As the “Hockey Nations Series” continues, it’s time to cover the 5th ranked country in the IIHF World Rankings for ice hockey, the United States of America.
USA Hockey is a contender in every major hockey tournament today. This decade, USA was awarded a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics before a disappointing 4th place finish in 2014, which included an uninspired effort against Finland in the bronze medal game. Recently, USA has had its most success at the World Juniors, winning gold medals at the 2010 and 2013 World Junior Championships.
USA is one of two nations to win the World Cup of Hockey. The American were champions at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, and the Canadians won the tournament in 2004. This time, as the two North American rivals are grouped together, it will be for big time bragging rights. Canada has eliminated the United States from the past two Winter Olympics. A United States victory in the round robin would be nice, however the significant win would be in the finals. A Unites States versus Canada final would be an epic 3-game-series. Last week I ranked my top 5 Americans in Hockey Today which can be viewed here. In the Hockey Nations Series I am ranking the top 10 players from the top 6 ranked hockey countries. Here are my rankings of the top 10 American Players in hockey today.
10) Ryan Kesler
The two-way center was a big-time acquisition by the Anaheim Ducks this summer and was really solid in his first full season in Anaheim. However, his days of back to back 70 point seasons (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) appear to be behind him. He scored 20 goals, 27 assists, and 47 points this year in 81 regular season games. Kesler was brought to Anaheim to help them win a championship.
The Ducks went on their best playoff run since their Stanley Cup Championship in 2007, but lost the Chicago Blackhawks in 7 games in the Western Conference Final. Kesler was at his best in the playoffs, scoring big goals and matching up against the oppositions top lines. Kesler scored 12 points in 15 playoff games. The 30-year-old will be in his age 31 season next year and will look to use his gritty two-way game to help inspire the Ducks back to the Stanley Cup Final. Kesler was the 2010-2011 Frank J. Selke Award winner as the best defensive forward in hockey.
9) Phil Kessel
Kessel is one of the fastest skaters and best snipers in hockey. In 9 NHL seasons Kessel has been a 30-goal-scorer in 5 of them. He is one of the best in the game at putting the puck in the net. Kessel also has the ability to utilize his snap shot at a very high speed. His best season was in 2011-2012 when he scored 37 goals, 45 assists and 82 points in 82 games. He is many times criticized for Toronto’s play and in particular his game without the puck.
In the NHL, he has just not been a two-way player, teams should know by now what they are going to get with Kessel. Your going to get a goal scorer who rarely takes hits or throws his body, and he is able to not get hit because of his hockey smarts and great skating ability. It will be very interesting to see if Kessel stays in Toronto under new head coach Mike Babcock, or if it is time for both sides to move on.
If anyone can turn Kessel into a more two-way player it is Mike Babcock. However, it appears both sides might be ready for a trade. Kessel is not a media guy and just wants to play hockey. It might make sense for Toronto to move the goal-scorer if the trade is right as well as the money. If Kessel is traded this summer, I see a team with a big need for goal-scoring that does not have a lot of media covering the team.
8) Zach Parise
Parise is one of the hardest working players in the game and also has skill. He can be a grinder and a goal scorer, and competes hard every shift of every game. This past season Parise had his best season offensively with the Wild since he signed with Ryan Suter as free agents on July 4th of 2012. He scored 33 goals and added 29 assists for 62 points and was a plus 21.
Parise spent his first seven years in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, where he was a 30-goal-scorer in five of them. Parise had his best offensive season in 2008-2009 when he scored 45 goals and 94 points. While point-per-game stats for Parise appear to be done,Parise is still an extremely effective two-way player and leader for the Minnesota Wild. Look for Parise to score 25-30 again next season and try to inspire a deeper playoff run for the team.
7) Joe Pavelski
Pavelski is one of the top two-way players in hockey. The guy leads by example and is a leader in the room for the San Jose Sharks. Pavelski is good on faceoffs and controlling the middle of the ice, but has become a regular playing the wing position with Joe Thornton as his center.
Pavelski has played on Joe Thorton’s wing in recent years and has excelled. His best year offensively was in 2013-2014 where he scored 41 goals, 38 assists, 79 points and was a plus 23. Pavelski’s 19 power play goals this past season was 2nd in the NHL only to Alexander Ovechkin. If the Sharks are going to return to the playoffs next year, Pavelski will be relied upon again to provide offense and lead the team.
