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Hockey Day

Best U.S.-born player right now debated by writers

Kane, Gaudreau, Knight on list for Hockey Week Across America roundtable @NHLdotcom

What better way to start off USA Hockey's Hockey Week Across America initiative than to have a good back-and-forth among passionate hockey writers about who is the best active United States-born player.

We assembled an eight-person roundtable of staffers -- seven Americans and a Canadian for good measure -- and had them have a go at picking the best American player.

There were a variety of responses, which likely means that hockey in the U.S. is in a good place as we celebrate Hockey Day in America, especially when younger players like Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Hughes, the likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, have not yet made the cut for this roundtable.

Here is what our panelists had to say:


Nick Cotsonika, columnist

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane ranks first in goals (35) and points (87) among NHL players born in the United States.

And he's on pace for more goals (49) and points (123) than he had in 2015-16, when he had 46 goals and 106 points -- and became the first American to win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring champion and the Hart Trophy as its most valuable player.

Video: Is Patrick Kane the top U.S.-born player?

In other words, he's producing at a higher rate than he did when he bolstered his claim as the greatest U.S.-born player in NHL history. The Art Ross and Hart came after he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 2007-08 and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013, when he won the second of his three Stanley Cup championships.

There isn't a more fun player to watch right now, either, no matter the nationality. Kane shows off his hands and hockey sense on a nightly basis, sneaking passes to teammates you didn't know were there, even sneaking passes to himself by chipping the puck past opponents and going to get it.

This is a great time for USA Hockey, with young stars like Johnny Gaudreau and Auston Matthews on the rise. But even at 30 years old, Kane is still No. 1.


Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

Gaudreau has 78 points (29 goals, 49 assists) for the Calgary Flames, eclipsing 70 points for the third time in his NHL career, and Calgary still has 24 games remaining in the regular season.

One of the most dynamic players in the League, the 25-year-old speedster from Salem, New Jersey, is well on his way to 40 goals and 90 points for the first time at this level. He had 30 goals in 2015-16 for his personal NHL best. Last season, he had 84 points. 

It's scary to think how much more of an offensive threat Gaudreau has become since his rookie season of 2014-15, when he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy after scoring 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games. 

Gaudreau's play is a major reason for Calgary's success this season; the Flames (35-16-7) are well on their way to securing home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason last season.  

Indeed, Gaudreau has evolved into a player who brings the fans out of their seats on virtually every shift he takes at Scotiabank Saddledome. His speed, vision and hands make him a threat to score every time he's on the ice. 

Kane was certainly atop the list of U.S.-born players for a long time, but Gaudreau has seized the throne. 


Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

Kane and Gaudreau are good choices, but those forwards each also benefit from playing with an elite center, which is hard to find. That's why Matthews, the 21-year-old center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is my choice.

Matthews has 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 44 games and is on pace to surpass 30 goals and 60 points for a third straight NHL season despite missing 14 games with a shoulder injury. His 1.20 points per game are third among U.S.-born players this season. And he's one of the best even-strength scorers in the League, tied for second in the NHL with Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres with 78 even-strength goals in 188 games since 2016-17, six behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (221 games).

Video: Austin Matthews' milestone 100th goal

Matthews' lethal snapshot is something to behold, and his 101 goals lead U.S.-born players during the past three NHL seasons despite playing 34 fewer games than the closest challenger, Kane, who has 96. He leads U.S.-born players in goals per 60 minutes (2.01) this season.

Matthews has helped Toronto qualify for the postseason in each of his first two seasons, which is noteworthy because the last time the Maple Leafs made the playoffs in consecutive seasons was the last of six straight appearances in 2003-04. 

Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

Ask this question in a few seasons and the answer likely is Matthews. But right now, Kane is the best player born in the U.S.

At 30, 12 seasons into an NHL career that already has seen him win the Stanley Cup three times, plus the Conn Smythe, Calder, Hart and Art Ross trophies, Kane is having arguably his best season. He has a point in 17 straight games, tied for the longest streak in the League this season, and he's second in the NHL in scoring with 87 points, seven behind Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. As Nick pointed out, he's on pace for more points than when he had a League-high 106 in 2015-16.

Kane isn't just the best U.S.-born player in the League right now -- he might be the best player, period. Since Jan. 1, he leads the NHL with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 18 games.

