November 15, 2013

USA Hockey: Where's The Top End Talent?

Everyone is lauding the growth of hockey in America these days, with good reason. Never before have so many Americans taken up the sport, and they are increasing in numbers at the elite level - the National Hockey League - every year. Back in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament, there were fewer than 100 professional hockey players with American birth certificates to stock the team. Last season the NHL featured 220 Americans alone!

That makes the American Olympic team a formidable threat for the Olympic gold medal. But there must be a concern amongst those at USA Hockey that they are still waiting for a truly elite player or players to emerge.

Think about it. The victorious 1996 World Cup of Hockey team featured Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Gary Suter on defence, plus Derian Hatcher and Phil Housley. The top American dman these days is Ryan Suter, but the level drops after that to the likes of Keith Yandle, Jack Johnson or Dustin Byfuglien. Perhaps Kevin Shattenkirk is ready to make the leap.

It's the same story up front. For all their current depth, the Americans do not have a Brett Hull, Pat Lafontaine or Mike Modano pulling the trigger. Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel are the top marksmen now, and with all due respect, they are not of the same calibre.

That 1996 team boasted a lot of nasty power forwards like John Leclair, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, and Joel Otto. Do Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler and David Backes compare? Maybe, it is not as significant a drop as the scoring forward.

American hockey is rich in net, with Jonathan Quick arguably the best in the world. He'll have to be Mike Richter like good if the Americans hope to do what they did in 1996 - win the world title.

The Americans have never been better. But they still lack that true superstar. Soon the Americans may have a player will be considered the best player in the world. That's when the American golden age of hockey will truly begin.


mike said...

you cant be serious with what you wrote. with all due respect to hull, lafontaine and modano, i dont think that the talent drops off like you think it does with kane, parise and kessel. what about bobby ryan? hes probably just another 4th liner. suter might be one of the best d-men in the game but its not like the rest of those guys arent any good. do you even watch hockey these days? in case you dont ill remind you that these guys played in the GOLD MEDAL game during the last olympics.

Joe Pelletier said...

I don't think USA currently has a Gretzky, Lemieux or Crosby - the highest end talent. They have enough 1st liners to fill four lines for the Olympic team, but who is the undisputed go-to guy?

They very well might win Olympic gold, but this article wonders why the Americans have yet to develop THE top player in the world. It's coming, and probably sooner than the rest of the world realizes.

JacobPhoto said...

I'll take a team that wins over a team that sells jerseys any day. With the olympic break so short, it's important to see these guys mesh as a team and play good hockey on the rink. Sure, there's less star power down here in the great white south compared to what's happening in Hockeyville. But look at the US Basketball team, the undisputed most talented team in the sport.... 3rd in 2004 Olympics? Only 1 championship in FIBA World Cup since 1994? Sometimes, star power doesn't give you the hardware, and I'm ready for the US Ice Hockey program to prove that.

Anonymous said...

Bizarre post. I am old enough to have spanned both generations and I totally disagree. Kane and Kessel, in particular, match up well with the older forwards, as do the d-men. This strikes me as the all-too-predictable "they don't make them like the good ol' days" rationale, which is BS.

Unknown said...

do you even watch hockey now days? I will argue that Kessel/Kane are top best snipers in the game right now. Also, NO ONE, at all works or grinds as hard as Parise does EVERY SINGLE SHIFT. Seriously take a few games in of each of these players and you will see for yourself. Jacob is right, even with no "superstar" as you put it this is a team game and I will much rather take a team than one star who isn't going to garuntee my countrys success. This article is a joke. Canada may have the stars and firepower but we have the 2 way play that will shut them down and blow them out. NOT TO MENTION the BEST GOALIES USA has ever had to chose from, Miller, Quick, Andersen, Howard, Schnieder, Gibson. Please watch hockey NOW days before posting this BS that we need a "superstar".

Joe Pelletier said...

The point of the article is NOT that the Americans can not win Olympic gold - they very seriously can. And since I don't think Canada will win in Sochi, they and Sweden might be teams I'd bet on.

The point is the Americans have never had that one guy who was that much better than everybody else. The Americans are very much on the verge of dominating hockey. The one thing they are lacking is that top end superstar to transcend the game in the States. They essentially need a homegrown hero who the general sports fan population - not just the hockey fan population - will gravitate to. Kind of like Gretzky in his LA days, but a home grown hero.

When that player arrives - and he probably will arrive in next few years - America will be truly positioned to dominate hockey.