The 10 Greatest American Hockey Players Ever

    Historically, hockey has been a sport dominated by Canadian players, although in recent years it has become an increasingly international affair. But American players have always had a big role in the game, particularly in the National Hockey League.

    We’ll take a look at the top 10 American players of all time, along with some honorable mentions. We will judge based not only on a player’s career in the NHL, but also on his contributions at the collegiate and international level. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

    Reading: Best american hockey players of all time

    10) auston matthews

    It may seem premature to name someone with just five NHL seasons as one of the all-time greats, but it’s hard to deny Auston Matthews’ place on this list. The seventh American selected first overall, he became one of the league’s elite scorers the moment he stepped onto the ice, even scoring four goals in his NHL debut, the first player in the modern era. in doing it. He finished that season with 40 goals and 69 points, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy with 164 of 167 first-place votes.

    since then, matthews has finished every season on a 40-goal pace in an 82-game campaign, though he has struggled with some covid-19-related injuries and obstacles. Even despite that, he dominated the Canadian North Division during the 2020-21 season, scoring 41 goals in 52 games, easily winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the league’s top scorer. that season is currently tied for 20th in all-time nhl era-adjusted goal scoring seasons.

    at the time of this writing, matthew is fourth among american players in points per game and first in goals per game played. he has 446 points in 399 games. the only demerit in his on-ice record so far is playoff performance, but that’s often the slowest aspect of a player’s progress in the game. Yes, it may be premature to include Matthews on this list, but there’s almost no argument that he’ll end up anywhere near the top by the end of his career, barring major unforeseen circumstances. In honor of all that he has already accomplished, he will hold onto this top spot for now.

    honorable mention: keith tkachuk

    if 10th place could be split, keith tkachuk (also known as “big walt”) would get the other half. He has achieved many of hockey’s ideal milestones, with 1,000 points and 1,000 PIMs, over 500 goals, and a silver medal in 2002. He even won gold at the 1996 World Cup. But Tkachuk’s lasting impact on the game and in American hockey it may have more to do with his offspring.

    his sons, matthew (calgary flames) and brady (ottawa senators), were the sixth and fourth picks in the 2016 and 2018 nhl drafts, respectively, and are likely to be stars as big or bigger than their dad. Big Walt’s daughter, Taryn, is a standout field hockey player at the St. louis area. The elder Tkachuk certainly deserves a spot on this list, but here he narrowly loses out to Matthews.

    9) hobby baker

    hobey baker’s hockey hall of fame profile describes him as “the first hockey star born in the united states”. there’s a reason the college hockey jackpot is named after him.

    Baker was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania in 1892, and would go on to attend Princeton University, where he would become a decorated dual-sport athlete. he would set several school records in football, especially excelling as a punt returner. With his help, Princeton would win a national championship in 1911.

    But it was in hockey that Baker made an unforgettable impression. He helped Princeton win two national championships, in 1912 and 1914, and he is estimated to have surpassed 120 goals and 100 assists in his three seasons with the Tigers. he was also an incredible athlete, visiting the opposing team’s locker room to shake hands with all the players after each game.

    After his college career, Baker would join the hobbyist St. Nicholas Club and won an additional national championship (at the amateur level) in 1915. He was even offered a $20,000 contract to join the Montreal Canadiens, then of the National Hockey Association, but he turned it down, preferring to remain an amateur.

    Unfortunately, World War I broke out and took Baker abroad. even there he excelled, rising to the rank of captain, leading his own squadron of 26 pilots and 180 soldiers, and winning medals, including the French croix de guerre. Tragically, hours before returning home, he took one last flight and crashed, resulting in his untimely death at the age of 26.

    Hockey and soccer weren’t the only sports Baker excelled at. he was a scratch golfer, elite swimmer and occasional track star. He is arguably one of the greatest American athletes of all time, and the only reason he isn’t higher on this list is the relative brevity of his hockey career.