And since New Year's Day the Blackhawks are 9-6-3 and have crawled into the race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, three points behind the Minnesota Wild.

Kane is the one player every team that plays the Blackhawks must have a game plan for, and yet he's still producing at a League-best level. That makes Kane special, and the unquestioned best U.S.-born player.

Tom Gulitti, staff writer

This is a good time for American hockey and, as a result, it is difficult to pick which of these U.S.-born players is the best, but I agree with Brian's choice of Gaudreau. 

Kane has been the hottest player with his recent points surge, but this isn't about being the best player since Jan. 1. 

Gaudreau has been consistently good from the start of the season and one of the main reasons the Flames are battling with the Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks for first in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last season. 

Video: CEN@PAC: Gaudreau shows slick stickhandling for goal

With 29 goals, he's one away from equaling his NHL career-high from 2015-16, and he's fourth in the NHL with 78 points, six from his career high of 84, set last season.

Playing in Calgary, Gaudreau doesn't get as much attention as players in bigger markets such as Chicago and Toronto, but he probably deserves more attention in the discussion about Hart Trophy candidates this season. His dazzling speed and skill make him a must-watch.


Tracey Myers, staff writer

As good as Gaudreau and Matthews are, I'm going to have to go with Kane too.

Watching Kane play as often as I have, I see what others have already noted: the tremendous skill, the scoring streaks, the vision and the stick-handling.

But there's another trait that bears mentioning: his ability to play with all players. Off the top of my head, here are some of the former and current forwards who have played on Kane's line since 2015: Brad Richards, Kris Versteeg, Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Patrick Sharp, Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Drake Caggiula and Jonathan Toews.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but the point is Kane has gone through a plethora of linemates, and yet his production has remained strong. 

Kane is constantly working on his game and gets his fellow forwards to do the same. There's no reason to think he can't remain at this level for some time.


Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Although you can't go wrong with any of these answers -- clearly Kane, Gaudreau and Matthews are the cream of the American crop -- I'm going off the board here. 

Hilary Knight. 

No, she might not play in the NHL, but that doesn't mean that Knight couldn't be considered the best U.S.-born hockey player in the game today. 

Knight, a 29-year-old forward with the Montreal Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, has been playing for the United States national team since she was 17 and won a gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, her third participation in an Olympic Games. 

Video: USA defeats Canada 1-0 in their first rivalry game

Knight led the U.S. once again Tuesday, when she scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Canada in the first game of the Rivalry Series, a three-game set between the two teams. She continues to prove her mettle -- and her brilliance -- on the biggest stage.

And that's not to forget, Knight had a solid showing at 2018 NHL All-Star Skills Competition, when she demonstrated her impressive shot in the NHL Accuracy Shooting.

So, although it's obvious that the future of hockey in the United States is bright given the talent that's currently playing in the NHL, I think a shoutout to Knight is well deserved. Because in terms of U.S.-born hockey players, she's among the best of the best. 


Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Interesting that the Canadian gets the final say here on who the best American hockey player is right now.

My esteemed colleagues from have all made brilliant arguments in favor of their individual choices backed up by statistical evidence. Love Amalie going off the board with Knight, a very fitting candidate.

But I'm going to take a different tack here.

If Canada was playing the U.S. in an all-or-nothing game, who would I fear the most?

Ask me at this time next year and my answer might be different. As it stands right now, it would be Kane.

Gaudreau is one of the most dynamic players in the League and can stick-handle around anyone. I have the privilege of regularly watching Matthews in Toronto, and his shot and speed are second to none for a kid of his size (6-foot-3, 223 pounds). Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel has 239 points in his first 264 NHL games. Forwards Dylan Larkin, 22, of the Detroit Red Wings and Brock Boeser, 21, of the Vancouver Canucks haven't even approached their respective ceiling yet.

But Kane, to me, remains the dean of this group. As Nick points out, Kane is on pace to have more points than he did in 2015-16 when he won the Art Ross and Hart trophies. Tracey makes a great case too: the guy has played with an assembly line of linemates in recent years and still produces at an elite level.

In fact, it says here that by the time all is said and done, Kane, with his three Stanley Cup rings and offensive production, might be the greatest U.S. player of all time. 

That's the view from north of the border anyway.


Editor's note: Statistics are updated through games played Sunday, Feb. 17.

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