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.