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People of the puck

The (surprisingly many) Jewish NHL players to watch this season

As the puck sets to drop for the 2022-23 hockey season, one item not widely covered is the abundance of Members of the Tribe taking the ice. Here’s who to keep an eye out for

  • Quinn Hughes, #43 of the Vancouver Canucks, skates up ice during their NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena April 28, 2022, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Quinn Hughes, #43 of the Vancouver Canucks, skates up ice during their NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena April 28, 2022, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Jack Hughes, #86 of the New Jersey Devils, in action against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center on October 15, 2021, in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Jack Hughes, #86 of the New Jersey Devils, in action against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center on October 15, 2021, in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Jason Zucker, #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Jason Zucker, #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Adam Fox, #23 of the New York Rangers, skates against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on May 8, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Adam Fox, #23 of the New York Rangers, skates against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on May 8, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Luke Kunin, #11 of San Jose Sharks, skates against Eisbaren Berlin during the NHL Global Series Challenge game between San Jose Sharks and Eisbaren Berlin at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 4, 2022, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Luke Kunin, #11 of San Jose Sharks, skates against Eisbaren Berlin during the NHL Global Series Challenge game between San Jose Sharks and Eisbaren Berlin at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 4, 2022, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto, March 10, 2022. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto, March 10, 2022. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Mark Friedman, #52 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 5, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Mark Friedman, #52 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 5, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Nate Thompson, #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers, skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Nate Thompson, #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers, skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Jason Demers, #44 of the Edmonton Oilers, keeps an eye on the play during first period action against the Winnipeg Jets in pre-season action at the Canada Life Centre on October 1, 2022, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Jason Demers, #44 of the Edmonton Oilers, keeps an eye on the play during first period action against the Winnipeg Jets in pre-season action at the Canada Life Centre on October 1, 2022, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
  • Zach Hyman, #18 of the Edmonton Oilers, skates during Game Four of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche on June 6, 2022, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)
    Zach Hyman, #18 of the Edmonton Oilers, skates during Game Four of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche on June 6, 2022, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

JTA — October is a busy month for American sports fans. The MLB playoffs get underway, the NBA season begins, the NFL season kicks into high gear and both the women’s and men’s pro soccer leagues start their postseasons, too.

Sometimes another milestone gets hidden under the headlines of it all: the start of the NHL season. The first puck drops today, ironically in Prague, in a match between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. (The first stateside games start on Tuesday night.)

Another phenomenon that hasn’t been widely covered is the league’s current and surprising number of Jewish hockey players. This season holds a surprising abundance of Jewish players — here’s who to watch.

Jack Hughes

New Jersey Devils, center

All did not go according to plan last season for the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft. After multiple goals in the season’s first game, including an overtime game-winner, Hughes dislocated his shoulder in the next match and was off the ice for six weeks. Then in April, an MCL injury ended his sophomore season early with 13 games left. “I haven’t done a ton in this league just yet,” Hughes told The Hockey News in August.

And yet, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that the rising star will reach his superstar potential. In just 49 games played last season, he still managed an impressive 26 goals and 56 points (goals plus assists). He and new linemates Alexander Holtz and Ondrej Palat had such an instant chemistry that they’re already nicknamed H20 (Hughes-Holtz-Ondrej).

Jack Hughes, #86 of the New Jersey Devils, in action against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center on October 15, 2021, in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Another exciting nugget: there’s the possibility that Jack’s younger brother Luke could join him on the Devils next season. Luke was selected fourth overall by the Devils last year, and while he’s playing out his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, he has already shown himself to be a rising force in the NCAA and on the world stage as a member of the 2022 US team at the international junior championship.

While it’s unclear how the brothers identify these days, Jack and Luke (and older brother Quinn, see below) were born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. While their upbringing was mostly secular, the Hughes family celebrated Passover and Jack had a bar mitzvah.

Jack Hughes’ first game of the NHL regular season comes on October 13, when the Devils take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly.

Quinn Hughes, #43 of the Vancouver Canucks, skates up ice during their NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena April 28, 2022, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Quinn Hughes

Vancouver Canucks, defenseman

Is it possible to discuss one of the Hughes brothers without discussing them all? Absolutely not.

Last season, oldest brother Quinn Hughes set a Canucks franchise record for defensemen with a whopping 68 points. Though only eight of those points were goals, Quinn has solidified himself as a premiere playmaker.

His only goal: to take more scoring chances on the ice.

“I want to score more, have more shots on net and create more,” Hughes told press. “I think it’s a mentality and trying to rip it and put it through the net.”

Quinn Hughes’ first game comes on Wednesday, as the Vancouver Canucks take on the Edmonton Oilers (and Zach Hyman, see below) in Edmonton. 

Zach Hyman, #18 of the Edmonton Oilers, skates during Game Four of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche on June 6, 2022, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Zach Hyman

Edmonton Oilers, forward

After playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs for six years, forward Zach Hyman signed with the Edmonton Oilers last summer and never looked back. The left winger had a stellar 2021-2022 season, recording a career-high 27 goals and 54 points in 76 games — which included 11 goals and 16 points in 16 playoff games.

