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All Flyers-European Team

In honor of the Flyers heading overseas, Bill Meltzer looks at the Top European players in team history

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

As part of the National Hockey League's upcoming 2019 Global Series, the Flyers will play an exhibition game on Monday in Lausanne, Switzerland against Lausanne HC (a Swiss National League club) before starting the regular season in Prague, Czech Republic against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 4. 

In honor of the upcoming games in Europe, here's a Flyers all-time, all-European team. Just as an NHL roster may contain 13 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders, this roster has the same distribution. Players are listed alphabetically

FORWARDS
Per-Erik (Pelle) Eklund (LW/C): The Flyers second all-time leading point getter among European-born players (beyond only Jakub Voracek), Eklund spent eight seasons in Philly. He won won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers' most valuable player during the 1990-91 season. Eklund reached to 50-assist milestone three times during his Philadelphia career and topped 40 assists four times. He'd have reached those marks more frequently if not for numerous injuries, which prevented him from playing more than 55 games in any Flyers' season after 1990-91.

Ruslan Fedotenko (LW/RW): A two-stint Flyer, the hard-working Ukrainian forward came over to North America as a teenager to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL, Fedotenko was signed by the Flyers out of the USHL at age 20 worked his way up through the minor league system. As a rookie in 2000-01, Fedotenko notched 16 goals and 36 points in a third-line role over 76 games. In his second NHL season, Fedotenko scored 17 goals and 26 points. In the playoffs, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win in Game One of the Flyers' series against the Ottawa Senators. Fedotenko later won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning (2004) and Pittsburgh Penguins (2009), enjoying strong playoff runs for both clubs. He returned to the Flyers for one season during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Peter Forsberg (C): One of the predominant playmakers of his generation, Forsberg was also a complete player. He brought a steely will to win, killer instinct, two-way smarts and played a physical brand of hockey. For his NHL career, Forsberg racked up 885 points (249 goals, 636 assists) in just 708 regular season games, along with 690 penalty minutes. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, "Foppa" produced 171 points (64 goals, 107 assists) 151 games, along with 163 penalty minutes. As a Flyer, he played an even 100 regular season games (30 goals, 85 assists, 115 points) and six playoff games (four goals, four assists, eight points).

As most everyone knows, the Flyers originally drafted Forsberg before trading his rights to Quebec in the deal that brought Eric Lindros to Philadelphia. What gets forgotten is that the Flyers saw something special in Forsberg a full year before the rest of the NHL did. Philadelphia selected him sixth overall in the 1991 NHL Draft; very much an "off the board" selection at the time. In the months leading up to the 1991 NHL Draft, the rest of the NHL and draft pundits had Forsberg pegged as a solid-but-unspectacular prospect, the Flyers - especially scouts Inge Hammarström and Bill Dineen - saw Forsberg as a potential franchise player down the line.

Michal Handzus (C): Handzus lacked only foot speed. Everything else about the big Slovak's game was excellent. A former Selke Trophy finalist (while with the St. Louis Blues), he was defensively adept. He had great hands, scoring 20+ goals multiple times despite often playing in a third-line capacity. He was also big and extremely strong physically. Handzus was quietly one of the Flyers' most consistently effective players from the 2002-03 to 2005-06 seasons.

Jaromir Jagr (RW): Plain and simple, Jagr is a living legend: one of the most spectacular and physically strongest offensive talents to ever play the game. Although Jagr only spent one year as a Flyer, he made a memorable and lasting impact on teammates and the club as a whole. He has called it his most enjoyable season in the NHL despite nagging injuries that slowed him down at times. 

Jagr, who later won the National Hockey League's Masterton Trophy as a member of the Florida Panthers in 2015-16, was nominated for the award as a member of the Flyers in 2011-12. As a Flyer, he produced 19 goals and 54 points in 73 games during the 2011-12 regular season. In the playoffs, he chipped in eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 11 games including seven points in six games during Philadelphia's first-round upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jagr scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Pittsburgh series.

