appeared on the 1982-83 Selke ballot. It was his two-way peak, but his offensive prowess became more apparent after that 63-point campaign.

Drafted by Boston, Fergus finished fourth among the 1983-84 Bruins with 61 points (O’Connell was one point behind). He assumed the same position in 1984-85 with 73 points, a career high he matched the next year in Toronto. There that total was good for second-best on the team.

Fergus missed 25 games in 1985-86, but still amassed 49 points for sixth on the Leafs. He would be their fourth-leading producer with 67 in 1988-89, then managed 45 despite missing 28 contests the next year.

By that point, his skills were on an irreversible decline. Nonetheless, when he retired at age 30, Fergus had logged 581 points in 726 NHL games.

4. Craig Anderson
Hailing from Park Ridge, Anderson stayed in his native area through age 17, playing for the Chicago Jets and Chicago Freeze junior teams. In the middle of the 1998-99 season, though, he sought a bigger challenge with the Ontario League’s Guelph Storm.

The Calgary Flames would draft Anderson that summer, only to drop him. In his final year of eligibility, he reentered and went to the Blackhawks, who debuted him on Nov. 30, 2002. His journey to an NHL starting job took two more moves before he landed in Colorado.

In 2009-10, Anderson’s first and only full season with the Avalanche, he faced an NHL-high 2,233 shots. His persistence yielded a No. 4 finish on the Vezina ballot and ninth place in the MVP vote.

Three years later, injuries restricted him to 24 appearances on a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule with Ottawa. But he still led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, and received votes for the 2013 Hart and Vezina.

As of this writing, the 37-year-old Anderson continues his Senators tenure, and again leads the league in shots and saves. The 2017 Masterton Trophy winner owns a (270-216-66) career NHL record.

3. Tony Granato
Coming from the Downers Grove household that produced the ultimate women’s hockey pioneer, Granato found stardom in his own right.

In 1992-93, a year where Wayne Gretzky missed 39 games, Granato stepped up to a career high in Los Angeles. The fourth-year pro finished second among the Kings with 37 goals and third with 82 points. He would then tie Jari Kurri for fourth with 17 points in the postseason, helping L.A. reach the Stanley Cup Final.

That leap in productivity followed three straight finishes in the 60-point range, the first of which made Granato a 1990 Calder Trophy finalist. Unfortunately, the next four years were shortened by the lingering effects of a frightful injury.

At the peak of his recovery, Granato posted 40 points in 76 appearances with San Jose in 1996-97. For that, he garnered the Masterton Trophy, but he continued to miss action and see his skills recede.

Nonetheless, by the time he retired in 2001, Granato had tallied 492 points in 773 career NHL contests.

2. Ed Olczyk
Olzcyk posted a still-unsurpassed 169 points with Team Illinois, then finished his amateur days in Ontario. Drafted third overall by his hometown Blackhawks in 1984, he came back from the U.S. National team and started a 15-year career.

In 1985, Olczyk finished 14th on the 1985 Calder Trophy ballot. As a 19-year-old sophomore, he placed third on Chicago’s leaderboard with 75 points.

His third year marked the end of his first homecoming, but Olczyk had more prosperous years in Toronto and Winnipeg. In his first season as a Maple Leaf, he led a non-playoff team with 42 goals and 75 points. He outscored all Leafs with 38 goals and 52 assists the next year, then finished third in team productivity in 1989-90.

As a Jet, the center received a few Selke votes and posted a solid 65 points in 1991-92. That would be the last time he crossed 50 points. But he had respectable runs in three more cities before coming back to finish up with the Hawks in 1999-00.

1. Chris Chelios
Olczyk’s fellow product of Chicago proper, Chelios finished second in the aforementioned 1985 Calder vote with Montreal. Three years after Olczyk left the Blackhawks, Chelios filled the vacancy as a hometown hero.

For nearly a decade, Chelios anchored the Blackhawks blue line, winning his second and third Norris Trophies in the process. After a 1999 trade to Detroit, he finished second in that derby in 2002, leading the league with a plus-40 rating.

Out of 26 NHL campaigns, the two-way talent only finished four with a negative rating. One of those was his first season, in which he only played 12 games. Two others were with non-playoff teams.

Besides being recognized for his position, Chelios was a three-time top-10 Hart Trophy candidate. He made five first all-star teams and two second squads. And after retiring in 2010, he would be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

Share:

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.