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by Royal Reign / Los Angeles Kings
Nick Nickson
Earlier this season two long-time NHL veterans reached significant NHL milestones. Mike Modano, in his 18th season, became the highest scoring U.S. born player when he passed Phil Housley’s total of 1,232 points. Modano has spent his entire career with the Stars organization after being selected as the first overall pick in the 1988 draft.

Jeremy Roenick, who announced his retirement last summer only to be lured back by San Jose, scored his 500th NHL goal becoming the 40th player to reach the plateau. “JR” joined Modano and Hall-of-Famer, Joe Mullen, as the only three U.S. born players to reach 500.

On the heals of these two achievements we wondered about an All-American Team. The best U.S. born players in NHL history. Our team consists of twenty of the best…12 forwards…six defensemen…and two goaltenders. So here we go!

The criteria we use are based mostly on their accomplishments at the NHL level with consideration for their performances representing the U.S. in International competition. Some choices are rather obvious and their names always came up first when we talked with players, coaches and administrators who have been involved with USA Hockey (Olympics and International competitions) and the NHL for many years.

ON DEFENSE…the automatic picks include Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch. Chelios (Chicago, IL) is playing in his 24th NHL season and recently became the second oldest player ever to play in the NHL (he’s 46). Arguably the best U.S. born player ever, Chelios has won Stanley Cups and Norris Trophies and his longevity speaks for itself.

Leetch (Corpus Christi, TX) spent most of his career with the New York Rangers and finished his career with 1,028 points. His ability to create offense from the back line was second to none. He captured the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP in 1994 when the Rangers won their only Championship since 1940 and along with Chelios were the anchors of many USA Teams.

Our third defenseman is Rod Langway. Born in Maag, Formosa, and reared in Boston (a US citizen from birth) he began his NHL career in 1978 with Montreal (winning a Stanley Cup) but blossomed into an All-Star with Washington. His 15-year career was highlighted by back-to-back Norris Trophies in 1984 and 1985.

“Rod was a player who could give you big minutes in any game and with his size could shut down the best opponents,” said former U.S. Olympic and World Cup coach Ron Wilson. “Even though he didn’t put up great offensive numbers, Rod’s first pass was always effective in jump-starting the offense.”

Phil Housley (St. Paul, MN) spent 21 seasons in the NHL, played 1,495 games and was the top-scoring U.S. born player with 1,232 points before being passed by Modano earlier this season. His longevity and production warrant a spot on our team.

Chris Chelios, who has long been a thorn in the Kings side, makes Nickson listed on the blueline.

To complete the defense we go with Gary Suter and Mark Howe. Suter, from Madison, Wisconsin, played 17 seasons in the NHL. He broke into the league in 1985 and became a mainstay on the Calgary defense for a number of seasons while winning a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989. In 1,145 games, Suter accumulated 844 career points.

Howe (Detroit. MI), one of Gordie’s sons, played 16 seasons; appeared in 929 games; scored 197 goals and had one of the best wrist shots in the game.

“Mark could do it all,” Recalled Jack Ferreira, a past GM of three NHL teams and current assistant to Kings GM Dean Lombardi. “He wasn’t an overly physical player. He played forward and defense during his career but on defense he was great at controlling the game. He had a great shot and had quick acceleration. Looking back…he’s as skilled a player as we’ve seen from the group of U.S. born players.”

IN GOAL...Mike Richter and Tom Barrasso team up. Richter (Abington, PA) was the Rangers’ fortress during their Championship season in 1994. He posted 301 career wins and was usually the go-to-guy in the World Cups, Olympics and other International competition for the U.S.

“Mike was always prepared and ready,” Said Wilson. “He was a leader and didn’t have the ‘normal’ goalie mentality. He was outgoing and talked with everybody and most important in the games he came up with the big saves.”

Barrasso (Boston, MA) chalked up 369 wins to rank 14th all-time. He was drafted by Buffalo in the early 80’s but it wasn’t until he arrived in Pittsburgh that he elevated his game. He backstopped the Penguins to their back-to-back Cups in 1991 and 1992.

UP FRONT…Some selections are easy. Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick and Joey Mullen are three. They are the only U.S. born players that have joined the 500 goal club. Modano (Livonia, MI) is the top-scoring U.S. born player of all-time; Roenick (Boston, MA) combined skill and physical play in his prime and put up some great numbers year-to-year. Mullen (New York, NY) played 17 seasons and was a Stanley Cup winner with Calgary and Pittsburgh.

“Joey was a natural scorer,” recalled Ferreira. “He played the game hard, played with injuries and went to the hard areas to score goals. He was as competitive a player that you’d ever see.” Mullen also set the bar high for all other Americans that have followed retiring with 502 goals after his final season in 1996-97.