6) Max Pacioretty
Another excellent two-way American player is none other than Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens. The guy is a pure sniper with a great combination of speed and size. Not many lefty wingers are as dangerous in the NHL off of a one-timer or with open space in the offensive zone than Pacioretty.
The 6’2 native of New Canaan, Connecticut is by far the most important player offensively for the Montreal Canadiens. In each full season in the league (2011-2012, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015) Pacioretty has scored 33, 39, and 37 goals. This past year was his best year defensively by far in his four seasons in the league. Pacioretty was a plus 38 and had impressive numbers across the board. He also had 10 power play goals, three shorthanded goals and 11 game-winning goals. Look for the 26-year-old to consistently be among the top five goal scorers in the game.
5) Tyler Johnson
Johnson does it all for the Tampa Bay Lightning and can play in any situation. He has speed, smarts, hockey sense, leadership, and everything you would want in a teammate. Johnson has had two tremedous seasons in the league to begin his career. Playing with the same winger in the minors, Ondrej Palat, is a reason for the great chemistry the two have together on the ice.
This season Johnson scored 29 goals, 43 assists, 72 points and was a plus 33 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. In his second playoff run, Johnson leads the NHL in points through the first three rounds of the playoffs. He has scored clutch goal after clutch goal during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff. People that have not seen him play much might think he is too high on this list, but Johnson is a player and one of the best Americans in hockey today. He is just getting started too, watch out for the Spokane, Washington native.
4) Ryan Suter
Suter’s puck moving ability, shut-down capabilities, and workhorse mentatlity is what puts him among the NHL’s elite on defense. He can play power-play or shut down the opposing teams top forwards on a consistent basis. The two-time USA Olympian will be looking to lead the Minnesota Wild to a deep playoff run in the next few seasons.
His ice time is always at the top in the league among defenseman and not many players are more valuable to their teams defense than Suter is to the Minnesota Wild. Suter averaged 29:00 per game during the regular season, which exemplifies how heavily relied upon he is for his team. He finished the 2014-2015 campaign with 2 goals, 36 asssits, and 38 points in 77 games played.
3) Ryan McDonagh
The 25-year-old New York Rangers captain is a warrior. He played a few games in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final with a broken foot. This guy wants to win and is a leader, competitor, and confident athlete. McDonagh has added offense to his game in recent years and is noticable most games for New York on the backend. He was the best defenseman on a defense that was acknowledged as the best defense in the league this year. Look for McDonagh to continue to get better next year, as he has done evey year in the NHL thus far. In each of his four seasons in the NHL he has made it past the first round of the playoffs.
2012- Eastern Conference Final
2013- Eastern Conference Semi-Final
2014- Stanley Cup Final
2015- Eastern Conference Final
The Rangers recent playoff success and the arrival of Ryan McDonagh as a rookie in 2011-2012 definitely go together. McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist are the two Rangers players that the team wants to go to battle for. These guys are gonna do whatever it takes to get the Rangers back in position for another strong playoff run next spring.
2) Jonathan Quick
Sure Jonathan Quick does not have the numbers in the regular season that the elite goalies of the league have, but Quick also has 2-Stanley Cups. Most goalies would trade in a Vezina Trophy for a Stanley Cup ring. Quick is simply sensational when the pressure is on and is a player that raises his compete level significantly in bigger games. Quick is one of the best American goalies of all time. His flexibility and quickness side to side makes him almost unbeatable at times. Quick and the LA Kings will be back next year and ready to get back to the playoffs.
1) Patrick Kane
The 26-year-old from Buffalo, NY has two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his impressive resume. Not many players have the hands, hockey sense, elusiveness, and ability to make those around him better. Patrick Kane is among the best at all of those things. What he brings to a hockey team is truly special to watch. Kane is a dynamic playmaker and goal scorer that defenses have no answer to at times. Kane is just under a point-per-game pace for his career.
In 576 games played, Kane has 557 points. His best offensive season was when he won his first Stanley Cup in 2009-2010, scoring 30 goals and 58 assists for 88 points. If there is every going to be an American to lead the NHL in points, Kane appears to be the player that can do it. He has all the capabilities and if I had to pay money to see one guy in the NHL, it’s number 88 of the Chicago Blackhawks that I want to see.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.