According to the NHL, 32 per cent of the players selected in Philadelphia last week are from the United States, giving the country its biggest-ever slice of the draft day pie.
It’s an indicator of the growth of the game south of the 49th parallel, an upward trend that is mirrored off the ice by climbing TV ratings and burgeoning league revenue.
It’s also a good segue for us, on this 4th of July, as we recognize the greatest players ever to hail from the land of the free. Here is our top 10 (and happy birthday, America).
- Brett Hull. OK, so there is the fact he wasn’t actually born in the U.S.A., but the Golden Brett competed for the country internationally and adopted it as his homeland. He won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1991, the same year in which he recorded 86 goals, the most ever for a player not named Gretzky. He was also an integral part of the team that knocked off Canada to win the 1996 World Cup, a two-time Stanley Cup winner and three-time first-team all-star. Hull, third all-time in NHL goals with 741, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
- Chris Chelios. A rare combination of skill, will and kill, Chelios would do whatever it took to win and often succeeded. The native of Chicago won three Norris Trophies as the game’s premier defenseman, was a five-time first-team all-star and three-time Stanley Cup champion. He was inducted into the Hall in 2013.
- Mike Modano. A freshly named honored member of the Hall of Fame, Modano sits just behind Hull on the all-time points parade in 23rd and is the top U.S.-born scorer ever, regular season and playoffs. A native of Livonia, Mich., Modano was the poster boy for the Minnesota/Dallas Stars franchise and won a Stanley Cup deep in the heart of Texas (with Hull) in 1999.
- Brian Leetch. A pre-eminent leader, sublime skater and cerebral blueliner, Leetch was the total package. He helped deliver the historic Stanley Cup to New York in 1994 and won two Norris Trophies. Leetch, born in Corpus Christi, Tex., got his Hall of Fame ring in 2009.
- Joe Mullen. The three-time Stanley Cup champion was the first American to score 500 goals in the NHL, many of the clutch variety. The undrafted product of New York City, Mullen was awarded the Lady Byng twice and gained entry into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Frank Brimsek. Known as ‘Mr. Zero’ because of his stinginess between the pipes, Brimsek achieved a rare triple in 1938-39: a Calder, Vezina and Stanley Cup. He added a second Cup and Vezina with Boston in 1941 and was a first- or second-team all-star in eight of his 10 seasons. The Eveleth, Minn., native was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966.
- Pat LaFontaine. The best American ever in terms of points per game (1.17), LaFontaine was an elite center in an era dominated by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. His career was cut short by concussion problems, but he still managed to have enough of an imprint to gain entry into the Hall of Fame (2003).
- Tom Barrasso. The Boston product enjoyed tremendous success early in his career, earning Vezina and Calder honors in Buffalo. That was followed by back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and ‘92, when he was as a critical member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His 369 wins are second only among American goalies to John Vanbiesbrouck’s 374, but Barrasso got his in 105 fewer games.
- Phil Housley. Housley is the top-scoring American defenseman of all-time, and fourth among all NHL blueliners, yet he remains outside the Hall of Fame looking in. The knock was his play away from the puck, but few could skate in the same league as the St. Paul, Minn., native.
- Jeremy Roenick. J.R. Superstar never got his Stanley Cup ring, but he did amass three 100-point seasons and leave it all on the ice, or in the press clippings, during his colorful 20-year career.