Top 10 Most Influential Hispanic Players in NHL History
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the 10 greatest Hispanic players in NHL history.
Over the past few years, the National Hockey League has made a point of celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month even though players of Hispanic descent are still a relative rarity in the NHL in comparison to other ethnicities.
The league had a very good reason for making Latino fans a priority: The emergence of former No. 1 overall draft pick Auston Matthews into a bona fide NHL superstar. Matthews’ mother is Mexican, and the 25-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs center is extremely proud of his heritage. The league recognized that it suddenly had a great ambassador to the Latino community on its hands, even though Matthews is hardly the first prominent NHL player with Hispanic roots.
While Matthews is almost certainly the greatest Latino talent ever to play in the NHL, he is hardly the first prominent player with Hispanic ancestry. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a look through the past 30 years and identify 10 such players who helped prove that – like the NHL diversity program’s slogan says -- hockey is for everyone.
Who was the first Hispanic NHL player?
Since traces of Hispanic ancestry can be found in so many North Americans, it is impossible to say which players fit this description. What percent of NHL players are Hispanic? It’s impossible to say, but perhaps up to 5 percent of the league could show such heritage in a DNA test. However, the first NHL player with at least one known Latino parent is believed to be current Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin, whose mother came to the U.S. from Nicaragua. A 1989 first-round draft pick, Guerin spent two seasons at Boston College before making his NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils at Chicago on Feb. 20, 1992. Three years later, he made Latino hockey history again by winning the Stanley Cup.
Are there any Hispanic players in the NHL?
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the short list of Hispanic NHL players clearly starts with Auston Matthews, a former MVP and two-time NHL goals leader. He’ll be looking to lead Toronto to its first Stanley Cup championship in 57 years. Beyond Matthews, three other active players are also of known Hispanic descent. All four play key roles on their teams and are no doubt inspiring the generation that will follow them.
Current Hispanic NHL Players
The four current known Hispanic NHL players in 2023 are Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Max Pacioretty of the Washington Capitals, Alec Martinez of the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, and Matt Nieto of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Famous Hispanic NHL Players
Auston Matthews is the most famous NHL player with Latino roots, but he is closely followed by the man you’ll find at No. 1 on the list below.
Celebrating the Top 10 Most Influential Hispanic NHL players in history
- Boo Nieves
Years Active: 2016 to 2019
Team: New York Rangers
A second-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2012, Cristoval “Boo” Nieves spent four seasons at the University of Michigan before turning pro. He made his NHL debut with the Blueshirts at Vancouver on Nov. 15, 2016, and played a total of 76 career NHL games. His best season came in 2018-19, when he had four goals and six assists in 43 NHL games.
His total NHL career involved only 76 regular-season games, but during that time he became the first NHL player of Puerto Rican descent and the first New York Rangers draft pick of known Latino descent to play for the team.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y. Nieves was raised Baldwinsville. He identifies as “Afro-Latino” based on his father’s ancestry.
- Raphael Diaz
Years Active: 2011 to 2015
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames
Swiss defenseman Raphael Diaz didn’t reach the NHL until age 25, when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent. Before that, Diaz made a name for himself in his native country, spending eight productive seasons with EV Zug.
Diaz spent three years with the Canadiens and had his best season as a rookie, when he recorded NHL career-highs of 59 games, three goals and 13 assists. He was traded to Vancouver in 2014 and then sent to the Rangers after only six games with the Canucks. He signed with Calgary for the following season and played 56 games for a team that made the playoffs.
His final NHL game came with the Rangers when he was called up from Hartford to appear in a playoff game against Pittsburgh on April 23, 2016. He made it count, notching an assist for his lone career postseason point in 13 playoff games. His career regular-season totals included eight goals and 41 assists in 201 games.
Diaz’s full name is Rafael Salvador Diaz. His father was a Spaniard who had relocated to Switzerland and married a Swiss woman.
