The Best American Hockey Players of All Time

Posted on April 11, 2024 by Dan Kent
Best American Hockey Players of All Time

Hockey has been a staple in North America for over a century. From the NHL to international tournaments, American fans have been treated to some of the most skilled players in the world at every position

In this article, I will look at some of the best American hockey players ever to play the game.

Greatest American players of all time

  • Mike Modano
  • Patrick Kane
  • Pat LaFontaine
  • Jeremy Roenick
  • Keith Tkachuk
  • Chris Chelios
  • Phil Housley
  • Brian Leetch
  • Gary Suter
  • John Vanbiesbrouck
  • Ryan Miller
  • Jonathan Quick

Forwards

Mike Modano

Mike Modano is widely regarded as the best American hockey player ever. He played for the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise for most of his career, scoring 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 games. 

Modano was also a key player for the United States in international competition, helping the team win the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

He is the all-time points leader for American-born players and was drafted first overall by the North Stars in 1988. He holds a single Stanley Cup, won with the Stars in 1999.

In his final season, he would be sat by ex-NHL coach Mike Babcock on what would have been his 1500th NHL game. Modano would never reach that milestone as a result.

Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and one of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL today. He has won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer. 

Although he is entering the last few years of his career and is unlikely to pass Modano as the all-time point leader, he still potentially could crack 1300 points and is a sure bet for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kane has also been a critical player for the United States in international competition, helping the team win the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He was selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks and would go on to win the Calder Trophy for top rookie in his first season with the team.

Pat LaFontaine

Pat LaFontaine was a prolific scorer during his NHL career, tallying 468 goals and 1,013 points in 865 games. He was a six-time All-Star and won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. 

LaFontaine was also a key player for the United States in international competition, helping the team win the Canada Cup in 1996.

He was a third-overall pick by the Islanders. He would spend most of his career around that area, playing for the Islanders, Rangers, and Sabres. In the 1992-93 season, he would put up 148 points, including 95 assists, with the Sabres.

There is a high likelihood that LaFontaine would have been the all-time American point scorer if it were not a career riddled with concussions.

If he had played the same games as Modano and scored at the same pace, he would have finished his career at over 1750 points.

Jeremy Roenick

Jeremy Roenick was a dynamic forward who played for six different NHL teams. He scored 513 goals and 1,216 points in 1,363 games and was a nine-time All-Star.

Roenick was also a key player for the United States in international competition, helping the team win the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Roenick is very outspoken, which showed numerous times over his hockey career and is what made him successful as an analyst in his post-playing days.

One of Roenick's most notable moments in the league is when he hurled a water bottle across the ice at an official. He was suspended only a single game for the incident.

Keith Tkachuk

Keith Tkachuk was a power forward who played for four different NHL teams. He is regarded as a goal scorer, one of the best American goal scorers ever, with 538 goals and 1,065 points in 1,201 games. He made five appearances at the all-star game. 

Tkachuk was also a key player for the United States in international competition along with Roenick, helping the team win the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

He scored two consecutive 50-goal seasons and accrued over 2,200 penalty minutes throughout his career. His two boys, Brady and Matthew Tkachuk, are some of the premiere young talents in the league today, showing how dominant the Tkachuk family is in hockey.

Defensemen

Chris Chelios

Chris Chelios is considered one of the best American defensemen of all time. He played for 26 seasons in the NHL, winning three Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman. 

Chelios was known for his physical play, leadership, and longevity. During his career, he played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Atlanta Thrashers.

He would have a 26-year NHL career, an astonishing accomplishment when you think about it. I remember watching Chelios play against the Edmonton Oilers during the first round of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was 43 at that point and would still go on to play for many years.

Phil Housley

Phil Housley was a highly skilled offensive defenseman who played for 21 seasons in the NHL. He is the highest-scoring American defenseman in NHL history with 1,232 points. Interestingly enough, he has outscored most of the top American-born forwards we discussed above!

Housley was relatively small for a defenseman, coming in at 5 foot 10 and only weighing 185 pounds. But his skill with the puck and vision trumped all lack of size.

Housley played for eight teams, including the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, and Washington Capitals.

He would go on to have a decent coaching career as an assistant coach and a head coach for the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Leetch

Brian Leetch is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, American defensemen ever to play the game, despite being selected ninth overall in the NHL Entry Draft. 

Although he wouldn't score as many points as Housley, if he had played as many games, he very well could have come close. In his rookie season with the New York Rangers, he would put up 71 points in 68 games.

He played for 18 seasons in the NHL, primarily for the New York Rangers and one of the most popular Canadian teams in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Leetch won the Norris Trophy twice and was a vital member of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team. He was also a member of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey-winning Team USA.

He would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Gary Suter

Gary Suter was a dominant defenseman during his 17-year NHL career. He played for the Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks. Suter won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1986 and was a four-time All-Star. 

He was also a vital member of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey-winning Team USA. Suter's physical play and offensive ability made him one of the best American defensemen of his era.

