The year is 2040. The NHL adds it’s 35th and 36th teams with the addition of the Atlanta Grits and the Kansas City Ribeyes. Alex Ovechkin announces the upcoming 2040-41 season will be his last at age 56. He enters the season with 1,287 career goals. This is also the final season for United States-born forwards Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. Matthews spent the last 10 years of his career with the homestate Arizona Coyotes, while Eichel spent the entirety of his with the Buffalo Sabres and won two Stanley Cups.
I’m now 74 years old. I still religiously get in my Dan Uggla wrist curls (50 sets of 50) regimen and still contribute to ESPN when called upon. So before I head out for my morning pickleball match with Darren Pang down in Naples, Florida, I sent in my top 20 American-born NHL players (sorry, Brett Hull, Canadian-born Americans are ineligible here).
Here’s my personal ranking (with some of the younger talents, like Matthews and Eichel, projected out for their careers through 2040 to even the playing field).
20. Mark Johnson, C (1980-1990)
Career NHL stats: 669 games, 203 goals, 305 assists
Johnson was a national Champion at Wisconsin and led the 1980 American Miracle on Ice team with 11 points in a gold-medal effort, scoring two goals in the upset win of the Soviets. And despite playing on some bad teams in the NHL, he still averaged 0.76 points per game in his 11-year career. And in his post-playing career, Johnson is a national-championship-winning head coach for the Wisconsin women’s team. Clutch and class.
Career NHL stats: 1,099 games, 289 goals, 634 assists
Broten won an NCAA hockey title at the University of Minnesota, a Miracle on Ice Olympic gold medal in 1980 and then a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1995. He later won the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States in 1998. A tremendous hockey life.
18. Mark Howe, D (1974-1995)
Career NHL stats: 929 games, 197 goals, 545 assists
A Hockey Hall of Famer, Howe has the third-highest points per game (0.8) for USA-born defensemen behind Brian Leetch and Phil Housley. Early WHA years cost him some NHL points. But Vancouver star rookie Quinn Hughes could eventually pass Howe to occupy that spot behind Leetch and Housley.
Career NHL stats: 666 games, .904 save percentage, 2.89 goals-against average
Richter shared duties early on and played on some bad Rangers teams at the end of his career. But he also delivered New York a Stanley Cup in 1994, had 301 career wins and provided so many memorable moments (like the 1996 World Cup of Hockey MVP effort). He was the kind of player who leaves an imprint on your hockey brain.
Career NHL stats: 746 games, 105 goals, 367 assists
Carlson is a great player. A World Junior hero. A Stanley Cup champion. A likely Norris Trophy winner in 2019-20. And still just 30 years old, he should have five more good season in him to finish off a Hall of Fame career.
Career NHL stats: 1,174 games, 416 goals, 484 assists
What a fun player to watch. Amonte could play in all situations and always showed up to play, rarely missing games. He ranks top 20 all-time in both goals and assists by a USA-born player.
Career NHL stats: 1,263 games, 429 goals, 427 assists
Guerin has the sixth-most goals among USA-born players (429) and two Stanley Cups. His hockey energy could feed a room, and he was always fun to be around.
Career NHL stats: 639 games, .913 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average
Two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe is an outstanding resume. But the Kings probably played him too much in his 20s — he had seasons of 72, 72, 69, 68 and 68 games — which might shorten his career.
12. Frank Brimsek, G (1939-1950)
Career NHL stats: 514 games, 2.70 goals-against average
Minnesota-born Brimsek was a rare American NHL player in the 1940s, but he helped the Bruins to a Stanley Cup win in 1939 and again in 1941, and he took home two Vezina Trophies during his career.
Career NHL stats: 1,495 games, 338 goals, 894 assists
Housley entered the NHL as an 18-year-old and was immediately productive. He was ideal for the wide-open, high-scoring hockey of the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
Career NHL stats: 1,062 games, 502 goals, 561 assists
Mullen had more goals (502) and points (1,063) than any U.S.-born player at the time of his retirement. He was one of those fortunate players who found himself on good, winning teams. And he played a big part with smart play and a heavy shot.
Career NHL stats: 1,201 games, 538 goals, 527 assists
Tkachuk is still the only USA-born player to lead the NHL in goals, doing so in 1996-97 with 52. He never played on a truly great team, so he always got a lot of attention from the opponent — and he still produced. His sons, Matthew and Brady, might join him in the Hall of Fame one day.
Career NHL stats: 1,363 games, 513 goals, 703 assists
I know, I’m more bullish on Roenick then others. But he stopped accumulating stats in his 30s because how physically he played in his 20s. I started covering the NHL in 1989, and whenever I talked to kids getting drafted back then, they’d all mention Roenick as the guy they wanted to play like.
Career NHL stats: 1,651 games, 185 goals, 763 assists
Most probably think No. 7 is too low for Chelios. He always had great fitness (despite legendary partying) and was a elite competitor. Yes, Chelios was very fortunate to almost always be on good teams, but he also was a huge part of all of them with his competitive fire and leadership presence.
Career NHL stats: 1,205 games, 247 goals, 781 assists
Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy (two), Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup. Leetch won it all, and he seemed to have been constructed in a hockey laboratory. He was lava-lamp smooth.
Career NHL stats: 344 games, 134 goals, 199 assists
Eichel is, and will continue to be, a monster talent. His skating, passing and shooting are all high-end skills. He is strong and is still gaining grit as he ages. Eichel has a unique “speed skating” stride and a heavy shot. So yes, if Captain Jack stays focused and driven, he will go down as a top-five USA-born player.
Career NHL stats: 865 games, 468 goals, 545 assists
To be honest, I was tempted to put LaFontaine No. 1 on the list. He has the most points per game among USA-born players, and he was one of those players who could absolutely do it all. My hockey crush on Patty Ice is real.
Career NHL stats: 1,499 games, 561 goals, 813 assists
Modano has the most goals and points for a USA-born player. That’s enough to put him this high. And he was maybe the coolest skater of all time, with the way his sweater fluttered in the air and he cruised up the ice.
Career NHL stats: 272 games, 153 goals, 123 assists
I think Matthews will be the first American-born player with 600 goals — and 700 isn’t out of the question. I hope he loves the game forever. He may go down as having the best arsenal of shots among American players, with a devastating wrist shot and one-timer whether from in close or distance. Matthews is a threat to score as soon as he gets off the bus.
Career NHL stats: 962 games, 383 goals, 629 assists
Kane is brilliance. They call teammate Jonathan Toews “Captain Serious,” but when it comes to taking the game and his craft seriously, Kane is also right near the top. He’s a substance-and-style player who helped bring Chicago back (name a pathetic sports franchise, and that was the Hawks before Kane and Toews arrived). Kane doesn’t miss games, is remarkably consistent and has matured on and off the ice. And, yes, he loves wearing the USA sweater during international play.