Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 12:34PM; Updated: Thursday February 16, 2006 6:34PM
A Stanley Cup and 1,020 points later, Brian Leetch is still chugging along -- in his 18th NHL season.
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When the United States was winning gold in Lake Placid in 1980, there were only 55 American-born players on NHL rosters -- not even three per team. Few of them had careers of any consequence.
Thanks in large part to that monumental Olympic victory, hockey interest throughout the U.S. began to surge and continues to do so. Want proof? There were a record eight Americans taken in the first round of the 2005 NHL draft.
From Alaska's Scott Gomez (Devils) to Florida's Dan Hinote (Avalanche), 121 Americans dot NHL teams, and a few of them are among the best ever to hail from the States. With a growing number making their mark in the world's best league, we offer a list of the top U.S.-born players to suit up in the NHL.
1. Pat LaFontaine Born: St. Louis NHL career: 1984-1998; Islanders, Sabers, Rangers Forced to retire at 33 due to concussion-related symptoms, the classy center was a prolific scorer who averaged 45.4 goals in the seven seasons that he managed to play at least 70 games. He accumulated 468 goals in only 865 games for a .541 goals-per-game clip that ranks ninth among the top 50 all-time goal scorers.
2. Brian Leetch Born: Corpus Christi, Texas NHL career: 1988-present; Rangers, Maple Leafs, Bruins Twenty years after he was selected ninth overall by the Rangers, Leetch is adding to a point total that stands at 1,020. Second to Phil Housley in scoring among America-born defensemen, Leetch is a two-time Norris Trophy winner who has been named to the NHL's First or Second All-Star Team five times.
3. Joe Mullen Born: New York City NHL career: 1980-1997; Blues, Flames, Penguins, Bruins The product of Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan stands as the all-time goal scorer among U.S.-born players, with 502. In one four-year stretch the winger got his name etched on the Cup three times. A Boston College standout, Mullen recorded at least 40 goals on eight occasions.
4. Chris Chelios Born: Chicago NHL career: 1984-present; Canadiens, Blackhawks, Red Wings The oldest active player in the NHL at 44, Cheli is still logging better than 17 minutes per game. In his 23-season career the hardnosed defenseman has appeared in 1,452 games and ranks in the top 15 all time, second only to Housley among U.S. players. The two-time Cup champ also has 920 points and 2,783 minutes in the box.
5. Mike Modano Born: Livonia, Mich. NHL career: 1989-present; Stars Selected first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1988 draft, Modano entered the Olympic break second among U.S.-born players, with 1,159 points. Skilled at both ends of the ice, the one-time 50-goal scorer has totaled 477 for his career -- good for third all-time among Americans.
6. Phil Housley Born: St. Paul, Minn. NHL career: 1982-2003; Sabres, Jets, Blues, Flames, Devils, Capitals, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs The all-time leading scorer among American-born players, Housley's 1,232 points rank fourth in NHL history among defensemen. A participant in seven All-Star games, the deft passer ranks 10th in league annals with 1,495 games.
7. Jeremy Roenick Born: Boston NHL career: 1988-present; Blackhawks, Coyotes, Flyers, Kings The passionate J.R. needs 18 goals to join Mullen as the only American-born players to reach 500. He has topped 100 points three times and his career total of 1,135 is good for third. Roenick has also appeared in nine All-Star games.
8. Mike Richter Born: Abington, Pa. NHL career: 1989-2003; Rangers Whether he was tending goal with the Rangers or on the international stage with Team USA, Richter rose to the occasion when the pressure mounted. Though he fought through serious knee injuries, it was a concussion that cut short a career that included a Stanley Cup and a Rangers-record 301 victories.
9. John LeClair Born: St. Albans, Vt. NHL career: 1991-present; Canadiens, Flyers, Penguins His three 50-goal seasons (achieved consecutively) top all Americans. The former Vermont Catamount is a mere six goals shy of 400 for his career. LeClair has twice led the NHL in plus/minus, and the left wing was also twice named a First Team All-Star.
10. Frank Brimsek Born: Eveleth, Minn. NHL career: 1938-1950; Bruins, Blackhawks One of the inaugural members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame (which is located in Eveleth), Mr. Zero was a two-time Vezina winner who helped lead the Bruins to a pair of Stanley Cups. Brimsek was either a First- or Second-Team All-Star in each of his eight seasons with Boston.
Honorable mention (in alphabetical order) Tom Barrasso (Boston; 1983-2003); Neal Broten (Roseau, Minn.; 1981-1997); Mark Howe (Detroit; 1973-1995), Keith Tkachuk (Melrose, Mass.; 1992-present); Doug Weight (Warren, Mich.; 1991-present)