The astonishing part is that he was selected in the ninth round of the NHL Entry Draft before scoring 844 points in 1,145 games. He would win a cup with Calgary in the 1980s before retiring earlier than he wanted due to injuries in 2002. 

Goaltenders

John Vanbiesbrouck

John Vanbiesbrouck, nicknamed "Beezer," was a star goaltender in the NHL during the 1980s and 1990s. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in Chicago. 

Vanbiesbrouck played for several teams, including the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, and Philadelphia Flyers. He was a three-time All-Star and won the Vezina Trophy in 1986.

His most notable memory among many hockey fans will be his Cinderella run with the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996.

He would have a career after hockey in management, getting involved at a high level with USA Hockey.

Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller played in the NHL for 18 seasons. He was born in East Lansing, Michigan, and played college hockey at Michigan State University. He would go on to set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts.

Miller played for several NHL teams, including the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, and Anaheim Ducks. He was a six-time All-Star and won the Vezina Trophy in 2010.

He holds the record for most wins by a goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres. He was the first American goalie in history to top 300.

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick is a current American goaltender who had played for the Los Angeles Kings since 2007 before being traded to Vegas for a short stint in 2022-2023. 

He was born in Milford, Connecticut, and played college hockey at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Quick has won two Stanley Cup championships with the Kings and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs in 2012. He has also been named an All-Star three times.

One of the standout features of Quick's game is his unique, acrobatic style of goaltending. He's known for making highlight-reel saves, often stretching and diving to stop pucks that seem destined to go in the net.

Honorable mention

Johnny Gaudreau

Johnny Gaudreau, also known as "Johnny Hockey," is among the most exciting American players in the NHL today. He led the Calgary Flames in scoring for four seasons before signing as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets and has been named to the NHL All-Star Game three times.

His skill level helps him thrive in the National Hockey League despite being very small relative to other players.

Bill Guerin

Bill Guerin was a key player on the New Jersey Devils team that won the Stanley Cup in 1995. He also won a gold medal with Team USA at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Guerin scored over 400 goals in his NHL career.

Doug Weight

Doug Weight was a skilled playmaker who played for eight different NHL teams. He scored 278 goals and 1,033 points in 1,238 games and was a four-time All-Star.

Weight was also a key player for the United States in international competition, helping the team win the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Other notable players include controversial Brett Hull, who is Canadian yet played for the USA during many international competitions, Joe Mullen, John LeClair, and John Carlson.

Early years of American hockey

Hockey has a long history in America, dating back to the late 19th century. The first recorded game took place in 1893 in Baltimore, Maryland. However, it was not until the early 20th century that the sport began to gain popularity in the United States.

One of the early pioneers of American hockey was Hobey Baker, who played for Princeton University in the early 1900s. 

Baker was a skilled player who helped popularize the East Coast sport. Another early star was Frank Brimsek, a goaltender who played for the Boston Bruins in the 1930s and 1940s.

The National Hockey League (NHL) was founded in 1917. Still, it was not until the 1960s that the league aggressively expanded into the United States. Today, the NHL has 25 American teams and 7 Canadian teams.

One of the most famous moments in American hockey history was the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. 

The American team made up of college players, defeated the heavily favored Soviet team in a stunning upset. The victory helped to popularize hockey in the United States and inspired a generation of young players.

The University of Minnesota has also played a significant role in the development of American hockey. The school has a long history of success in college hockey, with seven national championships and numerous NHL players. Notable Minnesota alumni include Phil Housley, Neal Broten, and Herb Brooks, who coached the "Miracle on Ice" team.

Rising stars in American hockey

The future of American hockey looks bright, with several rising stars making their mark in the NHL. These players have shown immense potential and significantly contributed to their respective teams.

Jack Eichel is one of the best American players in the league, recently winning a Stanley Cup with the Vegas Golden Knights after being dealt to them by the Buffalo Sabres.

Throughout his career, Auston Matthews will likely contend with many of the greatest goal-scorers in the National Hockey League, let alone just American players.

Quinn Hughes and Adam Fox are two young defensemen who have established themselves as key team players. Hughes, playing for the Vancouver Canucks, has impressed with his offensive skills and ability to move the puck up the ice. 

On the other hand, Fox has been a standout for the New York Rangers with his solid defensive play and impressive point production.

Jason Robertson is another player to watch out for. The Dallas Stars forward had a breakout season, finishing as a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. He would then get over 109 points in his next season. His offensive skills and ability to create scoring chances make him a valuable asset for his team.

Alex DeBrincat has been a consistent scorer since his rookie season. He has shown a knack for finding the back of the net and has already surpassed the 100-goal mark in his young career.

Chris Kreider and Max Pacioretty are two veteran forwards who continue to make an impact in the league. Kreider, playing for the New York Rangers, is known for his speed and physicality. In contrast, Pacioretty, playing for the Vegas Golden Knights, is his team's reliable scorer and leader. However, it will be interesting to see how Pacioretty continues, being plagued by injuries.

Finally, Jack Hughes was the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. The New Jersey Devils forward has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career and has the potential to become a top player in the league.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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