    8) jonathan fast

    The choice of the greatest American goalkeeper of all time was a close three-way race. john vanbiesbrouck is one of four americans to have won the vezina trophy since 1942. ryan miller currently leads all americans in his career wins with 391, as well as one of the most impressive u.s. olympic performances. uu. history. But in this race, the slight nod will go to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    quick currently ranks fourth among american goalkeepers with 336 wins, 33 short of catching tom barraso in third, something he should do fairly easily before retiring. He is also ninth in save percentage (sv%) at .913, just slightly behind Miller at .914 and well ahead of Barraso at .892, though the latter played in a higher scoring era. quick and miller won silver with u.s. Olympic team in 2010, although Quick was a substitute goalkeeper during that run.

    what pushes quick slightly ahead of these two is their postseason success. He posted one of the most notable playoff runs of all time in 2012, helping the Los Angeles Kings capture their first Stanley Cup. he went an incredible 16-4, with a .946 sv% and a 1.41 goals-against average, taking the conn smythe trophy in the process. He also led all playoff goaltenders in shutouts in three consecutive seasons, with three in that postseason, three in the following postseason, and two more in 2014, where he would win his second Stanley Cup.

    quick would also lead a jennings trophy winning tandem in the 2013-14 season and the 2017-18 season. but it was his breakout performance in the postseason that gave him a slight edge among these three, three of the greatest American goalkeepers of all time.

    7) pat lafontaine

    born in st. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Waterford, Michigan, Pat Lafontaine is one of the lesser-known American players on this list. his hockey career began in earnest in the quebec premier junior hockey league (qmjhl), where, during his only season, he scored 104 goals and 130 assists for 234 points. That would earn him the Jean Bèliveau Trophy as the league’s top scorer, beating a fellow youngster with incredible scoring prowess named Mario Lemieux.

    That season alone was enough to earn Lafontaine some consideration on this list. brought home a cabinet full of hardware, including the regular season and playoff most valuable player award, the offensive rookie of the year award, the mike bossy award, named after a player whose rookie scoring record broke that season, top pro prospect, and chl player of the year.

    of the qmjhl, lafontaine played his entire career in new york state, with the new york islanders, the buffalo sabers and a final season with the new york rangers. he amassed 1,013 points in 865 games, made five all-star games and won the 1995 bill masterton trophy before his career was cut short by concussions.

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    his 1987 series-clinching goal in the fourth overtime of game 7 of the patrick division semifinal remains one of the most iconic in islanders history. he had two 100-plus-point seasons, including a mind-blowing 148-point total in 1992-93. he would also have six consecutive seasons with more than 40 goals from 1987-1993, adding a seventh in 1995-96.

    To this day, lafontaine’s 1.17 points per game is the highest mark in the career of an American player. he was inducted into the hockey hall of fame in 2003 and was named one of the 100 greatest players in nhl history in 2017. he doesn’t take it easy, since his retirement lafontaine has completed half a dozen ironman triathlons. he is an amazing athlete well worthy of a spot on this list.

    6) neal bud

    In any list of the greatest American hockey players, there must be some acknowledgment of America’s finest hour. uu. hockey history, the 1980 miracle on ice. While Neal Brobron did not record a point in that iconic semi-final game against the U.S.S.R., he managed two goals and an assist in the tournament, en route to the United States’ gold medal victory.

    Broten would go on to have the most successful professional career of any member on that 1980 roster. A native of Roseau, Minnesota, just south of the Canadian border, he would spend the first 13 years of that career playing for the team of his home state, minnesota north stars. with them he amassed 796 of his 923 career points and played in 876 of his 1,099 games. In 1985-86, he became the first American to score more than 100 points in a season.

    Bud would stay with the team for another season and a half after the Stars moved south to Dallas before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils in February. 1995. That move would pay off for him, as the Devils would go on to beat the highly favored Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep to win the Stanley Cup. Brotron would score the deciding goal of the series, becoming the first American to do so, ironically with Viacheslav Fetisov, a member of the 1980 Soviet team, once again on the ice for the opposition.

    broten has the rare distinction of winning an ncaa championship with the university of minnesota, an olympic gold medal and a stanley cup. he scored the game-winning goal in the ncaa championship and won the hobey baker in 1981.

    despite retiring in 1997, he scored six points in three games in a brief return to the ice for the us. uu. team at the 1999 ice hockey world championships. he was voted into the usa. uu. hockey hall of fame in 2000, the number 7 of him is retired by the stars, and in 2009, Minnesota fans voted him the best player in the history of the state.