Sami Kapanen (RW/LW): Whatever he lacked in size, Kapanen more than made up for in courage. The lion-hearted little Finn was utterly fearless on the ice and an elite skater with seemingly boundless energy. He was a fan favorite both in Finland - where he played for KalPa Kuopio and HIFK Helsinki - and in North America. Kapanen also became a highly respected figure in the locker room among teammates. Although Kapanen did not provide quite as much scoring punch as the Flyers initially hoped he would, he became a valuable and versatile player who could play various roles across virtually every possible game situation. During his time with the Flyers, he played both wings and even defense (2004 playoffs) and on all four forward lines at different junctures.

Ville Leino (RW): Seldom used upon his initial acquisition by the Flyers in early 2010, Leino became a surprise playoff hero that spring. Finding a home on the right wing of the Flyers' second line along with Danny Briere at center and Scott Hartnell on left wing, Leino went on to rack up 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 19 games. The Finnish forward saved the best for last, compiling three goals, six assists and nine points in the six-game Stanley Cup Final against the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks. He carried his effective play over into the 2010-11 season as he remained on a line with Briere and Hartnell. Although better in the first half than the second, Leino's 19 goals and 53 points in 81 games represented solid production for a second-line player in the NHL of the 2010s. In the 2011 playoffs, Leino contributed five points (three goals, two assists) in 11 games. His biggest moment that year came as he scored in overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to force a seventh game

Vaclav Prospal (C/W): A two-stint Flyer, Prospal came over to North America at age 18 to join the AHL's Hershey Bears after the Flyers drafted him. It took Prospal three-plus seasons in the minors to reach the NHL but, when he finally made it, his career lasted for over 1,000 games. 

Prospal posted 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 18 regular season game for the Flyers during the 1996-97 stretch drive and then posted four points in five games in the team's first-round playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Prospal briefly returned to the Flyers on Feb. 25, 2008, one night before the NHL trade deadline, the Flyers reacquired Prospal from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a 2009 2nd-round pick (Richard Panik). 

Although only acquired as a rental, Prospal was productive for Philadelphia. In 18 late-season games in 1997-98, he posted 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and a plus-seven rating at even strength. In the playoffs, he contributed 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 17 games to help Philly advance to the Eastern Conference Final. 

Mikael Renberg (RW): Renberg was more than just the 'third wheel" on the Legion of Doom line. He was an outstanding all-around NHL player in his own right for the first two and a half seasons of his NHL career.

As a rookie in 1993-94, he set a still-standing franchise rookie record with 38 goals and 82 points. He also set a franchise rookie record - later broken by defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in 2015-16 - with a 10-game point streak. That season, he frequently played left wing on a line with Lindros and Mark Recchi. 

Renberg was a finalist for the NHL's Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year but finished behind Martin Brodeur and Jason Arnott. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team was also the inaugural winner of the Flyers newly created Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Award.

Ilkka Sinisalo (RW): The late Finn, who was both a player and later a longtime scout for the Flyers, was the organization's first standout forward from Europe.he smooth-skating Finn was one of the Flyers' unsung heroes of the 1980s. While most of the accolades went to players like Brian Propp, Tim Kerr, Rick Tocchet, Peter Zezel and playmaking center Pelle Eklund, Sinisalo was quietly one of the club's most consistent performers for nine solid seasons. 

Opponents overlooked Sinisalo's talents at their own peril. It was for good reason the Spectrum's famous Sign Man dubbed the player "Ilkka Score-a-goal-a." To this day, Sinisalo remains atop the Flyers' all-time list for goals scored by a European player (199). His 408 points rank 19th in franchise history overall.

Jakub Voracek (RW): Voracek is one of two still-active Flyers players on the list. Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, along with the 2011 first-round pick (Sean Couturier) that was the other primary part of the blockbuster deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus, Voracek is less than a season away from catching and surpassing Simon Gagne (540 points) for 11th on the Flyers' all-time scoring list.

