Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey | Last updated 4/7/12
Yesterday's Frozen Four Semifinals highlighted some of the best players college hockey has to offer. While NCAA hockey is fresh on everyone's mind, let's take a look at the top five active NHLers who played college hockey.
1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Thomas has simply done it all in his illustrious career. After playing four years with the University of Vermont, Thomas went on to play in the ECHL, IHL, SM-liiga, and SEL before catching on with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. And even after proving himself at the minor-league level, the Flint, Michigan native took a few years to settle into his role as the Boston Bruins starting goalie.
But once he earned the job, he ran with the title. Thomas won 30 games in four seasons and the Vezina Trophy twice out of the last two seasons. This year he is expected to fall short of a consecutive title, but his 2.36 GAA and .921 save percentage are way above average. Last season, Thomas proved himself among the elite by shutting down the lethal Vancouver Canucks offense. It's only fair that we consider him the best active NHLer to ever play NCAA hockey.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Toews is the unorthodox pick simply because he isn't American. The pride of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Toews chose to decline offers from the CHL in order to attend the University of North Dakota. Playing alongside NHLers like T.J. Oshie, Drew Stafford and Travis Zajac helped vault this prairie boy into top three of the NHL draft.
In his five professional seasons, Toews has managed to post at least 20 goals while providing the stoic leadership that makes him an icon in Chicago. Not only did he captain the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks squad, he also won Olympic gold back in 2010, making him the 24th member of the Triple Gold Club. This 23-year-old is currently recovering from a concussion but should be able to build on an already-impressive career.
3. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Parise is your classic All-American forward. The second-highest drafted college player in the uber-stacked 2003 Entry Draft, Parise played two seasons with the University of North Dakota. And while Parise wasn't the top scorer in the NCAA, or even on his entire team, his production and overall play was strong enough to regard him as the nation's top collegiate prospect.
Throughout his seven-year career, Parise has five 30-goal seasons and two 80-point campaigns. One of those seasons he also managed to pot 45 goals, a tough task on a defensive-minded team.
4. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Kesler gets the nod over talented snipers like Thomas Vanek or Phil Kessel simply because what he does away from the puck. Known as one of the best two-way players in the game, Kesler can take full control of a game, or as we saw last postseason, an entire playoff series. He is the straw that stirs the Canucks' drink and literally can do it all.
Before starring on the big stage, Kesler played a season at Ohio State University. Additionally, this Livonia, Mich., native would be on the short list of players to build your team around should he ever become available.
5. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Quick, a native of Milford, Conn., was drafted in 2005 out of UMass Amherst of Hockey East. Before posting double-digits in shutouts, the Kings starting goalie played in a combined 54 collegiate games before turning pro. Now with his history in Massachusetts a distant memory, he looks to backstop his club into the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Quick might not win the Vezina Trophy this season but his play has been nothing short of elite. A workhorse who started over 60 games during the last three seasons, Quick made Team USA three seasons ago because they deemed him a goalie of the future. Come Sochi, if the NHL allows their players to participate, Quick has the inside track on once again representing his country.
Honorable mention: Blake Wheeler, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Suter, Jimmy Howard, Dan Boyle, David Backes, Thomas Vanek, Phil Kessel, Ryan Miller, T.J. Oshie
Photo credit: Getty Images
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