- Al Montoya
Years Active: 2009 to 2018
Teams: Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers
Awards and Honors: NCAA West All-America Second Team (2003-04 with Michigan)
During his years at the University of Michigan, Chicago native Al Montoya emerged as one of the NHL’s top goaltending prospects, going 86-29-8 over his three-year varsity career. The New York Rangers were so impressed with Montoya that they made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. To date, the Rangers have never drafted another goalie higher than Montoya.
Montoya had the misfortune of joining the Rangers in the same season as future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist and was relegated to New York’s minor-league system for three years. The closest he ever came to playing for the Rangers was a series of call-ups to sit on the bench and back up Lundqvist. He was eventually traded to the Phoenix Coyotes and finally made his NHL debut on April 1, 2009.
It was worth the wait, however, as he shut out Colorado 3-0 in his first game. On that day, he also became the first Cuban-American to play in the NHL. He also told reporters he was the first native Spanish speaker to play in the NHL.
The next nine years would see Montoya bounce around the league to five other teams. He played a career-high 31 games for the New York Islanders in 2011-12 and another 28 for Winnipeg in 2013-14. After a final season with Edmonton’s AHL team, Montoya retired at age 34 with impressive numbers for a career backup. He went 67-49-24 in the NHL with a 2.65 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Had he not broken in with the Rangers, he might have emerged as a No. 1 goalie early in his career.
Montoya’s full name is Alvaro Silva Montoya. His mother grew up in Cuba before fleeing the Castro regime with her parents in 1963. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Montoya fell in love with hockey and was especially proud of making it to the NHL and serving as a role model.
“I realized the weight of what being the first Cuban-American was the day I got drafted,” Montoya told USAHockey.com. “You’re not representing yourself anymore. You’re representing the community. And I embraced it.”
- Matt Nieto
Position: Left Wing
Years Active: 2013 to present
Teams: San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins
Awards and Honors: NCAA Championship (2012 with Boston College)
Born in Long Beach, Calif., Matt Nieto grew up in a dangerous neighborhood that had once been home to rap legend Snoop Dogg. Nieto, a Mexican-American, fell in love with hockey even though no one in his family had any prior interest in the game.
Nieto, who began playing with a plastic hockey stick as a toddler, defied the odds to become a star player and was so good that USA Hockey invited him to join its National Team Development Program as a 15-year-old in 2008. After two seasons in the USNTDP at Ann Arbor, Mich., Nieto entered Boston University, where his career took flight.
As a freshman at BU, Nieto scored 10 goals and 23 points in 39 games. That led to being chosen by San Jose in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Two more years in Boston saw Nieto score 34 goals and 79 points in 76 games. He left school to turn pro after his junior year in 2013 and became a key role player on a San Jose Sharks team that went to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
Waived by the Sharks in 2017, Nieto was picked up by the Colorado Avalanche for the next four seasons before returning to San Jose as a free agent. He was later traded back to Colorado for the final year of his contract in 2022-23. This summer, Nieto joined the Pittsburgh Penguins on a two-year deal.
Over 651 career regular-season games, Nieto has 85 goals and 199 points. He has also appeared in 62 career playoff games with postseason totals of eight goals and 21 points.
Few NHL players have had to take a longer journey than Nieto to reach the game’s highest level.
"Probably everybody he hung out with is either in a gang or on drugs or something," Nieto’s mother Mary told The Hockey News in 2014. "I think hockey saved his life, absolutely. Hockey became a way out for a Mexican-American kid in Southern California."
- Raffi Torres
Position: Left Wing
Years Active: 2001 to 2014
Teams: New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks
A native of Toronto, Ontario, Raffi Torres was the No. 5 overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft during his All-Star career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion.
After a couple of seasons split between the NHL and American Hockey League, Torres became a full-time NHL player in 2003 and spent the next 11 years playing for six different teams.
Torres had his best individual season with Edmonton in 2005-06. That year, he scored a career-high 27 goals and 41 points for an Oilers team that went to the Stanley Cup Final. During the team’s 22-game playoff run, Torres contributed four goals and 11 points.
