Top 10 American-born NHL Players of Past Quarter Century
In the almost 100-year history of the NHL, there has been many great hockey players to make the big leagues from the U.S. And seeing as this past weekend was Independence Day weekend here in America, I figured what better time than now to present, in my opinion anyway, the top 10-best American-born hockey players of the last quarter century. The reason this list has been contained to the last quarter century is easy, because these last twenty five years have seen a real boom in the talent level of American hockey players in the NHL. Naturally, there are going to be some who disagree with the following list, but that’s OK. That’s the point of a list like this; it's going to get some debate going during the offseason.
There are a few names that have been left off this list, so we put them in honorable mention here. The best American players in the game today are pretty easy to set apart. You have talent like Patrick Kane, who may be the best all-around American in the game right now, Jonathan Quick, the best American goalie in the league at the moment, with Ryan Miller right behind him. Rounding out the list of the best Americans right now would be Dustin Brown, who is one of the top Captain’s in the league, and one of the better power forwards in the game today. Now that’s just the honorable mention list.
Now then, as for the list itself, some careful thought was put into who goes onto this top 10 and where. There were a few things that had to be taken into account here. First is the most obvious, they had to have played in the NHL during the last 25 seasons. Also statistics are taken into account as well. Some of these guys had great careers, and put up some big numbers in the big league. There’s also another factor that has to be accounted for as well. Some of these guys didn’t put up huge numbers, but they had an impact on their hockey teams that goes beyond the numbers they put up.
Each player’s individual skill set was also taken into account when determining this top 10 list. Some guys are here because they were better skaters, passers, shooters or had a better all-around game than everybody else. Of note, even though he played for the USA on an international level, Brett Hull has been left off this list. Why? Well, that’s easy. Hull wasn’t born in the USA, as he is Canadian by birth. To be eligible for a list such as this, you have to be born in the United States to be able to be considered one of the greatest. So without further ado, here now is the top-10 greatest American-born NHL players of the last quarter century!
10. Tony Amonte
Amonte began his career with the New York Rangers in 1990-91 and played for five different teams over the course of 18 seasons. His best years were with the Chicago Blackhawks, where when healthy, he put up at least 63 points a year. Amonte finished his career with the Calgary Flames in 2007, having played 1,174 games and scoring 900 points.
What made Amonte so good was his slick playmaking ability. He may not have put up the best scoring numbers out there, but when he was on top of his game, Amonte could pull you out of your seat with amazing moves. He had a slick skill set about him that made you want to watch him every time he was on the ice.
9. Mike Richter
Richter played his entire 13-year career with the same team, the New York Rangers. During his career, Richter won at least 20 games a year in every year except two, which shows you just how consistent a goalie he was. Richter was the anchor in net that helped power the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup championship. When he retired, Richter was and still is the all-time leader in wins for the Rangers.
I have him on this list for a few reasons. Richter may have been a conventional goalie, as far as style is concerned. He was one of the most consistent guys I’ve ever seen step between the pipes. He is also one of three Americans to win 300 games in the NHL. Because of his consistent play, and being reliable every night for the Rangers, I have him on the list.
8. Keith Tkachuk
One of the better power forwards of the 1990's, Tkachuk had the good hands to go along with his physical game. He started his career with the Jets in 1992, then stayed with the team when they became the Phoenix Coyotes. Tkachuk had his best offensive season with the Jets in 1996 when he scored 98 points. When healthy, he averaged around 50-60 points a year, at minimum, while spending a fair amount of time in the box. After leaving the Desert, Tkachuk would move on to the St. Louis Blues, where his production dipped a little, but the physical play didn’t.
Why is Tkachuk on this list? Well it’s easy. He was a big guy (6-foot-2 and 244 pounds), who had good scoring hands and knew how to hit. He could throw his weight around with the best of the best in the league. Without a doubt, Tkachuk is the premiere American power forward, and there’s no way I could leave him off this list.
7. John Vanbiesbrouck
Hands down the best American goalie to ever play in the NHL. The man they called “Beezer” started his career with the New York Rangers in 1983, and played for the team for a decade. While playing on Broadway, he hit double digits in wins in every year. From there it was on to the Florida Panthers, where Vanbiesbrouck was one of the main reasons the Panthers got to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. Beezer again hit double digits in wins in each of his five seasons in Florida. He finished up his career playing two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, a half year with the New York Islanders and finished the final year and a half with the New Jersey Devils.