    5) brian leetch

    The ninth overall pick in 1986, Brian Leetch is synonymous with the New York Rangers. He is arguably one of the most underrated defenders in NHL history. With Paul Coffey, Al Macinnis, Bobby Orr and Dennis Potvin, he is only the fifth defender to record 100 points in a single season (he reached 102 in 1991-92), and is the last Blueliner to reach the milestone. p>

    In 1,205 career games, all but 76 with the Rangers, Leetch recorded 247 goals and 781 assists for 1,028 points. 71 of those points came as a rookie when he got 42 of 63 first-place votes and won the Calder trophy. Throughout his career, that trophy would join two Norris trophies, which he would win in 1991-92 and 1996-97.

    The biggest addition to his trophy case would be the Conn Smythe Trophy for Postseason Most Valuable Player in 1994. He led all players in those playoffs with 11 goals and 34 points in 23 games. He was the first American to win a Conn Smythe Trophy.

    Throughout his career, Leetch would go on to nine all-star games. he won a silver medal in 2002 and officially retired in 2007. the rangers retired the number 2 from him the following year, the same year he would be admitted to the us. uu. hockey hall of fame a year later, he would be inducted into the hockey hall of fame. But none of these accolades can capture Leetch’s importance as much as the words of his teammate Mark Messier’s in his NHL Top 100 Players video:

    It was magical to play with him… he was, in my opinion, and is the best ranger of all time.

    honorable mention: phil housley

    phil housley put up incredible numbers in both games played (1,495) and points (1,232). he went to seven all-star games. He was runner-up for the Norris Trophy in 1992, won gold at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

    He is a member of the US Hockey Hall of Fame. hockey hall of fame He is currently an assistant coach for the Arizona Coyotes after a stint as head coach for the Buffalo Sabers.

    4) garnet cammi

    Of all the players on this list, no one has had more international success than Downer’s Grove, Illinois native Cammi Granato. A two-time Olympic medalist, she won gold in Nagano in 1998 and silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, all while captaining both teams.

    granato also had incredible success at the iihf women’s world championships, where she won one gold medal (2005) and eight silver medals (on and off between 1990 and 2004). She also took gold twice in the Four Nations Cup, in 1997 and 2003, taking home silver a further five times.

    granato was much more than a passenger on these teams: she was a star. here’s how nathaniel oliver, our former buffalo beauts writer and women’s hockey expert, described her career:

    “By the end of his NCAA career at Providence College, he had scored a staggering 139 goals and 117 assists for 256 points in just 99 games. His Olympic totals stand at 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points in 11 Nagano and Salt Lake City games combined. de ella la de ella her 43 games in the iihf women’s world championship saw her average 1.81 points per game de la de ella 44 goals, 34 assists and 78 points. think about it: 44 world championship goals in 43 games!”

    “a 15 year old member from the usa. uu. women’s national team starting in 1990,” oliver continued, “granato is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 343 points (186-157) in 205 games, and was captain of the nagano and salt lake city teams.”

    “When you take all of that into consideration, it’s no wonder she was inducted into the international hockey hall of fame (2008), the usa hockey hall of fame. uu. (2009) and the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010). granato was one of the first women to be inducted into the hockey hall of fame, along with angela james.”

    While it’s hard to put Garnet’s career in perspective with some of her fellow American athletes, given that she obviously doesn’t appear in the NHL record books, there’s no denying that she’s one of the best ever to lace up her skates a usa team jersey. she belongs near the top of this list.

    3) patrick kane

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    The only first overall draft pick in Chicago Blackhawks history, the Buffalo, New York native Patrick Kane is one of two active players on this list, but he is undeniably worthy of the honor. At 32, he has 1088 career points from him and already has two 100-plus-point seasons under his belt (106 in 2015-16 and 110 in 2018-19).

    Readers are probably more familiar with kane’s accomplishments than many on this list, but they’re impressive: he won the calder trophy with 72 points in his rookie season, beating nicklas backstrom, carey price and his teammate jonathan toews. He scored the game-winning and series-winning goal in game six overtime to win his first of three Stanley Cups in 2010. In 2013, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, leading the Blackhawks with 19 points in 23 games.

    kane’s most decorated season was 2015-16. he amassed 46 goals and 60 assists, won the hart memorial trophy for league most valuable player, the ted lindsay award for most outstanding player (voted on by the players), and became the first american to win the art ross trophy for leading the league. in points in a single season.