He returned to the Cup Final with Vancouver in 2011, scoring three goals and seven points in 23 playoff games that year. Unfortunately, Torres’ Canucks lost a seven-game series to the Boston Bruins
Although he never won the Stanley Cup, Torres had a solid NHL career that spanned 635 regular-season and 68 postseason games. In the regular season, the feisty Torres had 497 career penalty minutes to go along with his 137 goals and 123 assists. He was particularly aggressive in the playoffs, posting 80 penalty minutes in 68 games.
Torres’ father, Juan, was born in Mexico City and moved to Canada as a youngster in the 1970s. His mother, Anna, was raised in Lima, Peru.
“I grew up with my parents always speaking Spanish to us. We were always eating Mexican food,” Torres told Fox News in 2013.
- Alec Martinez
Years Active: 2009 to present
Teams: Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights
Awards and Honors: Stanley Cup Champion (2012, 2014, 2023), NCAA West All-America Second Team (2007-08 with Miami-Ohio)
When it comes to NHL defensemen of Hispanic heritage, no one has ever been better than Alec Martinez, who won his third Stanley Cup championship as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023.
Martinez is a born winner, having also won the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in both 2012 and 2014. He scored the Cup-winning goal in 2014, beating New York Rangers Hall of Fame netminder Henrik Lundqvist at 14:43 of the second overtime. That makes him one of only three defensemen in NHL history to score an overtime Cup-winner.
After spending his childhood in both Michigan and Fremont, Calif., Martinez entered Miami University of Ohio in 2005 and spent three seasons in college hockey before turning pro. The Kings selected him in the fourth round, 95th overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, although it took him three seasons after leaving college to become an NHL regular.
Martinez spent 11 successful seasons with the Kings before being sent to Las Vegas at the 2019-20 season’s trade deadline. He became a key member of the Golden Knights, who have gone deep in the playoffs in three of the four years he has been with them.
His regular-season career scoring totals of 79 goals and 260 points in 763 games include a career-high 11 goals with the Kings in that team’s second championship season. He later had career-highs of 30 assists and 29 points for the 2016-17 Kings. Martinez has played in an impressive total of 125 career playoff games, which ranks eighth among active NHL defensemen. He has 13 goals and 47 playoff points.
He gets his last name through his father’s father, whose family came to the United States from Spain. Martinez’s grandfather was born in the United States, but his great-uncles were born in Spain. Martinez admits that neither he nor his father ever learned Spanish, but has suggested in the past that he would be willing to consider playing for Spain’s national hockey team if ever invited to do so.
- Max Pacioretty
Position: Left Wing
Years Active: 2009 to present
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals
Awards and Honors: Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (2011-12), NHL All-Star Game (2020)
A 2007 first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Max Pacioretty has had an outstanding – although injury-riddled -- NHL career. The New Canaan, Conn., native spent one year at the University of Michigan before turning pro with the Habs in 2008. He became an NHL regular in his second pro season and enjoyed a remarkable run with the Canadiens.
Starring in Montreal, Pacioretty had four straight 30-goal seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17. That included a career-high 39 goals in 2013-14. Overall, he broke the 30-goal barrier five times in Montreal and once with Vegas after being traded to the Golden Knights in 2018.
Pacioretty has reached his career-high of 67 points in a single season twice. He had 37 goals and 30 assists for the Habs in 2014-15 and 35 goals and 32 assists two years later. He also scored 32 goals and 66 points for Vegas in 2019-20.
Unfortunately, that 2019-20 season was the last one in which Pacioretty wasn’t plagued by injuries. He missed 34 games due to a lower-body injury in 2020-21 and another 43 the following year. Last season, after being traded to Carolina, he tore his right Achilles tendon prior to the season and managed to appear in only five games before tearing it again. His contract expired at the end of the campaign, and he signed with the Washington Capitals for 2023-24.
Early in his career, Pacioretty had to overcome a serious back injury suffered during his third pro season. His remarkable recovery earned him the NHL’s Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to the game.
