March 29, 2011
Brian Leetch's name came up during our "players we wish could have played past 40" conversation on today's Puck Daddy Radio. He ended his career as a Boston Bruins defenseman, but earned his fame with the New York Rangers. He is, without question, one of the greatest U.S.-born players in NHL history.
In 2009, John Grigg of The Hockey News ranked Leetch second among U.S.-born players, behind Chris Chelios(notes) and ahead of Pat LaFontaine. Three years earlier, Tom Layberger of SI.com had LaFontaine over Leetch and Joe Mullen.
Current Detroit Red Wings center Mike Modano(notes) was fourth on the THN list and fifth on the SI list; John Beattie of NESN considered him a might bit better, seeing Modano as the type of American star the magnitude of "Canada's Sidney Crosby(notes), Russia's Alex Ovechkin(notes), Sweden's Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) or Finland's Teemu Selanne(notes)."
Kane has the "goals, assists, mischief and partying" that should endear him to fans, along with other intangibles:
Playing in Chicago, in front of an Original Six fan base, certainly helps that cause. New Jersey's Zach Parise(notes) is one of the league's best, but he's playing in America's armpit, in the shadows of the Big Apple and the sports drama that trickles out of it and smothers everything in the Tri-State area.
Ryan Kessler, currently leading Americans this season with 68 points (one point ahead of Kane), is stuck in Vancouver, where the Canucks struggle to gain too much attention from much of the U.S. Bobby Ryan(notes) (Anaheim), Joe Pavelski(notes) (San Jose) and Keith Yandle(notes) (Phoenix) are also among the top 10 in points, but are those cities hockey hotbeds? Don't even ask about Phil Kessel(notes).
Beattie also makes the case that Kane is dangerously on pace with Modano, who had 309 points in his first 317 games while Kane has 297 in 310 — the argument being that Modano had the benefit of starting his career in the offensively buoyant early 1990s.
The only forwards on Beattie's list that can hang offensively with Kane are Parise, Ryan and Kessel, with a nod to the unmentioned Paul Stastny(notes) in Denver. Parise topped a 2009 NHL.com list for top American players. Both the New Jersey Devils winger and the Chicago Blackhawks winger have their virtues; Kane, of course, has a Stanley Cup ring and a Cup-clinching goal to go along with those virtues.
Which is to say that the "best American player" debate goes beyond the stat sheet. Modano was a leader and a winner, along with being a good-looking chap who married a pop pinup girl. Kane has that swagger; Parise doesn't, at least yet.
Another player that has it: Ryan Miller(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres, who's 30 and orchestrating another stellar season. Factor in the Olympic prestige, and is it outlandish to think Miller could be the best U.S. player in hockey for at least the next five years? (With the acknowledgment that no U.S. player is having the season Tim Thomas(notes) is having.)
So we ask you, dear readers: Is Patrick Kane the next face of U.S. hockey? And who is the best U.S. player today and of all-time?