Of all the Jewish players in the NHL, Hyman is perhaps the most vocal about being connected to his faith and roots. He wears No. 18 for a reason. “I’m Jewish, and in Judaism, 18 is a lucky number; it’s chai, which means ‘life’ in Hebrew,” he told The Athletic last year.

Hyman comes from a Jewish family in Toronto and attended school at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. In 2013, he represented Canada at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, where he won a gold medal.

Last Hanukkah, Zach lit a giant menorah with the Edmonton Jewish community and told The Athletic in February that he finds it important to speak up against antisemitism.

You can watch Zach Hyman’s first game on Wednesday, when the Oilers take on Quinn Hughes’ aforementioned Vancouver Canucks at home.

Adam Fox, #23 of the New York Rangers, skates against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on May 8, 2021, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Adam Fox

New York Rangers, defenseman

While Adam Fox wasn’t the best defenseman in the NHL in 2022, the 2021 Norris Trophy winner still had a pretty darn good 2021-2022 season. The New York Rangers D-man scored 11 goals and racked up 74 points over the course of 78 games, including five goals and 23 points in the playoffs.

So far in the preseason, Fox has worn an “A” on his jersey (signifying him as an alternate captain), sparking speculation that he could be in the mix for elevated leadership this season.

Originally from Jericho, New York, Fox grew up in Long Island’s Jewish community, where he attended the nearby Jericho Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue. He had a hockey-themed bar mitzvah.

“There are a lot Jewish residents on Long Island, so it’s cool for me to represent that community,” Fox told JTA last year. “And, you know, there’s not many Jewish athletes. So to be one of the few and have people who come from where I come from look up to me… I think it’s definitely pretty special.”

You can watch Adam Fox’s first game on Tuesday, when the New York Rangers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden. 

Jason Zucker, #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Jason Zucker

Pittsburgh Penguins, forward

In the words of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jason Zucker — who has a Hebrew tattoo on his left forearm — had a “nightmare” 2021-2022 season with the Penguins. He seemed to reaggravate a core injury that had required surgery in 2017; by December he was sitting out of practices and games. He had another surgery in early 2022 and came back in March only to miss a few more games after he took a hit to the boards.

After a summer of rest and rehab, it looks like Zucker might have his redemption arc. On September 25, he helped the Penguins open their preseason by snagging a game-winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets, looking fast and healthy on the ice.

Though Zucker never had a bar mitzvah, he still engages in Jewish traditions and holidays. “I would do virtual menorah lighting with my family back while I was out of town playing juniors or college,” he explained to the Penguins website.

You can watch Jason Zucker’s first game when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Arizona Coyotes at home on October 13. 

Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates after scoring the game winning goal in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto, March 10, 2022. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Jakob Chychrun

Arizona Coyotes, defenseman

A good way to measure a player’s talent and value is by who lines up to trade for him when he wants out of the team he’s on. Since Chychrun made clear last month that he wants to be traded from the Coyotes to a playoff contender, several teams have shown interest in the 24-year-old former first round draft pick whose stock is still on the rise.

And he clearly wants to win.

“Careers are so short, the time flies by, and I’m in my seventh year in the NHL. It’s just crazy,” he said. “I don’t want these years to keep going by and be 10, 12 years in and not had a real good chance at not only the playoffs, but winning the Stanley Cup.”

Born to a Jewish mother and Catholic father, Chychrun told NHL.com that he grew up celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas.

Mark Friedman, #52 of the Pittsburgh Penguins, skates against the New York Rangers in Game Two of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 5, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images/ via JTA)

Mark Friedman

Pittsburgh Penguins, defenseman

After years of fighting for playing time, 2022 could be Mark Friedman’s breakout season. Some of his younger roster rivals seemed to have better shots at a final starting defenseman spot (even though Friedman is only 26) until stumbling this preseason. After playing in only 16 games through his first three NHL seasons, Friedman played in 26 last year and saw some playing time in the playoffs, too.

“I’ve had to fight for [ice time] my whole life,” he told Pittsburgh Hockey Now. “It’s nothing new. So now I’m ready for the challenge.”

The Toronto native who loves his bubbe’s cooking grew up attending Hebrew school in his early grade school years.

“It’s nice being in a family that’s Jewish,” Friedman told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle last year. “It’s different from most of the hockey world. You don’t see too many Jews playing hockey, especially in the NHL. It’s definitely cool when guys ask about it.”

Honorable Mentions:

    • Center Luke Kunin was traded from the Nashville Predators to the San Jose Sharks in July. He played in all 82 games for Nashville last year, scoring 13 goals.
    • From 2009-2021, defenseman Jason Demers bounced around to several different teams. However, this year has been looking up; in January, Demers was selected to play for Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics and is currently signed to a professional tryout with the Edmonton Oilers. As of publication, there’s no word as to whether he’ll make the final team alongside Zach Hyman.
    • Forward Nate Thompson, who played for the Flyers last year and converted to Judaism before marrying his now ex-wife, is currently an unrestricted free agent who was just released from a professional tryout with the Los Angeles Kings. Thompson told the Alaska Sports Report that he intends to sign with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, The Ontario Reign, in hopes of still being signed to an NHL team.

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