The Saskatoon Blades have a history that dates back to the 1960s in the Western Hockey League and its predecessors. Though that history is not steeped in postseason team success, with no Ed Chynoweth Cup or Memorial Cup titles since their inception in 1964, fans in the Bridge City have witnessed the junior careers of numerous future National Hockey League stars and icons.
The choices are plenty, but there are a handful that stand out as we take a look back at the top-five Saskatoon Blades NHL alumni of all-time.
5. Mike Green
Played For: Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers
Blades Stats: 267 GP – 37 G – 135 A – 172 P
NHL Stats: 880 GP – 150 G – 351 A – 501 P
The offensive-minded defenceman, who is perhaps best-known for his career years with the Capitals, played five seasons (2000-05) in Saskatoon. His most impressive stretch with the Blades came in his final two seasons in the WHL when he scored 14 goals in consecutive seasons, and put up 66 points in his final season in 2004-05.
The Capitals selected the Calgary, AB product 29th overall in the 2004 draft, Green arrived in the U.S. capital late in 2005-06, and went on to anchor the Capitals blue line for 10 seasons, racking up 113 goals and 360 points. His best stretch came between 2007 and 2010, registering 68 goals and 205 points in three seasons, highlighted by a career-high 31 goals in 2008-09, which led all NHL defencemen that season.
Green signed in Detroit in 2015 and spent four-and-a-half seasons with the Red Wings, with his best output being the 14 goals and 36 points he collected in 2016-17.
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The Red Wings traded Green to Edmonton earlier this season. He played just two games with the Oilers before the COVID-19 pause and opted out of the NHL’s return-to-play due to family reasons.
The combination of elite seasons, including four All-Star appearances and two second-place finishes in Norris Trophy voting, along with the longevity of 15 NHL seasons and counting, earns Mike Green a very deserving spot on the list of the Blades top NHL alumni of all-time.
4. Brent Ashton
Played For: Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames
Blades Stats: 173 GP – 131 G – 110 A – 241 P
NHL Stats: 998 GP – 284 G – 345 A – 629 P
The hometown product enjoyed an outstanding career with the Blades before embarking on a long and successful career in the NHL and made a bit of history along the way, albeit unintentionally.
In his three-plus seasons with the Blades (1975-79), the centerman was one of the best pure scorers to suit up for the team. His offensive output increased each season and culminated with 64 goals and 119 points in just 62 games during his final year, earning him team MVP honours. For those exploits, the Blades named Ashton to their Team of the 1970s.
The Canucks selected Ashton in the second round, 26th overall, in the 1979 NHL Draft. He played 47 games with them as a rookie in 1979-80 to break the ice on an eventful career that lasted 14 seasons.
Ashton was an effective offensive weapon throughout most of his career. His career-best season of 40 goals came in 1986-87, a season that was split between the Nordiques and the Red Wings, which was also his lone All-Star campaign. He reached 30 goals on two other occasions and scored at least 20 goals in seven different seasons.
It has been said that there are two different ways a player can look at being traded. Either the team trading you away doesn’t want you, or the team acquiring you does. Ashton faced that scenario eight times in his career, making him the most-traded player in NHL history until Mike Sillinger was traded for a ninth and 10th time in his career.
Ashton played for nine teams in the NHL, and his longest tenure with any one team was the four seasons he played with the Jets from 1988 to 1992.
After retiring from the NHL, Ashton settled back in Saskatoon. In 2001, he was inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame and went into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Jersey No. 7 is retired by the Blades in honour of both Ashton and former Chicago Blackhawk and California Golden Seal, Gerry Pinder, who played two full seasons for the Blades (1965-67). Pinder still owns the Blades’ franchise records for goals (six) and points (10) in a game, set on March 12, 1967.
Brent’s son Carter played in 54 games over parts of three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and has played the past five seasons in the KHL.
3. Braden Holtby
Played For: Washington Capitals
Blades Stats: 177 GP – 82-75-15 record – 7 SO
NHL Stats: 468 GP – 282-122-46 record – 2.54 GAA – .916 SV% – 35 SO
From a player who constantly changed addresses during his NHL career, to one who has only worn one uniform. Holtby held down the crease for the Blades for three seasons (2006-09), and twice surpassed 60 games played in a season.
The Capitals took the Lloydminster, SK native with their fourth-round selection in 2008. He played parts of four seasons in the American Hockey League before arriving in the NHL full-time in 2013-14. Holtby took the league by storm, winning 131 games in a three-year stretch between 2014 and 2017, never posting a save percentage below .922 or a goals-against average above 2.22.