Speaking of Roenick, we asked him to weigh in on some of his picks for our team. His defense has Chelios and Leetch and at forward Modano with Pat Lafontaine and Keith Tkachuk.

Lafontaine (St. Louis, MO) was as skilled a center as you could find and in a career cut short because of injuries still amassed 1,013 points and 468 goals in only 865 games.

Wilson remarked on his prowess: “Every time I put Pat on the ice in the big games something big happened. He was a tremendous offensive talent and saw the ice as well as anybody.”

Tkachuk (Melrose, MA) is probably the team’s ultimate power forward. At 6-3, 225 pounds, Tkachuk could dominate the area around the net and still does. Playing this season with St. Louis, he’ll likely reach the 500 goals plateau later this season or early next season.

So we now have five of our 12 forwards…Modano, Roenick, Mullen, Lafontaine and Tkachuk.

Former King Bobby Carpenter made NHL history by becoming the highest drafted U.S. born player in 1981, when Washington selected him third.

Welcome Bobby Carpenter to the team. Carpenter (Boston, MA) made NHL history by becoming the highest drafted U.S. born player when Washington chose him with the 3rd overall pick in the 1981 draft. In some ways he blazed the trail for others and in a career that spanned 19 seasons with Washington, the New York Rangers, the Kings, Boston and New Jersey, he played 1,178 games, scoring 320 goals. At the end of his career he became a very responsible defensive forward and won a Cup with the Devils.

Another one of the more successful Americans began etching out his career as a member of the USA “Miracle On Ice” Team that captured the 1980 Gold Medal in the Olympics. Neal Broten (Roseau, MN) made the transition from Olympic hero to the NHL where he went on to play 1,099 games and record 923 points for Minnesota, Dallas, New Jersey and briefly for the Kings. A slick play maker (634 career assists) he also excelled in the post-season picking up 98 playoff points in 135 games and earned a Stanley Cup with the 1995 New Jersey Devils.

John LeClair (St. Albans, VT) and Kevin Stevens (Brockton, MA) were proto-typical power forwards in their NHL days who were also among the first choices for any USA Team in International competition. LeClair won a Stanley Cup early in his career as a member of the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens, but it was with Philadelphia were his game took off. In a five-year span beginning in 1995 he scored 235 goals…an average of 47 per season. Forced into early retirement due to back problems, LeClair amassed 406 goals and 819 points.

“John was one of the more dominant power forwards in his prime,” recalled Wilson. “His game was just as effective on the International stage as it was in the NHL.”

Former King Kevin Stevens also makes Nickson's list of All-Time greats.

Stevens, originally drafted by the Kings in 1983, played 15 seasons in the NHL scoring 329 career goals while logging 1,470 penalty minutes. Playing alongside Mario Lemieux in his halcyon days in Pittsburgh, he helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Tony Amonte (Hingham, MA) earns a spot up front as well. A great skater who scored 416 goals in 15 seasons, he also was one of the first names that came up in our talks with Wilson. He appeared in two Olympics (1998 and 2002).

To close out group of forwards we go with two more current NHL’ers. Bill Guerin (Worcester, MA) is currently in his 15th full NHL season and is captain of the Islanders. The 6-2 right winger broke in with the Devils in 1982 (won a Stanley Cup in 1995) and has played for Edmonton, Boston, Dallas, St. Louis and San Jose as well. He has amassed close to 1,100 NHL games and has appeared in each of the last three Olympics for the U.S.

Chris Drury (Trumbull, CT) rounds out our selections at forward. The youngest member of our team (31) is in just his ninth NHL season but his ability to score big goals in big games has been uncanny. A member of the 2001 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, Drury’s teams have made the playoffs six times and in the post-season he has scored 43 goals in 144 games. In the playoffs he has 15 game-winning goals! The NHL record is 24 shared by Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull.

This is our All-American Team. We went with an All-Star lineup and specialty players didn’t get the recognition in our top 20 but players like Joel Otto, Brian Rolston, Jeff Halpern and Steve Konolwalchuk have proven their effectiveness on the defensive side of the puck. Brett Hull played for a number of USA Teams but was born in Canada so he didn’t qualify. Many others have played and excelled at the NHL and International level and were given consideration. Honorable mention goes to John Vanbiesbrouk and Frank Brimsek (goal); Darien Hatcher, Ken Morrow and Reed Larson (defense); along with Doug Weight, Scott Gomez, Ed Olczyk and Tony Granato (forward).

Written by Nick Nickson for Royal Reign


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