I think people just like to throw out as many names as possible, born in odd (by hockey standards) places.
Who cares where someone was born? It's where they learned the game and/or spent their formative years...
Willi Plett was born in Paraguay. If he learned the game of hockey there, that would be relevant, and really impressive...but he grew up in Canada and had the same advantage in learning the game that everyone else did.
Rod Langway was born in Taiwan, but he grew up in Massachusetts, which hardly seems to qualify as a non traditional market. It's not like him being unable to practice with elite players when he was the age of 2 or 3 is likely to have hindered his hockey development, is it?
You almost have to have 2 separate questions when you start a topic like this:
1) the question asked by the OP
2) oddest places NHL'ers were born
Because if you don't ask #2 above, too many people just want to give an odd birthplace.
My turn. Robyn Regehr, Jordin Tootoo...
Regehr should win this hands down bc he was not only born in Brazil, but was drafted straight out of the Brazilian Junior Hockey League. He not only represented the Brazilian National Ice hockey team in the world juniors, but also the Olympics, helping them win a silver medal in '98. The team was short on skill, but had a never say die attitude, defined by the 8 Gracie brothers on the team. Some might suggest Regehr actually had an an advantage over his Cdn/US/European rivals because he trained exclusively with Renaldo, Renaldino, Pele, and a host of other one named world class athletes.
But really, the clear winner here for what the OP was looking for is Taro Tsujimoto out of Japan. Trained in Japan, Eric Lindros size and strength, Al MacInnis slap shot, Gretzky's vision...the kid had it all. Just fell off the face of the earth under very mysterious circumstances. We will never know what could have been. But frankly I think it is a slap in the face to Japanese players everywhere that his existence is rarely ever even acknowledged...
Racism??? I hate to say it, but I can't help but wonder if he was a blonde haired, blue eyed kid from the prairies, how often we would hear his name.
Balderis' home hockey club, Dinamo Riga, played in the Soviet League from 1946 to 1995. Irbe was also trained under the Soviet system, being born in the USSR & playing for Dinamo from 87-91, as was the younger Ozoliņ, who played for Dinamo 90-92. I don't think there's any way you can divorce Latvian hockey from Soviet & post-Soviet Russian hockey. When Dinamo was reestablished in 2008, it was in order to join the KHL, dominated by old Soviet league & Russian Superleague teams. I'm not sure Latvia would necessarily qualify as a non-traditional country, in this sense.
If anything Latvia has more tradition than Russia. It's just that it's such a small country.
Kolzig actually doesn't have Canadian citizenship, only German. He also tried to play for Canada at the 1989 WJC, but didn't clue into the fact that he wasn't technically Canadian until he arrived at the training camp:
Interesting story, never heard of that. But even if we consider Kölzig German, he still isn't the best German player ever. That's Erich Kühnhackl. No discussion.
I'll add a few 'interesting places born' to the list... even though non were trained there, and non have a shot at being the best from a non traditional market even if they were.
Craig Adams: Brunei
Rick Chartraw: Paraguay
Claude Vilgrain: Haiti
Jan Benda: Belgium
Ed Kea: Netherlands
Luca Sbisa: Italy
Graeme Townshend: Jamaica
Ryan O'Marra: Japan
Paul MacLean: France
Chris Nielsen: Tanzania
Ed Hatoum: Lebanon
then the Reghrs, Langway, Ndur & Aliu, Thomas & Nolan & Hodge & Smith & Lee. Pretty sure they will have all been mentioned though.
I think the answer is Kopitar, though tbh he is from Jesenice... closer to the Austrian hockey hotbed of Villach than Ljubljana! But still, pretty amazing to come through the Slovenian junior system for pretty much his entire youth career, even if hockey is not that uncommon in that part of Slovenia. His old team sadly folded last year.
Honourable mention to Tony Hand... guy is 46 and still putting up more points than guys like Kovar (4th round draft pick, 29 years old), Bakrlik (30, ex OHL and decent in the UHL) ex AHLer Lukas Smital etc.
Just remembered one guy who always looks pretty damn good in IIHF tournaments, and better than most of the Canadian dual guys who play for the team and in his league. Though he is nowhere near NHL standard ofc.
Alexander Egger of Italy.
Though in the South Tyrol region I reckon Ice Hockey is the No.1 sport! Only 3 of the 11 teams who have played in the Italian top league recently are not from German speaking areas of Italy.
Are you intending where players were born, or where they developed?
I was thinking more of where they were developed. Players born outside there "country of origin" is trivia at best. I mean Robyn Regher was born in Brazil, but I don't think anyone considers him Brazilian.
I got the idea when I was bored one day and browsed through the "Career Points" site on NHL.com and filtered by country of birth. I realized that there currently are quite a few players from outside the big 7 nations. Vanek & Grabner (Austria), Grabovski (Belarus), 8 danes, Roussel & da Costa (France), Girgensons (Latvia), Zuccarello (Norway), Kopitar (Slovenia) etc.
I was basically wondering which were the greatest players ever (as in were developed) from the "lesser" nations.
After reading the thread I kinda agree that Balderis and other players trained in the former USSR probably shouldn't count as they are not the product of the hockey programs of a smaller hockey nation.