NHL

United States Hockey Has a Bright Future

Jack Eichel

Happy 4th of July!

For years, the NHL has been dominated by Canadian players. Until the turn of the century, there were very few star players who were not of Canadian descent. There were some big US stars around that time but far behind the Canadian talent. Nowadays, every team has at least one good player from the US. From 2015-2016, Hart Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane in Chicago to this year’s Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews in Toronto. Not too mention Americans Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzal and Conor Sheary being big contributors to Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Americans have even infiltrated Canadian teams with Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Jame Van Riemsdyk, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau and Matt Tkachuk, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, and Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, Jacob Trouba, and Dustin Byfuglien. Also, these US-based teams have a lot of Americans playing big roles: Washington, Chicago, Columbus, Anaheim, Minnesota, NY Rangers, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, and the aforementioned Pittsburgh.

The crazy thing is the US is just getting started. Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Zach Werenski are three of the best young players. Let alone, top prospects Clayton Keller, Charlie McAvoy, and Brock Boeser making their NHL debuts this season. In the last three entry drafts,  22 US players went in the first round, including the 11 that went in the 2016 draft. Now if only we had a competition where all these US players in their prime could be on the same team and compete against other country’s best. It would really interest casual US hockey fans with how many talented players the country has developed…

Here are some of the best young players America has to offer by position.

Center

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

Considering I have talked about Auston Matthews multiple times on this site, I think it’s time to talk about the other young US-born center phenom. Jack Eichel was taken second overall in the 2015 NHL draft, right behind McDavid. Eichel isn’t projected to be as good as McDavid but still is a franchise player. After two years, the 20-year-old Massachusetts native is already that player to build the team around in Buffalo. Eichel had been decent with 56 points his rookie year. He then got injured for the next half of his second season and didn’t return to Buffalo’s roster until December. Eichel went on to have 57 points in 61 games season. Eichel reached a little more than his rookie points total, and he had played in 20 fewer games. It looks like Eichel has figured it out, and he should be a player to really look out for.

Top Prospect: Clayton Keller (ARI)

Young Stars: Auston Matthews (TOR), Tyler Johnson (TB), Vincent Trocheck (FLA), Jake Guentzal (PIT), Dylan Larkin (DET), 

Older Stars: Ryan Kesler (ANA), Joe Pavelski (SJ), David Backes (BOS)

Right Wing

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

After being in the league for six seasons, Atkinson had his breakout year with 62 points. Atkinson had 35 goals, which puts him tied for eighth with fellow Connecticut-born Max Pacioretty. Due to his height (5’8”), Atkinson is a bit of a late bloomer. But he has increasingly gotten better every year. His second best season was when he had 53 points in 2015-2016. He had 40 points in 2014-2015. He has improved his points total by at least 10 the past three years. If this pattern continues, Atkinson will be in the 70-75 point range for next season.

Top Prospect: Brock Boeser (VAN)

“Young” Stars: Patrick Kane (CHI), Kyle Okposo (BUF)

Older Stars: Phil Kessel (PIT), TJ Oshie (WSH), Blake Wheeler (WPG) 

Left Wing

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Despite his french-Canadian sounding last name, Gaudreau was born in Salem, New Jersey.  “Johnny Hockey” was a legend in his time at Boston College, where he had 175 points in 119 games. He also had a very strong 2013 World Juniors performance (9 points in 7 games) where he helped the US win gold. Since joining the Flames, Gaudreau has been as hyped with 204 points in 253 career games, including last season, when he had 61 points in 72 games and won the Lady Byng. He is an essential part of the Flames future, and the 23-year-old is considered one of the best players in the game today.

Top Prospect: Kyle Connor (WPG)

Young Stars: Matt Tkachuk (CGY), Conor Sheary (PIT), Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), Brandon Saad (CLS),

Older Stars: Max Pacioretty (MTL), Zach Parise (MIN), James Van Riemsdyk (TOR)

Defense

Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

Usually, defensemen take a while to develop and even to get .50 points per game. At 19 years old, Werenski had 47 points in 78 games, which is .60 points per game. This put Werenski seventh in rookie points scoring, which is impressive for defensemen. He was also 13th in points among defensemen. Time will tell, but if he continues this pace, the Michigan native will no doubt be a top 10 defenseman in the next two to three years, if not next season.

Top Prospect: Charlie McAvoy (BOS)

Young Stars: Seth Jones (CLS), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Cam Fowler (ANA/Dual Citizen), Noah Hanifin (CAR), Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI)

Older Stars: Kevin Shattenkirk (NYR), Ryan McDonagh (NYR), Ryan Suter (MIN),  John Carlsson (WSH), Justin Faulk (CAR), Torey Krug (BOS)

Goalie

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Like Eichel and Gaudreau, Gibson didn’t play a full season but played exceptionally well. Gibson had a .924 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average in the 52 games he played this season as a full-time starter. This put him fourth in goals against average and save percentage. The Pittsburgh-born player is also only 22-years-old. Usually, goalies take even longer to develop than the other positions but he has been good throughout his young career. Gibson is a full-time starter for one of the best teams in the league. Gibson does have injury history but he is solid when he is healthy. He will be a dominant force in the league for years to come.

Top Prospect: Thatcher Demo (VAN)

Young Stars: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG), Scott Darling (CAR), Anthony Stolarz (PHI)

Older Stars: Corey Schneider (NJ), Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (DAL), Craig Anderson (OTT), Ryan Miller (VAN)

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