    When kane was named one of the nhl’s top 100 players in 2017, it was highly controversial, in part due to some off-ice issues. but he has put some of those concerns aside by adding more than 300 points to his career total and remaining on his best behavior ever since. He has already won every major award in the NHL and led the revitalization of one of America’s most storied franchises. projecting what the rest of kane’s career will be like, it would be impossible to leave him off this list.

    honorable mention: brett helmet

    Of all these decisions, one of the most difficult was deciding whether to include the fourth leading scorer in his career in nhl history, brett hull, on the list as an american player. Ultimately, we decided against it, but thought it best to explain our reasoning.

    hull was born in belleville, ontario in 1964, but spent his early years in the united states while his father, bobby, played for the blackhawks. that’s where he began his fledgling hockey career when he was four years old. But when Bobby was traded to the Winnipeg Jets, he returned to Canada and stayed there until he attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth for college.

    It was there that the helmet decided its international faith. The Canadian team passed him by, but he was offered a spot on the American team, which he accepted. while he continued to play for the US team throughout his career, he admitted that none felt more like his own country; he just chose to play where he was given the chance.

    were unquestionably American, there’s no doubt he’d be a favorite for this list. in fact, I could get over it. but since there is some controversy surrounding its national status, a decision must be made. Since he was born in Canada and spent most of his formative years there, we’ll exclude him from a suitable spot on this list. but that doesn’t take anything away from his incredible run as one of the best pure scorers to ever walk the ice.

    2) mike modano

    Mike Modano is not only one of the most iconic players in Dallas All-Star history, he is one of the greatest American players in the history of the game. He ranks second among all American-born forwards in games played (1,499) and among all American NHL players in goals (561), points (1,374), and playoff points (146). Born in Livonia, Michigan, Modano built his reputation playing as a teenager in the Canadian Hockey League, but it was the last time he would call a Canadian team his own.

    The North Stars selected him with the first overall pick in 1988. In his rookie season, he would record 29 goals and 46 assists for 75 points and finish second in voting for the Calder Trophy behind Sergei Makarov. That decision would create controversy, as Makarov was a 31-year-old player coming from the KHL, a professional league in Russia. The NHL would change eligibility for the Calder Trophy to exclude players over the age of 26 the following year.

    losing the calder trophy in possibly unfair circumstances wouldn’t stop modano from having an amazing career. he would play in seven all-star games, winning silver at the 2002 olympics and taking home a stanley cup in 1999. he played in every game of that stanley cup final, despite breaking his wrist in game 2 , and he had assists on each of the last five goals in the series.

    modano is the best player in all-star history, whether in minnesota or dallas. his number 9 jersey was retired in 2014, the same year he was inducted into the hockey hall of fame. he holds the all-star records for games played, goals, assists and points. he is the greatest American forward in the history of the game.

    1) chris chelios

    no american player’s career can match the longevity or success of chicago native defenseman chris chelios. he’s one of the best defenders to ever play the game, and he belongs at the top of this list.

    chelios is eighth all time in games played in the nhl, the most of any american player. in 1,651 games he amassed 185 goals and 763 assists for 948 points. he also ranks 18th all-time in career over/under of his, with a plus-351.

    Few trophy cases are as overloaded as the Chelios. He attended 11 All-Star Games, including five in a row from 1990 to 1994. He won the Norris Trophy in 1989, 1993 and 1996, and received the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2007. Like many on this list, he was part of the team that won the silver medal in 2002 and took home gold at the 1996 world cup. most importantly in hockey, chelios won three stanley cups, one with the team that selected him, the montreal canadiens (1986), and two with the red wings (2002, 2008).

    In all, Chelios’ career spanned four decades: he was drafted in 1981 and debuted in 1983, playing his last nhl game for the atlanta thrashers in april. on January 6, 2010. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame three years later, along with his former Red Wings teammate, Brendan Shanahan. He has been part of the front office of the Red Wings and Blackhawks and continues to be a key figure in the hockey community.

    the future is bright

    The future of the American game has never been brighter. An American player has been selected in the top ten in each of the last five NHL drafts. Two of the last six top overall draft picks have also been Americans, with Matthews in 2016 and Jack Hughes most recently in 2019. The NHL is littered with American stars ages 25 and under. This season, Adam Fox (23) won the Norris Trophy, and Jason Robertson (21) was the Calder Trophy runner-up.

    • Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
      Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
    • Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
      Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
    • Jason Robertson Dallas Stars
      Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

    10 years from now, this list could look radically different. there will be new faces and hopefully many new international achievements. There’s never been a better time to be a fan of the American game.

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