When healthy, Pacioretty is a force. Through 855 career NHL regular-season games, he has 326 goals and 319 assists. In 75 playoff games, he has 25 goals and 24 assists. He has had three playoff years with 11 points, having reached the Eastern Conference Finals with Montreal in 2014 and the Western Conference Finals with Vegas in 2020.
Pacioretty’s mother grew up In Mexico and was not familiar with ice skating or hockey until her son took up the sport as a child. Pacioretty’s father is of Italian descent, but the player strongly identifies with his mother’s side of the family.
“I'm Mexican, and there aren't many Mexicans in this league,” he told ESPN.com in 2017. “I'm proud of being a Mexican hockey player.”
- Bill Guerin
Position: Right Wing
Years Active: 1992 to 2010
Teams: New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins
Awards and Honors: NHL All-Star Second Team (2001-02), NHL All-Star Game (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame (2013)
Bill Guerin, who grew up in Wilbraham, Mass., had an All-Star NHL career playing for eight teams over a span of nearly 20 years. After his retirement, he became a prominent NHL executive and remains active in hockey today.
Weeks after being drafted fifth overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1989, Guerin entered Boston College, where he played for two seasons. After scoring 26 goals and 45 points as a sophomore, he turned pro with New Jersey and became a Devils regular in 1992. In 1995, at age 24, he became a Stanley Cup champion with the Devils as part of that team’s remarkable run to the Cup.
Officially the first player of direct Hispanic descent in NHL history, Guerin was also the first to with the Stanley Cup. He would spend six full seasons with New Jersey before being traded to Edmonton during the 1997-98 season. Three years later, he went to Boston. Stops in Dallas, St. Louis, San Jose and Long Island followed before he won a Stanley Cup for the second time with Pittsburgh in 2009.
Named to the NHL All-Star Second Team after posting career-high of 41 goals and 66 points in 2001-02, Guerin also played in four NHL All-Star Games. His highest point total came during the 2000-01 season, when he posted 40 goals and 85 points in a year split between Edmonton and Boston. In 17 full NHL seasons, Guerin broke the 20-goal barrier 12 times. He also had four seasons with at least 30 goals and two 40-goal seasons.
Guerin retired in 2010 with 429 goals and 856 points in 1,263 games – the most ever played by a player of Hispanic descent. He also had 39 goals and 74 points in 140 playoff games. After leaving the game as a player, he started coaching in the Penguins organization and was promoted to Pittsburgh’s assistant general manager position in 2014. He won two more Stanley Cup rings in that position in 2016 and 2017 before taking over as the general manager of Pittsburgh’s top minor-league affiliate.
In August 2019, the Minnesota Wild made him their GM, and he has been with that team ever since. He is the first and only NHL general manager of Hispanic descent.
Guerin’s mother, Ligia, grew up in her native Nicaragua before moving to the U.S. to attend the University of Mississippi.
“My mom is the absolute best,” Guerin told NHL.com last year. “… Her and my dad both were so supportive of each of us three kids. She was the one who got me started in hockey, driving me to practices and things like that. She's just the best."
- Auston Matthews
Years Active: 2016 to present
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Honors and Awards: Hart Trophy (2021-22), Ted Lindsay Award (2021-22), Rocket Richard Trophy (2020-21, 2021-22), Calder Memorial Trophy (2016-17), NHL All-Star Game (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023), NHL All-Rookie Team (2016-17), NHL All-Star First Team (2021-22), NHL All-Star Second Team (2020-21)
If this top 10 list of NHL players of Hispanic descent were based on talent alone, then Auston Matthews would be a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot, just as he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. It’s almost certain that by the time his career is over, Matthews will end up being at the top of future lists like this one. For now, however, he’ll have to settle for No. 2 – largely because he is still young and has yet to prove himself a winner.
Matthews turns 26 just in time for the 2023-24 NHL season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar, who recently signed a contract extension, has already done just about everything there is to do in hockey short of winning the Stanley Cup.
In addition to being a No. 1 overall draft pick, Matthews has won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year, has twice claimed the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, and has won both the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ choice for most outstanding player. He remains the only Latino player to have won the MVP award, and there might be more on the way.
