Everyone knows names like Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr but these players, along with the majority of the National Hockey League’s all-time greatest players, share one glaring similarity: they were not born in the United States. For years, fans have sat at their local watering hole and argued over who is the greatest American-born player, throwing around Hall of Fame names like Mike Modano, Brett Hall and Chris Chelios but there’s now a clear answer.
It’s an answer that became abundantly evident on Sunday evening, when the Chicago Blackhawks forward notched his 1,000th career point against the Winnipeg Jets, courtesy of a secondary assist on a Brandon Saad goal. For 13 seasons, the Buffalo-native has presided over the greatest era of Blackhawks hockey, turning the franchise from a rebuilder to a champion and hoisting the Stanley Cup three times in six seasons – perhaps the closest thing to an NHL dynasty in decades. Even now, as the team once again rebuilds and continues to flutter in the standings, Kane has 62 points in 50 games and all of this just one year after he netted a career-high 110 points.
In 953 games in his career, Kane has 380 goals and 620 assists. But, he’s not even close to Brett Hull’s number yet, so isn’t it a little early to crown him as the country’s greatest?
Hull played 19 seasons at the NHL level. There, he scored 741 goals and 650 assists for a total of 1,391 points over the course of 1,269 games, though there has long been controversy about whether the son of the great Bobby Hull was actually American-born – but that’s another story. Hull leads American-born players in all-time points, with Modano (1,374) and Phil Housley (1,232) trailing closely behind him but it took these players, who started their careers at later ages, much longer to reach 1,000 career points. Hull, for instance, didn’t do it until his 12th season, at the age of 33, which means Kane is a season and a half ahead of that pace and showing no signs of slowing down. Kane turned 31 back in November and is still in his prime, with easily another six to eight years left in his career, time to add to an already full cabinet of trophies that includes a Calder Memorial Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy and a Hart Memorial Trophy.
But it’s not just Kane’s numbers and trophies that prove valuable, it’s how he unbeknowingly became a trailblazer for American hockey. Americans never dominated professional hockey en masse before Kane was elected with the first overall pick back in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He was at the forefront of an American team that nearly beat the vaunted Canadians in the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics, losing a heart-breaker in overtime, and paved the way for potential American-born superstars such as the Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes. Superstar Americans are no longer the exception.
Kane has the Stanley Cups, he has the pacing for most points and he was a trailblazer on the ice. He was arguably the best player not named Sidney Crosby in the last decade. It’s time Kane got top billing among American-born players because, when it comes time to hang up his skates, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and the best American we’ve ever seen. For now.