Vanbiesbrouck makes this list because of his style of play. He made the butterfly style popular. Plus he has the most wins of any American-born goalie in history with 374. Beezer became one of the more popular goalies in league history, and is one of, if not the greatest American netminder of all time.
6. Jeremy Roenick
As good of an offensive player as Roenick is, he is also known for the mouth as well. J.R. played twenty years in the NHL, for six different teams. His best years were with the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 100 or more points three times in eight years in the Windy City. From 1995 on, Roenick’s numbers hovered around 70 points a year, but were never quite back up to where they were in Chicago. By the time he called it a career in 2009, Roenick had played 1,363 games, and scored 1,216 points.
What made Roenick so good was his foot speed and quick release on his shot. Roenick had a great set of hands and the mouth to match. J.R. is responsible for some of the funniest sound bites of all time. I have him at six because he could skate, shoot and was one of the toughest guys in the game.
5. Brian Leetch
By far one of the smoothest skating defenseman ever, Brian Leetch made end to end rushes at will and looked good doing it. Leetch spend 17 of his 19 seasons playing for the New York Rangers, with his best year coming in 1992, when Leetch scored a career-high 102 points. Leetch finished his playing days with the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Rangers won the 1994 Cup, Leetch became the first American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Leetch finished his career having played in 1,205 games and scored 1,028 career points.
I have Leetch at five on the list for a couple of reasons. He was one of the smoothest skating blueliners I have ever seen. He could make an end to end rush go back and do it again without getting winded. He also had sublime passing skills, which made it tough for opposing teams to defend against. He may not have had the greatest shot, but man could he pass the puck.
4. Phil Housley
By far the best shooting blueliner the U.S. has ever produced, Housley used that shot to his advantage on a regular basis. While playing twenty years in the league, Housley suited up for a total of nine different teams. His best years came over a three-year span while playing for the original Winnipeg Jets. His single best season came in 1992-93 while scoring 97 points for the Jets. His goal scoring punch had gone down as his career continued, but Housley was a great quarterback on the powerplay and used his shot as a decoy regularly.
Housley has the best shot of any blueliner on this list. He could rip a slapper from anywhere. That’s why he was able to score over 1,200 points in almost 1,500 games. He held the record for most points by an American-born NHL player until Mike Modano surpassed it on Nov. 7, 2007. The only downside to his career was that he never won the Cup.
3. Chris Chelios
Defenseman Chris Chelios had a remarkable NHL career that started in 1983-84 with the Montreal Canadiens and didn't end until 2009-10 when he was 48 years old. The Chicago native contributed a lot offensively in the first half of his career before becoming more of a defensive defenseman in his later years.
Chelios won three Norris Trophies at the NHL's top defenseman and played in 12 NHL All-Star Games and was named to seven postseason All-Star Teams. Chelios won three Stanley Cups during his career, one with Montreal in 1986 and a pair with Detroit in 2002 and 2008. He represented the United States at four Olympics and won a silver medal in 2002.
By the time he retired, Chelios had played in 1,651 NHL games with the Canadiens, Blackhawks, Red Wings and Thrashers. He scored 185 goals and 948 points while accumulating 2,891 penalty minutes. No defenseman in NHL history ever played more games than Chelios.
2. Pat Lafontaine
During his career, Lafontaine broke the 100 point plateau twice, once in 1990 with the Islanders and then again with the Sabres in 1993. What made Lafontaine so good was he could do it all offensively. He could skate, pass and shoot. Plus his ability as a faceoff man at center was up there as one of the best of all time. He was so much fun to watch.
1. Mike Modano
Without much question, Mike Modano is the greatest offensive force that the U.S. has ever produced to play in the NHL. Modano lived up to the expectations that went along with being the top overall pick in the 1988 NHL Draft. Modano is the all-time scoring leader among American-born players with 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 career NHL games. In 1998-99, Modano helped lead the Stars to the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup championship.
He was a very consistent player, finishing with nine seasons of 30 goals or more during his NHL career. His best season came in 1993-94 when he scored 50 goals and totaled 93 points. Modano played in nine NHL All-Star Games and represented the United States at three Olympic Games. Modano holds nearly every career offensive record in the history of the Stars/North Stars franchise including games played, goals, assists and points. Modano could do it all: skate, shoot, hit and play defense. He was a proven leader who had a great career and is a lock for the hall.