Ranking the 5 Best American Players in Washington Capitals History

Ryan DavenportContributor IFebruary 12, 2014

Ranking the 5 Best American Players in Washington Capitals History

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    Since the day Alex Ovechkin arrived in Washington just prior to the 2005-06 NHL campaign, the Capitals have been a team with a distinct European flavor, as for the most part, the team's most explosive forwards hailed from either Russia or Sweden. 

    Even prior to that, Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar, Olaf Kolzig and a few others became franchise cornerstones, so the Caps have been relying heavily on European standouts for nearly two decades.

    That being said, over the course of the team's 30 years in the league a number of U.S. products have become stars and fan favorites, which is why five of Washington's 14 team captains—including one Hall of Fame inductee—have been Americans.

    With the Men's Olympic tournament upon us, let's take a look back at the five greatest American players in history for the Caps.

     

Honorable Mentions

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    With nearly a dozen potential candidates for this list, it's worth mentioning a few names that do merit consideration, including a couple of former team captains in Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk.

    In his prime, Konowalchuk was a valuable two-way forward for the Caps on their way to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, a member of the 1996 World Cup champion team (and 2004 American team as well) and won a place in the hearts of Caps fans.

    But Halpern, a local boy from Potomac, Md., was a fan favorite as soon as he entered the league in 1999 as he became the first D.C. area product to play for the Caps and play for a U.S. World Cup or Canada Cup team in 1996 (and was among the first Washington natives to play in the NHL at all).

    In addition, names like longtime grinder Kelly Miller, former All-Star Al Iafrate, net-crasher Mike Knuble and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Phil Housley come to mind, but the next five guys on this list were simply better players during their stints in Washington.

    Or if you're most concerned with individual achievements, I guess you could make an argument for 1996 Vezina Trophy recipient and 1996 World Cup champ Jim Carey, though I wouldn't suggest it.

John Carlson

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    This selection may be a premature one to some, but there are a couple of factors that strongly support John Carlson earning a spot on this list.

    Firstly, Carlson, as Washington's basically undisputed top defenseman at the age of 24, things are only going to get better for the former London Knights standout, and his game has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 18 months.

    And, since the NHL began allowing its players to take part in the Olympics in 1998, how many Capitals have been chosen to play for the United States during the five Games that have taken place during that span?

    One, and that's John Carlson. Even prior to making the 2014 Olympic squad, Carlson had long since etched his name in American hockey history, as the former All-Rookie Team selection scored the golden goal in overtime to give the U.S. the 2010 World Junior title over Canada.

    He's still on his way up, and may well end up being higher on this list, but after just four seasons in the league full-time, this is where Carlson stands today.

Dave Christian

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    It's impossible to create this list without Dave Christian, as the Minnesota native is not only one of the Capitals' finest American players, but also a part of the biggest moment in U.S. hockey history.

    As a 21-year-old in 1980, Christian was a key cog in the American squad that shocked the sports world by defeating the vaunted Russian juggernaut in Lake Placid and finished second to only Mark Johnson with eight points in seven games.

    From there, Christian began a 14-year career that included more than six full seasons in Washington, during which he put up his most productive campaigns as a professional.

    A one-time 40-goal man and two-time 80-point scorer, Christian remains among the franchise's all-time leaders in goals and sits first in career goals among all American-born players with 193.

     

Kevin Hatcher

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    Though maybe not as heralded as younger brother Derian, who captained Dallas to a Stanley Cup in 1999, Kevin Hatcher was one of the most prolific offensive rearguards during his time in Washington, and he was arguably the franchise's first truly elite scorer from the blue line.

    A three-time All-Star as a Capital (who earned another two selections later in his career), Hatcher was a valuable member of a handful of Washington teams that made relatively deep postseason runs, and he was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. 

    While in Washington, Hatcher played on two Canada Cup teams for the United States and, after leading all defenders with 34 goals in 1992-93, he was named team captain for the following season.

     

Bobby Carpenter

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    Back in 1981, E.M. Swift of Sports Illustrated wrote about a 17-year-old out of Peabody, Mass., who was being called "The Can't-Miss Kid."

    That kid was Bobby Carpenter, and though it didn't last forever, the young sniper lived up to the hype immediately after being selected No. 3 overall by the Capitals in 1981.

    He began by tallying at least 32 goals and 67 points in each of his first two seasons in D.C., and after a 28-goal, 67-point performance in his third season, Carpenter exploded for 53 goals and 95 points in 1984-85.

    That showing earned him the only All-Star Game selection of his career, and though he'd fall to 27 goals and 56 points the next year (and never reach 30 goals again), Carpenter became the first American to score 50 goals in NHL history.

    He'd win a Cup as a defensive specialist with the Devils in 1994-95 but few can forget how dominant Carpenter was during his first few seasons in the league.

Rod Langway

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    As good as the other guys on this list have been, Rod Langway is the greatest American ever to don a Capitals sweater, and it really isn't close.

    Born in Taipei while his father was serving his country in 1957, Langway became a legend while patrolling the back end for the Capitals, and that's why his No. 5 proudly hangs from the rafters at the Verizon Center.

    After winning a Cup with Montreal, Langway helped end nearly a decade of mediocrity in Washington and established himself as one of the most formidable defensive forces in the game.

    A two-time Norris winner as the NHL's best defenseman, Langway also represented the U.S. in three Canada Cups, earning First Team All-Star honors at the 1984 edition of the tournament, and he was among the first true American stars.

    Despite being more than two decades removed from his final season in D.C., the six-time All-Star remains a popular figure in the local sports community and continues to be a frequent presence at Caps games.

    Yes, Yvon Labre holds the distinction as Washington's first retired number, but there's no questioning that Langway was the first Capital to reach stardom.