Better known as a playmaker than a goal-scorer, Voracek recently secured his sixth 20+ goal season as a Flyer. He has topped 60+ points five times as a Flyer and 80+ points twice. Voracek is the first European player to reach the 600-game mark as a Flyer. At age 30, he's in the latter portion of his prime.

Valeri Zelepukin (LW): A rising offensive star with the New Jersey Devils until sustaining a serious eye injury, Zelepukin remained a defensively aware forward who could contribute occasional offense by the time the Flyers acquired him on Oct. 5, 1998 in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for Daniel Lacroix. Zelepukin spent two seasons with the Flyers (1998-99 and 1999-2000), chipping in 27 goals and 57 points in 151 games. Frequently, he played with Rod Brind'Amour and Mikael Renberg as his linemates.
 
Alexei Zhamnov (C): There was very little that "Archie" did not do well. He was an outstanding puckhandler, playmaker, scorer (when he elected to shoot), two-way player and a smooth skater. In 807 NHL regular season games, Zhamnov posted 719 points (249 goals, 470 assists).

Although Zhamnov spent only a few months with the Flyers as a rental player for the 2004 stretch drive and playoffs, he made a significant impact for Ken Hitchcock's club. Zhamnov posted 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) and a plus-seven rating in 20 games while averaging 18:31 of ice time, including extensive power play and penalty killing duty.

In the playoffs, despite battling back spasms, the center chipped in 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 18 games with an average 18:39 of ice time. Zhamnov's best games came early in the 2004 playoffs. He was downright dominant in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils: three goals, five assists and eight points in five games.

Dainus Zubrus (RW): The Lithuanian forward's 20+ year career in the NHL began with two-plus seasons in Philadelphia. Although he never developed into the dominant offensive force that scouts believed he'd become, Zubrus evolved instead into a strong two-way forward who was extremely tough to take off the puck.

DEFENSEMEN

Miroslav "Cookie" Dvorak: A slick puck mover and capable positional defender, Dvorak was a star for the Czechoslovakian national team. As he neared his 31st birthday, Dvorak was allowed by the then-communist government to leave for North America and play in the NHL as part of a money-raising program that allowed selected older Czech and Slovak players to play in the NHL in exchange for a transfer fee.

Dvorak adapted quickly to the smaller North American rink. He posted 37 points and a plus-27 rating his first year, providing a boost to Philadelphia's second pairing. In his second year, with previous season Norris Trophy runner-up defenseman Mark Howe battling intermittent injuries, Dvorak took on more demanding minutes and won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers top defenseman although his raw stats (31 points, plus-19) were a bit lower and he, too, missed time with injuries.

Kim Johnsson: Johnsson spent four seasons with the Flyers, immediately proving to be a two-way standout as well as a valuable power play performer. The Swede won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's top defenseman in both 2001-02 and 2002-03. 

He was also dominant throughout the team's first-round playoff victory over the New York Rangers in 2004. In each of Johnsson's first three seasons for the Flyers, the defenseman scored between 10 to 13 goals, posted 39 to 42 points and posted a plus-minus rating between plus-12 to plus-16. He only missed two games during that span.

Ivan Provorov: The youngest player on this list, Provorov is one of two still-active Flyers on it. The third-year NHLer has led the team in ice time each of his seasons to date and has yet to miss a game in his career. Although the first half of the 2018-19 season was a rough one by the standards he set in his first two campaigns, he has bounced back to a large degree in the second half. As the 2019-20 season gets underway, Provorov will look to recapture -- and then -- better his form from 2017-18 (17 goals, 41 points. +17).

Kjell Samuelsson: As a two-stint Flyers player, the hard-nosed defensive defenseman played 545 regular season games, posting a cumulative plus-103 rating and 141 points (35 goals, 106 assists) to go along with 815 penalty minutes. He dressed in 70 playoff games, contributing 16 points (four goals, 12 assists), 98 penalty minutes and a plus-24 rating. After his playing days, Samuelsson has serving the Flyers organization in a variety of coaching capacities; primarily working on the development side in recent years.

