With the emergence of Ryan Kesler as a huge force in the 2010-11 season, and continuing in the 2011 playoffs, I believe he has the potential to become one of the top US born players in NHL history. He still has a long way to go, but when I started contemplating it, I came up with the following list of the 10 best:
10. Tom Barrasso
The Grumpy Goalie was a 4th overall draft pick by the Sabres and won the Calder and Vezina trophies in his rookie season. He won 2 Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. He moved on to Ottawa as the experienced veteran that the Senators needed to get over the hump, but he was unable to take the Senators to the promised land. He is second among all US born goalie in wins with 369. He was known for his surliness, but you can’t argue with his stats on the ice.
9. Joe Mullen
Joe Mullen was a member of three Stanley Cup Championships (1989- CGY, 1991-1992 PIT), and was perhaps the first American born star. The 7 time 40-goal scorer hit 50 once, while amassing a point per game over 16 NHL seasons. He was a two time Lady Byng winner, and is a member of the USA & Hockey Halls of fame. He was the first American to score 500 goals and record 1,000 points. He still ranks 6th among all US born scorers in NHL history.
8. Phil Housley
Housley was a scoring dynamo during his career, amassing at least 60 points for the first 11 seasons of his career. The defenseman played for 7 teams, and appeared in almost 1,500 games. He totalled 1,232 points, which is tops among all US defensemen, and third overall. He never managed to win the elusive Stanley Cup, but his career was inspirational for a number of up and coming offensive defensemen born in the USA.
7. Mike Richter
Mike Richter doesn’t have the most wins of any USA goalie, but he might just be the most influential. Richter was a member of the team that ended the New York Rangers’ 54 year Stanley Cup drought in 1994. He also was the goalie who stoned Team Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, crushing Canadian Fans. Richter ranks 3rd among American goalies in wins, with 301, and is a member of the 2002 US Olympic Silver Medalists.
6. Brian Leetch
Brian Leetch played 18 seasons in the NHL, and was the Rookie of the Year in 1989, and proceeded to win two Norris Trophies and amassed 1,028 points. He was the first American player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP during the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup run. Leetch was a playoff performer, getting 97 points in 95 career playoff games. Leetch’s #2 was retired by the Rangers.
5. Pat Lafontaine
Lafontaine might be perhaps the most talented US born player ever. Injuries shortened his career to 865 games, but he still managed to pile up 1,13 points. He had 6 straight 40-goal seasons, including 2 50 goal seasons. He topped 100 points twice, including a 148-point season where he finished 2nd to Mario Lemiuex after Lemieux’ stellar comeback from Hodgkins disease. Despite numerous concussions that caused his career to come to a premature end, Lafontaine still ranks 9th among American scorers, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
4. Chris Chelios
Chelios had a lengthy career, playing into his mid 40’s. His career spanned 4 decades from 1983 to 2010. He has played the most games of any American player and the second most all time. Not best known for his offensive production, he still managed to amass 948 points. He was best known for his mean streak and competitiveness, and is one of the most decorated international players in the history of USA Hockey. Chelios won 3 Stanley Cups (’86-MTL, ’02 & ’08 DET), and 3 Norris Trophies.
3. Jeremy Roenick
Known for his personality and willingness to speak his mind, Roenick was also a great hockey player, a true power forward since the beginning of his career. The 2-time 50 goal scorer also eclipsed 100 points 3 times. He never won any awards, and failed to win a Stanley Cup, but he was a leader among the wave on American-born players that made an impact in the 1990’s and into the 2000s. Surpassing 500 goals and 1,200 points, Roenick ranks 4th among US born players in both categories.
2. Mike Modano
Mike Modano was the second US born player to be taken first overall in the NHL Draft (1988). He had a legendary career with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 1999 (much to the chagrin of the Buffalo Sabres). He was part of a stellar US-born core on that team that included captain Derian Hatcher, Brett Hull, Jamie Langenbrunner and Craig Ludwig. Modano sits second all time in American scoring, in goals, assists and points. Modano is likely to retire after these playoffs, having suited up for 1,499 games, amassing 1,374 points.
1. Brett Hull
Although he was born in Canada, Brett Hull grew up in the US and represented USA hockey internationally. There wasn’t a more feared sniper in the NHL during the peak of his career. His one-time slap shot was lethal and he turned it into record-setting totals. His 86 goals in 1990-91 is the most ever by a person not named Gretzky. He surpassed 70 on two other occasions, and 50 on two more. He won the Hart trophy and the Lester B. Pearson award in 1991. He scored 741 goals and just under 1,400 points. Hull added 190 playoff points, which also leads the US contingent. He was a member of the 1999 Dallas Star Stanley Cup champions (he scored the “foot in the crease” winning goal) as well as the 2002 Detroit Red Wings. Inducted to the HHOF in 2009.
So there you have it, the Top 10 US players in NHL history. There are a number of players knocking on the door to enter the list, that will make an impact over the next decade. Ryan Kesler, Zach Parise, Eric Johnson, Paul Stastny, Dustin Brown and Patrick Kane are the next wave of US stars on the horizon.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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