American hockey has taken significant steps forward in the past 20 years. Today, USA Hockey is a top-five hockey country in the world and is a major contender in every international event.
It’s for that reason that we take a moment to honor Jim Johannson, whose work with USA Hockey helped shape it for generations to come. Beyond helping countless national teams achieve their potential and win medals, his mentorship and friendship helped thousands of players in the hockey world develop as better people. He was the glue of USA Hockey. His sudden death at the age of 53 this month is a loss for us all.
These are the top 10 American players in the National Hockey League today along with some honorable mentions. It takes into account scoring statistics, leadership abilities, and value to team, with added weight given to last season and this season.
These players all made the initial cut, but didn’t crack the top 10. They are not listed in any particular order.
Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets; Tyler Johnson, F, Tampa Bay Lightning; Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets; Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers; Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins; Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets; Vincent Trocheck, F, Florida Panthers; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers; Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins; Nick Leddy, D, New York Islanders
10. Max Pacioretty, F, Montreal Canadiens
Pacioretty, born in New Canaan, Connecticut, has hit the 30-goal mark in each of five of the last six seasons. He ranks sixth in points (160 in 210 games) for American players over the last three years. The left winger has good speed, excellent hands and a laser-like shot. He’s a responsible player with two-way ability as evidenced by leading the league in plus-minus in 2014-15. As Captain of the Montreal Canadiens since 2015, he faces the media after every game, good and bad.
9. Blake Wheeler, F, Winnipeg Jets
Wheeler is a powerful, imposing figure at 6-foot-5, 225 lbs. The 31-year-old born in Plymouth, Minnesota possesses an unusual combination of size, speed and skill. He uses his oversized frame to win battles in the corners and create ample space in scoring areas. The No. 5 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft has a powerful and accurate shot. He has 152 points (52 goals, 100 assists) over the last two seasons. This year, he already has 54 points in 48 games. Only fellow American, Patrick Kane, has more points since the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
8. Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild
Suter is a workhorse defenseman, almost always at the top of the league in ice time (averaging 27:32 per game for the last three seasons) and is a critical piece to the success of the Minnesota Wild. This year, the 33-year-old born in Madison, Wisconsin is tied for third in scoring among defenseman. He has 30 points and is a plus-41 over the last three seasons. Suter is an excellent skater, puck-mover and all-around defenseman. He can score a power play goal and shut down the others team’s top forwards.
7. Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers
The 28-year-old born in St. Paul, Minnesota is captain of the New York Rangers. He can play in any situation and is a great shutdown defenseman who can also chip in a few points. McDonagh tops the leaderboard with a plus-58 over the last three seasons and is tenth in scoring among defensemen. Furthermore, he’s led the team in ice time for five straight seasons, including this year. His devotion and passion for success was on display when he played 17:33 on a broken ankle in Game 7 of the 2015 conference finals against Tampa Bay.
6. Phil Kessel, F, Pittsburgh Penguins
Kessel has won two straight Stanley Cups with the Penguins. The 30-year-old born in Madison, Wisconsin, is coming off a 70-point (23 goals, 47 assists) 2016-17 season and is among the league leaders in points this year. He’s a force on the power play, leading all Americans with nine power play goals and 22 assists. Last year, he led all players with 23 points in the playoffs, while adding 22 in 2015-16.
5. Auston Matthews, F, Toronto Maple Leafs
After an impressive 40-goal rookie season last year, Matthews shows no signs of falling into a sophomore slump and may even have a better year. The No. 1 selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, already has 36 points (21 goals) in 39 games. He was born in San Ramon, California. As the skilled 20-year-old center gains experience, he will likely move even higher up this list.
4. Jack Eichel, F, Buffalo Sabres
Eichel is near a point-per-game player over his career while playing on a terrible team. The Sabres offense goes through him as he generates chances on nearly every shift. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft became the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player since Paul Kariya in 1993. This year, the 21-year-old from Chelmsford, Massachusetts has 45 points in 47 games.
He’s been involved in 44% of the Sabres’ goals directly and has been on the ice for 61 of his team’s 105 goals (58%). No other player in the league is close.
3. Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose Sharks
Pavelski, 33, is in his eleventh season with the Sharks. The natural goal-scorer was born in Plover, Wisconsin and was selected in the seventh round (No. 205) in the 2003 NHL Draft. The ‘Little General’ is the Captain and the unquestioned leader of the Sharks. He is a consistent 40-goal scorer and ranks fifth in points over the last three seasons.
2. Johnny Gaudreau, F, Calgary Flames
Born in Salem, New Jersey, “Johnny Hockey” won the 2014 Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s best player. The 5-foot-9, 24-year-old is fast and possesses tremendous puck-handling skills. His heart is twice his size. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, he’s third in scoring for American players, with 194 points in 198 games. If the adage is true that speed kills, Gaudreau is lethal.
1. Patrick Kane, F, Chicago Blackhawks
Kane is head and shoulders above any other American in scoring over the last three years, averaging 1.16 points per game. Born in Buffalo, New York, the 29-year-old already has three Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe Trophy.
The 2007 first overall pick is a dynamic playmaker and an incredible passer. He has elite vision and hockey sense, and can beat any goalie with his uber-accurate shot. No player in the league is as dangerous in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick than Patrick Kane. He has 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) this season and is the first American player to score at least 20 goals in each of his first 11 NHL seasons.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”