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Born in the USA

Listing the best American players in Flyers past, present & future

by Bill Meltzer @NHLFlyers

Through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season, a total of 84 American players (74 skaters and 10 goaltenders) have played for the Flyers in the team's 52-season history. This past season, seven Americans dressed for the team at various junctures of the season.

Note: The tallies include several dual U.S.-Canadian citizens who represented Team USA in international competition. However, it excludes dual citizens (such as current Flyers center Sean Couturier) who primarily grew up in Canada and/or represented Team Canada. 

The number of American-born Flyers is almost certain to expand significantly in future seasons. League-wide, the number of Americans selected in the NHL Entry Draft, grows annually. In the 2019 NHL Draft, a total of 59 Americans were selected. Only Canada (64) had more. A staggering 17 members of the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) under-18 squad were chosen in this year's Draft; the highest number of players from a single team selected in any Draft in NHL history.

The Flyers are one of the teams at the forefront of this trend. In the 2018 Draft, five of the team's eight Draft picks were Americans (while the other three were from Sweden). In 2019, each of Philadelphia's first three picks, and four of their seven overall (there were also two Canadians and one Russian), hail from the United States. The ranks include three players who were full-time USNTDP players in their Draft-eligible season (2018 first-rounder Joel Farabee, 2019 first-rounder Cam York, and 2018 sixth-rounder Gavin Hain) and two others (2018 first-rounder Jay O'Brien and 2019 second-rounder Bobby Brink) who played with the USNTDP on a short-term basis.

Overall, the unprecedented growth of the USNTDP, along with the ever-growing importance of the USHL and the NCAA as talent sources for future pros -- and even the growing presence of talent honed not only in U.S.-based prep schools and high schools but in leagues such as the NAHL -- has made its presence felt in the NHL Draft.

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher pointed out recently that, while the traditional U.S. hockey hotbeds of Minnesota, the New England region and Michigan continue to churn out NHL prospects in both quantity and quality, they are no longer alone. Hockey participation has grown significantly from coast-to-coast in the U.S. over the last 20 years.

"Just look at the size of scouting departments today, including ours. We need all our regional guys, because there's so much ground to cover, and so many good players coming from all over the country. It's a big challenge but it's something that's great for our sport," Fletcher said on the second day of the 2019 Draft.

The future is bright, but now let's take an historical look at American-born Flyers. In honor of Independence Day in the United States, here's a top 20 list of facts about American Flyers and the contributions of Flyers to hockey in the United States.

1. In the beginning: It did not take the Flyers long at all to have their first American player. As a matter of fact, Aberdeen, Washington native right winger Wayne Hicks was on the ice for the first shift of the first game in franchise history (October 11, 1967 against the California Seals). Conversely, the 1974-75 Flyers were the final NHL team to win the Stanley Cup with a roster entirely composed of Canadian players. Many members of the Cup-winning Flyers teams subsequently became American citizens after settling permanently in the Delaware Valley.

2. The Magnificent Mark Howe: A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Flyers Hall of Fame and a winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the United States, Mark Howe spent 10 seasons in a Flyers uniform. His famed No. 2 jersey was retired by the team on March 6, 2012.

3. Raised in the Garden State: Three Flyers players have hailed from the state of New Jersey. Current Flyers left wing James van Riemsdyk has had two stints with the team. Former Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz and center Jim Dowd are also New Jersey natives. To date, there have been two Delaware Valley natives -- Wilmington's Mark Eaton and Ambler's David Sloane -- to dress for the Flyers.

4. Born on the Fourth of July: Born on July 4, 1972 in Toronto to Latvian-born American citizens, Mike Knuble was raised in Kentwood, Michigan near Grand Rapids. He went to college at the University of Michigan and he makes the Grand Rapids area his permanent home. He always represented the USA in international hockey play, despite his dual citizenship. Knuble's NHL career was unique. He was of the NHL's ultimate late-bloomers, as he scored 228 of his career 278 regular season NHL goals from age 30 onward.

5. Boucher's Rookie Magic: As a rookie in 1999-2000, goaltender Brian Boucher recorded five shutouts -- four in the regular season and one in the playoffs -- and backstopped the team to within one win of the Stanley Cup Final. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island native earned a spot on the NHL All-Rookie team with a 20-10-3 record, 1.91 goals against average, and .918 save percentage.

6. Lester Patrick Trophy: The Lester Patrick Trophy is awarded annually by USA Hockey and the NHL to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States. Six individuals whose legacies are largely tied to the Flyers have been honored with the trophy: Ed Snider (1980), Fred Shero (1980), Bob Clarke (1980), Keith Allen (1988), Paul Holmgren (2014), and Mark Howe (2016). Additionally, several other Lester Patrick Trophy recipients also made contributions to the Flyers organization. This list includes inaugural Flyers general manager Bud Poile (1989 honoree), former Flyers chief counsel, executive vice president and chief operating officer Gil Stein (1993), and former Flyers play-by-play broadcaster Mike "Doc" Emrick (2004).

7. U.S. Hockey Hall of Famers: Flyers co-founder and longtime chairman Ed Snider was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. There also six inductees who played two or more seasons with the Flyers: Tony Amonte (2009), Derian Hatcher (2010), Mark Howe (2003), John LeClair (2009), Jeremy Roenick (2010) and John Vanbiesbrouck (2007). Additionally, the championship-winning 1996 World Cup of Hockey team, which featured LeClair, Hatcher, Amonte, Joel Otto and Paul Holmgren (assistant coach), was collectively inducted in 2016. That year, the induction ceremony was held in Philadelphia.

8. Umberger Catches Fire in 2008 Playoffs. Along with excellent goaltending from Martin Biron, the play of forward R.J. Umberger was a driving force in the Flyers' five-game upset of the favored Montreal Canadiens in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals. In that series, the Pittsburgh native racked up eight goals and nine points, including a two-goal, three-point game in the Flyers' series-clinching 6-4 win in Game 5 in Montreal.

9. Holmgren makes history: In Game 2 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final, Flyers power forward Paul Holmgren became the first American player to record a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final game. Earlier in the playoffs, between the clinching victory of the Flyers' first-round series win against the Edmonton Oilers (featuring a rookie Wayne Gretzky) and Game 1 of the Cup Final against the Islanders, Holmgren posted nine points (four goals, five assists).

10. Johnny Vermont: Sporting the jersey number 10 throughout his Flyers career, Legion of Doom left winger John LeClair is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and the Flyers Hall of Fame. The native of St. Albans, VT, scored 50 or more goals for Philadelphia in three straight seasons (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98) and 40 or more in five straight (1995-96 to 1999-2000). 

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