Matthews’ 2021-22 MVP season was the stuff of legend. He led the NHL with 60 goals, becoming the first NHL player in a decade to register 60 in one season. He also recorded 106 points to finish sixth overall in the league. Through his first 481 career NHL games, Matthews has 299 goals and 542 points. His next goal will make him the eighth-fastest player to reach 300. Among active NHLers, only Alex Ovechkin got there in fewer games.
Another remarkable fact about Matthews is that he grew up in Arizona – a state not known for producing NHL players, let alone stars. His mother is a Mexican immigrant from Hermosillo, and Matthews and his siblings often went back to Mexico to see family. He still visits Mexico every summer. He has said he understands Spanish but doesn’t speak it particularly well.
With Matthews making waves throughout the league, the NHL has drawn in more Latino fans and now celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month every season.
“I’m grateful to be a Mexican-American. I’m proud of where I come from,” Matthews told SportsNet in 2020.
- Scott Gomez
Years Active: 1999 to 2016
Teams: New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues, Ottawa Senators
Awards and Honors: Stanley Cup Champion (2000, 2003), Calder Memorial Trophy (1999-00), NHL All-Star Game (2000, 2008), NHL All-Rookie Team (1999-00)
Scott Carlos Gomez was not the first NHL star with Hispanic ancestry – that distinction will forever belong to Bill Guerin. Gomez was, however, the first NHL player of Mexican descent and the first with Hispanic ancestry on both sides of his family. As such -- and given his recognizably Hispanic last name -- he became an inspiration to an entire generation of young Latinos who recognized that they could succeed in hockey despite the sport’s relative scarcity of people who looked like them.
The son of a Mexican-American father and a mother who immigrated from Colombia as a child, Gomez grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where his parents first met. He was the first Alaskan-born player to reach the NHL and was the pride of his state after establishing himself as a superstar even before entering major-junior hockey.
Gomez, a 1998 first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, broke into the NHL in 1999 and promptly won the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year for 1999-00. He scored 19 goals and 70 points in his first season, which ended with a Stanley Cup championship for the Devils.
Then only 20 years old, Gomez contributed 10 points to New Jersey’s 23-game Cup run. The following year, he was back in the Stanley Cup Final, where the Devils fell to Colorado. Three years later, he claimed his second Stanley Cup ring when New Jersey beat Anaheim in a thrilling seven-game final series. Just four years into his NHL career, Gomez had played in three Cup Finals and scored 36 points in 72 career playoff games.
Those early glory years put Gomez on the NHL map, but it would mark the end of his deep playoff runs. Although he returned to the playoffs in each of the next eight seasons, he only reached the conference finals once with Montreal in 2010.
Despite the lack of continued playoff success, Gomez improved in the regular season and registered career-highs of 33 goals, 51 assists, and 84 points in a full 82-game season with the Devils in 2005-06. One year later, he signed a massive contract to play for the New York Rangers, where he spent two seasons before being traded to the Canadiens.
Between 2009 and his retirement in 2016, Gomez continued to inspire young Latino players while wearing the uniform of five different NHL teams. His production tailed off, but his legacy did not. He ended his playing career with 181 goals and 575 assists in 1,079 games and (along with Bill Guerin) is one of only two players of Latino descent to have reached 1,000 games in the NHL.
After his playing days, Gomez turned to coaching. He worked as an assistant with the New York Islanders for a couple of seasons before going home to Alaska, where he ran the Scotty Gomez Foundation, which helps young Alaskans afford to play hockey.
Back in Alaska, Gomez also launched his own YouTube channel and podcast. This past August, he returned to coaching when he took a job as an assistant with the Surrey Eagles of the British Colombia Hockey League.
Parameters of Rankings
Only 10 players over the past 30 years of NHL history would have qualified for this list, so you can find them all here. The focus in the rankings was both on individual talent and overall contribution to making the NHL a more inclusive league. Each player’s relative legacy in relation to being a Latino hockey pioneer was the key, which is why Scott Gomez surpassed Auston Matthews for the No. 1 spot.
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