During that stretch, he took home the 2016 Vezina Trophy and led the league in wins for two straight seasons (48 in 2015-16 and 42 in 2016-17).
In 2017-18, Holtby backstopped the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship.
At the time of the COVID-19 pause, Holtby’s 2019-20 save percentage and goals-against average were the worst from any of his 10 seasons, prompting THW’s own Scott Lowe to wonder if this season is Holtby’s last hurrah with the Capitals.
2. Wendel Clark
Played For: Toronto Maple Leafs, Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks
Blades Stats: 136 GP – 55 G – 100 A – 155 P
NHL Stats: 793 GP – 330 G – 234 A – 564 P
Though he played in a handful of markets in the Eastern Conference in his 15 seasons, those stops are little more than a footnote for most NHL fans who recognize Clark for his 13 seasons as a member of the Maple Leafs
Clark is one of just eight players in WHL history, and became the only Saskatoon Blade, to be selected No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft when Toronto made him the first pick in 1985. Before he established himself as one of the most iconic Maple Leafs of all-time, Clark patrolled the blue line for the Blades for two seasons (1983-85), scoring 23 and then 32 goals.
Toronto recognized the offensive skill of the Kelvington, SK product, so they moved Clark up to the wing. The move paid immediate dividends as Clark found the back of the net 71 times in his first two seasons, resulting in a second-place finish in Calder Trophy voting in 1986 and consecutive All-Star nods.
Clark served as captain of the Maple Leafs for three seasons (1991 to 1994). On the heels of his career-high 46-goal campaign in 1993-94, he was dealt to Quebec in a massive trade that sent future Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin to Toronto.
After a season with the Nordiques and most of the next season spent with the New York Islanders, Clark was traded back to the Maple Leafs late in the 1995-96 season. In that deal, Toronto sent their 1997 first-round draft pick to Long Island, which would eventually be used by the Islanders to take goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Clark played two more seasons in Toronto and then bounced between three teams before the Blackhawks released him in January of 2000, which enabled him to sign back with the Maple Leafs to finish out his career where he spent the bulk of his time and made his greatest mark, scoring 260 goals and 441 points.
In conjunction with the WHL’s 50th season in 2015-16, the league ranked Clark No. 15 on its top-50 players of all-time. The jersey No. 17 that he wore as a Maple Leaf was retired by the club, as was his No. 22 in Saskatoon.
1. Bernie Federko
Played For: St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings
Blades Stats: 206 GP – 133 G – 211 A – 344 P
NHL Stats: 1,000 GP – 369 G – 761 A – 1,130 P
Being the only former Blade to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame makes Federko an easy choice as the top Blades’ NHL alumnus of all-time.
The centerman from Foam Lake, SK delivered one of the great careers as a member of the Blades, and carried it on to St. Louis where he put together one of the finest careers in club history.
In 1975-76, Federko scored 72 goals in 72 games for the Blades in the Western Canada Hockey League, and amassed 187 points which stands as the Blades’ single-season record. He was then drafted twice in 1976; seventh overall in the NHL Amateur Draft by the Blues, and sixth overall in the WHA Amateur Draft by the Oilers.
He signed with St. Louis and joined the Blues by the second half of the next season.
Federko played 13 seasons with the Blues, scoring 352 goals and 1,073 points in 927 games. His career-high 41 goals and 107 points came in 1983-84. It was the second of four different seasons in which Federko eclipsed the 100-point mark, while he scored 30 or more goals seven times and scored at least 20 goals in 11 different seasons.
Federko served as the Blues’ captain in 1988-89 before he was traded in the summer of 1989 to the Red Wings, where he would play one season before retiring.
THW’s own Stephen Ground placed Federko, the Blues’ all-time leader in games played, assists and points, on his St Louis Blues’ Mount Rushmore. He was also ranked No. 12 on the WHL’s top 50 players of the league’s first 50 seasons.
The 2002 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame was a four-time All-Star and received votes for the Lady Byng Trophy in eight different seasons.
Both of Federko’s jersey numbers; his No. 24 in St. Louis and No. 15 in Saskatoon, have been retired by the respective teams.
What’s Behind A Logo
The Blades returned to their heritage “pacman” uniforms in 2017, taking fans back to the days of Federko and Clark among others. There is tremendous history behind that sweater, with the future stars who have donned the blue and gold before moving on to the NHL.
Perhaps someday 2019 third overall NHL pick Kirby Dach or some of Saskatoon’s current crop of prospects will add their names to the rich history of Blades players to excel in the NHL.