The best American players in NHL history

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

April 21st, 2020

There’s a tendency to believe Canadian-born players dominate the NHL, but United States citizens make up over 25 percent of the league as of two seasons ago.

The U.S. also boasts some of the best hockey players to ever lace up a pair of skates. Here’s our top five list of the greatest U.S.-born NHL players.

5. Jonathan Quick

No goalie of United States heritage has more shutouts than Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who has 52 through 644 NHL games. His 2.32 GAA is second only to Ben Bishop among U.S. goalies (minimum 150 starts), and his .913 save percentage ranks seventh.

Quick has two William M. Jennings Trophies (goaltender for the team with the fewest goals against), and the Connecticut native also earned the Conn Smythe Award (playoff MVP) in 2012, when he won his first of two Stanley Cups.

4. Patrick Kane

Even if he never played another game, Buffalo, New York native Patrick Kane would walk right into the Hall of Fame.

Kane has appeared in nine All-Star games through 13 seasons and has earned numerous individual awards, including a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year, 2008), Hart Trophy (MVP, 2016), Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player, 2016), and Art Ross Trophy (points leader, 2016).

He also earned a Conn Smythe in 2013, when he won his second of three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane has an incredible 123 points through 127 playoff games, and only Pat LaFontaine has averaged more points per game in the regular season (1.171, compared to Kane’s 1.050) among American skaters.

3. Phil Housley

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Phil Housley made an immediate impact on the Buffalo Sabres’ blue line in the 1982-1983 season, when he scored 66 points and finished second in the Calder Trophy race. The finesse defenseman never won a Norris Trophy (best all-around defenseman) over his 21-year career, but he received seven All-Star nominations.

No American-born defenseman has scored more points than Housley, who notched 1,232 over 1,495 games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.

2. Mike Modano

Selected first overall in the 1988 NHL Draft, Mike Modano lived up to the hype over his 21-year career, almost all of which was spent with the Dallas Stars franchise.

Modano scored 75 points as a rookie but lost the Calder Trophy race to Hall of Fame right winger Sergei Makarov, who defected from the Soviet Union to play for the Flames at age 31 (Calder eligibility rules have been tweaked since then).

Two seasons later, at age 20, Modano notched 20 playoff points as his North Stars took Mario Lemieux’s Penguins to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Michigan-born center got back to the promised land in 1999, and this time he made it count. The Stars won the Cup, behind Modano’s 23 points in 23 postseason games. Modano retired a seven-time All-Star and was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.

1. Brian Leetch

The Texas-born Brian Leetch draws few parallels among NHL defenseman, regardless of birthplace.

The Rangers legend won the Calder Trophy in 1989, when he tallied 71 points in 68 games. In 1992, Leetch won his first of two Norris Trophies on the strength of a career-high 102-point campaign. But Leetch is best remembered by Blueshirts fans for his efforts in New York’s 1994 Stanley Cup run that saw him nab Conn Smythe honors.

A seven-time All-Star, Leetch is second only to Housley in points among American-born defensemen (1,028) and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. 

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