Ranking the 10 Best American Players in the NHL Today

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2016

Ranking the 10 Best American Players in the NHL Today

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    New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider is among this season's top American NHL stars.
    New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider is among this season's top American NHL stars.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Looking at the NHL stats leaders as of Feb. 19, a number of American-born players rank among the league's top stars. The notables include New Jersey Devils netminder Cory Schneider (pictured above) and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane. They're among some of the best of America's brightest hockey talents.

    Last March, Allan Mitchell compiled a ranking of the 10 best American players in the NHL. One season later, some players on that list have improved or declined while some new stars have emerged. It's worthwhile to revisit and update the ranking. 

    Here's a look at the 10 best American players in the NHL today, along with a list of honorable mentions. Player stats, unique skills and their value to their respective teams factored into the compilation. You can weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

Honorable Mentions

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    Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is among this season's top rookies.
    Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is among this season's top rookies.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    David Backes, St. Louis Blues: The 31-year-old St. Louis Blues captain remains a solid all-around center and leader.

    Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to the 6'7", 216-pound Bishop to backstop them to another Stanley Cup Final.

    John Carlson, Washington Capitals: Carlson anchors the Washington Capitals blue line and has been a key ingredient in their success this season. 

    Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Only 19, Eichel is enjoying an impressive rookie campaign with the Buffalo Sabres.

    John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson's goaltending is among the reasons the Anaheim Ducks are back in playoff contention. 

    Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers: Gostisbehere recently set an NHL record for consecutive points by a rookie defenseman.  

    Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: Filling in for a sidelined Ondrej Pavelec, Hellebuyck looks like a future starter for the Winnipeg Jets.

    Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning: While injuries hampered Johnson this season, he remains a key part of the Lightning roster.

    Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: His production was down in the first half of this season. Of late, however, Kessel's picked up the pace. 

    Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings: This 19-year-old rookie center has all the hallmarks of a future Detroit Red Wings captain. 

    Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers: The Blueshirts captain continues to provide his club with a reliable defensive game. 

    Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders: With 45 points in 55 games, the 27-year-old winger is among the Isles' top scorers. 

    Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: Like most of his teammates, Pacioretty is struggling this season. Still, the Habs captain remains among their best players.

    Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild: A knee injury is hampering Parise's play this season. When healthy, he's among the NHL's best American forwards.

    Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues: With Alex Pietrangelo sidelined, Shattenkirk has shouldered a heavy workload for the Blues. 

    Keith Yandle, New York Rangers: Approaching unrestricted free agency, Yandle is among the NHL's best puck-moving defensemen. 

10. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

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    Right wing Bobby Ryan is enjoying his best season with the Ottawa Senators.
    Right wing Bobby Ryan is enjoying his best season with the Ottawa Senators.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Following a trade from the Anaheim Ducks in 2013, right wing Bobby Ryan struggled to regain the offensive form he displayed with his former team. It took a couple of seasons, but the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, native is finally back on track. After 59 games this season, the 28-year-old has 20 goals and 26 assists for the Ottawa Senators. 

    At his current rate of production, Ryan could reach 30 goals for the first time since 2011-12, which would also mark the fifth time he's reached that plateau. He could also compile over 60 points for the first time since 2010-11. He's one of the Senators' leading scorers.

    By recovering his scoring touch, Ryan has regained his value as a key player. It's also moved him up among this season's top American NHL players.

9. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Defenseman Justin Faulk is a rising star with the Carolina Hurricanes.
    Defenseman Justin Faulk is a rising star with the Carolina Hurricanes.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Defenseman Justin Faulk is among the reasons the rebuilding Carolina Hurricanes find themselves with a shot at a playoff spot this season. After 54 games, the 23-year-old native of South St. Paul, Minnesota, has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points. He's already matched his career high for goals (15) and could reach 50 points for the first time.

    Because of his stellar play, Faulk is one of the Hurricanes' top scorers this season and leads their blueliners in hits and takeaways.  He also ranks third in points among American-born NHL defenders. 

    Faulk's rise as a star defenseman was often overshadowed in recent years by the Hurricanes' mediocrity. With the club showing signs of promise this season, he's garnering his due in being recognised as one of the United States' best players.

8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

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    Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets remains among the NHL's top defensemen.
    Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets remains among the NHL's top defensemen.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Few NHL defensemen can match the combination of size (6'5", 260 pounds), offensive skills and physical play like Minnesota-native Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets. This season is no exception, as the 30-year-old blueliner has 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points in 58 games. He's also the Jets' leader in hits and takeaways. 

    Byfuglien's physical offensive style places him among the top 20 scorers for NHL defensemen this season. He's also the second-highest-scoring players among American-born blueliners. Because of his importance to the Jets, on Feb. 8 he was rewarded with a five-year contract extension worth an annual salary-cap hit of $7.6 million.

    With Byfuglien's long-term future in Winnipeg secure, he'll remain a key part of their organization. He's also still among the NHL's best American players.

7. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

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    Ryan Suter remains a blue-line stalwart for the Minnesota Wild.
    Ryan Suter remains a blue-line stalwart for the Minnesota Wild.Jim Mone/Associated Press

    It's been a difficult year for the Minnesota Wild, but among the positives is the steady play of defenseman Ryan Suter. After 58 games, the Wisconsin-born blueliner has seven goals and 31 assists for 38 points. That has him on track for a career-best 55-point campaign.

    Suter's among the top 10 scorers among NHL defensemen this season and is the highest-scoring American blueliner. He's also played a sound defensive game, leading all Wild rearguards in hits and takeaways.

    The Wild face a tough battle to grab a playoff spot this season. With one of America's best defensemen patrolling their blue line, they have a fighting chance.

6. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

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    Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler is on pace for a career season.
    Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler is on pace for a career season.Mike Stone/Associated Press

    Over the last four seasons, right wing Blake Wheeler has been a vital part of the Winnipeg Jets offense. This season could be his best. In 58 games, the Plymouth, Minnesota, native has 16 goals and 38 assists for 54 points. The 29-year-old could reach a career-high 75 points. 

    Thanks to his size (6'5", 225 pounds), speed and offensive skills, Wheeler has become one of the NHL's top-scoring wingers. He'll likely finish as the Jets' leading scorer this season, marking the third time he's achieved that distinction since 2011-12

    Wheeler's scoring consistency makes him the Jets' top forward. His performance this season also vaults him into the upper echelon of the NHL's best American players.

5. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

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    Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau ranks among this season's leading scorers.
    Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau ranks among this season's leading scorers.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    When Johnny Gaudreau began his rookie season with the Calgary Flames in 2014-15, the 5'9", 157-pounder seemed too small to successfully adapt to the NHL game. However, he wasted no time establishing himself as a star. A finalist last season for the Calder Memorial Trophy, the Salem, New Jersey, native became an offensive force for the Flames. 

    Gaudreau is enjoying a fine sophomore campaign. After 56 games, the 22-year-old left wing has 22 goals and 34 assists for 56 points. He's the Flames' leading scorer by a wide margin and ranks among the league's top 10 point leaders.

    In just two seasons, Gaudreau is swiftly moving up the ranks of the top American NHL stars. With his best seasons still to come, he should remain among the league's best offensive forwards for some time. 

4. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Jonathan Quick remains a reliable presence in goal for the Los Angeles Kings
    Jonathan Quick remains a reliable presence in goal for the Los Angeles KingsAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    After missing the playoffs last season, the Los Angeles Kings once again look like a serious Stanley Cup contender. One reason is goaltender Jonathan Quick. After 47 games, the Connecticut-born Quick has 29 wins, 15 losses and three overtime losses with a 2.19 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and three shutouts. 

    Thanks to Quick's goaltending, the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2012. With that kind of postseason experience between the pipes, the Kings have a good shot at a third championship.

    This season, Quick ranks among the NHL goalie leaders in wins, GAA and time on ice. He could be flirting with his first 40-win campaign. Quick's consistency makes him one of the NHL's best American-born players.

3. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

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    San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is leading his club back to the playoffs.
    San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is leading his club back to the playoffs.Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    In his first season as captain of the San Jose Sharks, Joe Pavelski has more than proved himself as a team leader. After 57 games, the 31-year-old center from Plover, Wisconsin, had 26 goals and 28 assists for 54 points. He could reach his previous career best of 79 points. 

    The 5'11", 190-pound Pavelski has always played far bigger than his physical stature. He's a skilled playmaker who's strong in the faceoff circle. Pavelski's performance this season puts him among the league's leading scorers. He could finish as the Sharks' leading scorer for the third consecutive season

    A year after the Sharks missed the playoffs, Pavelski is leading them back into postseason contention. His combination of skill and leadership makes him one of the best American players in the game.

2. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

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    Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils is among this season's elite NHL goaltenders.
    Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils is among this season's elite NHL goaltenders.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider is establishing himself among the NHL's elite goaltenders. After 49 games, the native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, has a record of 25 wins, 19 losses and six overtime losses with a 2.06 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and four shutouts.

    Schneider, 29, is the main reason the rebuilding, offensively anemic Devils are in playoff contention this season. A workhorse between the pipes, he leads the league in ice time for goaltenders. He's also among the leaders in other notable goaltending stat categories, such as GAA and save percentage. 

    With Schneider in his playing prime, the Devils have a chance to win every game he starts. He's this season's top American goaltender and one of the NHL's best players.

1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane is tops this season among NHL scorers.
    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane is tops this season among NHL scorers.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane was an established NHL superstar before this season. The 2015-16 campaign, however, is shaping up to be a career best for the Buffalo, New York, native. After 61 games, the 27-year-old Kane has 34 goals and 49 assists for 83 points. 

    Kane is running away with the NHL scoring race, sitting well ahead of Dallas Stars forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (67 and 65 points respectively) Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (55). He's close to eclipsing his personal best of 88 points and on track for a 110-point season.

    Barring injury or a late surge by a scoring rival, Kane is poised to become the first American-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy. He's also a likely finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Those awards will make fine additions to his Calder Memorial Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and three Stanley Cup championships.