Ranking the 5 Best American Players in Detroit Red Wings History
The Detroit Red Wings are sending 10 players representing four countries to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Of the 10 Olympians from Hockeytown, only Jimmy Howard will be representing Team USA. The rest include Team Sweden (six), Team Slovakia (two) and Team Russia (one).
With the Winter Olympics underway, NHL players will be donning the colors of their home country, rooting alongside opponents and against teammates. It’s a beautiful sentiment for sport and a welcome break from the 82-game grind that is the NHL season.
Howard is one of only two American-born draft picks to secure a spot on Detroit’s roster in more than 20 years. Justin Abdelkader is the other.
Detroit seems to have a direct line to Europe’s most talented young stars in recent years, but it has had a representative on Team USA since the 2002 silver-medal finish in Salt Lake City.
Some of the best Americans in Detroit were major contributors in multiple ways. If perhaps not scorers or big-name attractions, these five were cognizant of their responsibilities and performed above expectations.
This list is comprised of the players that earned their place in team history, enjoyed their share of success and worked their way into the hearts of the Red Wing faithful.
These are five of the best Americans in Detroit Red Wings history.
5. Doug Brown
While he certainly was not an all-time top scorer, Doug Brown was a fan favorite and tremendous contributor during Detroit’s success in the 1990s.
Fifth among Americans in team history, Brown scored 74 goals and 171 points in 427 games from 1994-2001. He won two Stanley Cups and amassed 35 points in 71 playoff games.
Brown spent the first seven seasons of his career with New Jersey and a year in Pittsburgh, before being claimed by Detroit in the 1995 waiver draft. He was a perfect fit for coach Scotty Bowman’s fast-paced, disciplined style of hockey.
Brown was a responsible two-way forward who excelled in doing the dirty work. Although he was not an overly physical forward, he was diligent on the puck and occasionally contributed offensively. He was an integral part of Detroit’s depth and an asset on the penalty kill.
He embodied the work ethic of the team and city, and his value to the club was made evident in the summer of 1998.
Brown possessed the intangibles and commitment necessary to succeed, even without supreme scoring talent. His class, character and dedication made a subtle impact for one of the best teams in NHL history.
He was a respected player among his peers and revered by fans. He enjoyed the most successful years of his career in Detroit, and his efforts earn him the No. 5 spot on this list.
4. Brett Hull
One of the most prolific scorers in NHL history, Brett Hull signed with Detroit in the summer of 2001 and pushed an already potent lineup over the top.
While the "Golden Brett” played just three seasons with Detroit, he missed only one game and provided an invaluable example for youngsters Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Hull was already 36 years old when he signed with Detroit and still totaled 92 goals and 207 points in 245 games. He was the founding member of the “Two Kids and a Goat” line with Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux in 2001-02. Zetterberg replaced Devereaux in 2002-03.
His point total is second among Americans in team history, and he averaged about a point per game. He led the playoffs with 10 goals and registered 18 points in 23 games during Detroit’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2001-02.
He was one of two Red Wings to represent Team USA in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, winning a silver medal.
The acquisition of Hull gave Detroit the offensive boost it needed to return to the Stanley Cup Final and win its third title in six seasons.
As the NHL's all-time American scoring leader, Hull goes down in history as one of the best in the game.
His offensive prowess and addition to the team’s proud title history put Hull in a good spot, but his short stint in Detroit limits him to No. 4.
3. Brian Rafalski
Brian Rafalski comes in at No. 3 and as the third-highest scoring American in Detroit Red Wings history.
The Dearborn, Mich., native gave the fans a hometown hero to root for and was a big signing when free agency opened on July 1, 2007. The Wings were in need of a scoring defenseman when Mathieu Schneider left via free agency.
Rafalski helped Detroit return to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons in 2008 and 2009, contributing 26 points in 40 playoff games.
In 292 games with Detroit, he scored just 35 goals, but he added 169 assists. His 204 points are just three behind Brett Hull's, and his plus-78 is second among Americans in Red Wings history.
Rafalski averaged just more than 42 assists during his four seasons, until lingering back injuries forced his retirement in 2011 prior to the final year of his contract.
The 11-year veteran came into the NHL as an undrafted free agent and ranks 10th all-time in points among American-born defensemen. Between Detroit and New Jersey, Rafalski played in five Stanley Cup Finals and was a three-time champion.
He was small guy who brought a big game to Hockeytown and continued the Wings' storied success. His impressive numbers accompany an unmatched professionalism.
His productive time with the Red Wings earns him the third spot among American skaters.
2. Chris Chelios
One of the NHL’s toughest and most tenacious blueliners, Chris Chelios was a lock for this list.
Detroit acquired Chelios from arch-rival Chicago in March 1999 for Anders Eriksson and first-round picks in 1999 and 2001. He went on to play 578 games and tally 152 points with the Red Wings. General manager Ken Holland explained to Ansar Khan of Mlive.com:
We had won the Stanley Cup in ’97 and ’98 and were one of the best teams in hockey; we were looking for a three-peat. Cheli was a player we hated to play against but had so much respect for that we thought he would be a great Red Wing because of how hard he competed and his skill level.
Chelios brought a relentless physicality that Detroit needed on the blue line and won his first Stanley Cup with the Red Wings at 40 years old—his second in 2008 at age 46.
In team history, he is second in games played among American players, seventh in points, second in penalty minutes (613) and tops in plus/minus (plus-158). The numbers accompany the hardware to only further his legendary NHL career.
On and off the ice, he was the kind of person that teammates loved and fans cherished.
His career accolades speak for themselves, but his longevity and character equal the qualities that land him No. 2 on the list.
1. Reed Larson
Minnesota native Reed Larson checks in at No. 1 in most categories for the Red Wings, as well as on this list.
A product of legendary coach Herb Brooks and the University of Minnesota, Larson was a fixture on Detroit’s blue line for nearly a decade.
Turning pro in the 1976-77 season, he played in 14 games. During the 1977-78 season he recorded 19 goals and 60 points in 75 games and finished as the runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy to New York Islanders great Mike Bossy.
In Detroit, he recorded five 20-goal campaigns and eclipsed the 60-point mark eight times. His 570 points are most for an American-born player in Detroit Red Wings history. He also holds the marks for games played (708), goals (188), assists (382) and penalty minutes (1,127).
Larson never won a Stanley Cup with Detroit and only played in 14 playoff games as a member of the Red Wings. However, he was the sixth NHL defenseman and first American-born player to score 200 career goals.
He brought a tough, in-your-face style of hockey and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves when necessary. He was also a staple on the point for the power play, with a devastating shot.
Larson spent more than nine of his 14 seasons in Detroit, where he experienced his greatest success. The team wasn't very good during Larson's stint, but his numbers are incomparable.
His 0.80 points per game is second only to Brett Hull (0.84) amongst American skaters, and Larson did so in nearly three times as many games. He nearly doubled Chris Chelios' penalty minutes total in only 130 more games.
As a feature for a club during the ‘70s and ‘80s, Larson did what he could to keep his team afloat and qualify for the playoffs during their roughest stretch in team history.
Other members of this list enjoyed some of the best eras in team history, and Larson worked through one of the worst.
Along with a solid skill set and stat line, Larson's loyalty to a team in turmoil earns him the title of Detroit’s best American player.