Petr Svoboda: Svoboda enjoyed a very solid 1,028-game NHL career after defecting from then-communist Czechoslovakia as a teenager. A combination of puck-moving mobility, positional smarts, a fearless willingness to take a hit to protect the puck or move it to safety, a willingness to block shots and a defense-first mentality that grew over the course of his career (he was more of a point-producer in his early years) were the defining aspects of Svoboda's game. 

Svoboda spent two full seasons and portions of two others in Philadelphia after being acquired from Buffalo for Garry Galley. As a Flyer, Svoboda was a cumulative +62 in 232 games and chipped in 10 goals and 70 points. His main issue was frequent injuries. The team inevitably missed him when he was out of the lineup. 

Mark Streit: An iconic national team player for Switzerland and a former captain for the New York Islanders, Streit joined the Flyers via trade from the New York Islanders on June 12, 2013. Sixteen days later, the veteran signed a four-year contract with the Flyers.

In his first campaign as a Flyer, Streit notched 10 goals and 44 points while dressing in all 82 regular season games. He followed it with a strong playoff series in a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers. In 2014-15, Streit was named an alternate captain. He led all NHL defensemen in power play points and was 10th in total points among defensemen as he posted nine goals and 52 points while missing only one game. 

Kimmo Timonen: A five-time winner of the Barry Ashbee Trophy, a two-time NHL All-Star as a Flyer and a participant in two Olympic tournaments only including his years as a Flyer, Timonen would be on any all-time Flyers roster; not just one limited to European players. He was among the team's all-time best leaders by example, and a fine two-way defenseman.

Off-the-charts hockey smarts and will to win, above-average puck skills, and an extraordinary threshold for pain enabled the Finnish blueliner to overcome a lack of size and strictly average straight-ahead skating ability. He never gave up on a play or went through the motions. 

GOALTENDERS

Roman Cechmanek: The eccentric Czech netminder had his ups and downs in the Stanley Cup playoffs but it is hard to argue with his regular season success as a Flyer. In 163 regular season games, Cechmanek posted a 1.96 goals against average, .923 save percentage a record of 92-43-22. In 23 playoff games, Cechmanek had a 9-14 record, 2.33 goals against average and .909 save percentage.

Cechmanek could be brilliant when he was at the top of his game. He won two Bobby Clarke Trophies (2000-01 and 2002-03) as Flyers' MVP, was the top runner up for the 2000-01 Vezina Trophy, finished fourth in the 2000-01 Hart Trophy balloting, played in the 2000-01 NHL All-Star Game and shared the Jennings Trophy (lowest goals against average in the NHL) in 2002-03. In 163 career regular season games as a Flyer, Cechmanek racked up 20 shutouts. He added three playoff shutouts (all against the Ottawa Senators) in 23 games.

Pelle Lindbergh: At the time of his automobile accident related death at age 26, Lindbergh was the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. He was actually off to a better start than at the same juncture of the previous season. We'll never know what would have followed in the affable and supremely talented Swede's career.

Certainly the pedigree and development progression were there for sustained success: World Junior Championships Best Goaltender Award (1979), standout for bronze medalist Team Sweden at the 1980 Olympics, clean sweep winner of the AHL's Rookie of the Year, Best Goaltender and Most Valuable Player awards as a rookie with the Maine Mariners in 1980-81, NHL All-Star Game selection as a Flyers rookie in 1982-83, Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist on a Stanley Cup finalist his third and final full NHL season. 

Antero Niittymäki: Over the course of his relatively short career, Niittymaki collected a Calder Cup and playoff MVP honors at the AHL level with the Philadelphia Phantoms, an Olympic most valuable player selection and a silver medal for Finland at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, three Finnish championships (two as a starter) for TPS Turku and SM-Liiga rookie of the year honors with TPS. 

Niittymaki's NHL career was inconsistent and affected - in fact, prematurely ended - by hip issues that required the surgical installation of a titanium hip replacement in his early 30s. Nevertheless, Niittymaki still had a rather remarkable career outside the NHL and his share of notable games within the league.

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