The past season saw more U.S.-born players in the NHL than ever before, with Americans comprising more than 23 percent of the league's players. And things haven't been too shabby since the end of the regular season either.
The Stanley Cup was raised by an American captain for just the second time as Dustin Brown kicked off the Kings' celebration last month. The celebration was made possible largely because of Conn Smythe winner — and Milford, Conn., native — Jonathan Quick's stellar work in net.
A new crop of American stars entered the NHL with 55 players from the U.S. chosen in this year's draft, including 14 in the top two rounds. Then, arguably the best American forward and top American defenseman made the biggest splash in free agency, with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signing together in Minnesota for a combined $196 million. They even did it on the Fourth of July to add to the patriotic feel.
And on Wednesday, Mike Modano, the all-time leading scorer among American-born players in NHL history, headlined the latest class to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Modano represents one of the best from the past and this year's draft class projects hope for the future, but who reigns supreme among the ever-growing number of Americans in the NHL today?
Parise can certainly make a claim with five 30-goal seasons in his first seven years in the league and the solid all-around play and intangibles that made him so sought after this summer. Suter likewise helps in all three zones and had plenty of suitors for his services, while Chicago's Patrick Kane can be an electrifying performer despite his off-ice shenanigans, having reached the 20-goal mark in every season since being taken first overall in 2007.
But only one player can be the flag bearer for the U.S. in today's NHL, and this spring's postseason left little doubt over who that should be. Quick's playoff performance was one for the record books. He led the eighth-seeded Kings on an improbable Cup run, going 16-4 with a 1.41 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts. Los Angeles never once faced elimination despite starting all four series on the road as the lower seed.
That performance didn't come out of nowhere, however. Quick has steadily climbed up the ranks of the NHL's top goaltenders, regardless of nationality, since taking over as the Kings' starter in 2008. He's posted three straight years of 35 or more wins, starting that run with a franchise record 39 victories in 2009-10.
He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season with a 35-21-13 record, 1.95 GAA, .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts. Without Quick, the Kings — and their 29th ranked offense — wouldn't have even sniffed the playoffs, let alone rolled to the club's first Cup.
Quick earned a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010, but didn't play in the tournament while serving as the third goalie behind starter Ryan Miller and backup Tim Thomas. If NHL players compete again in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, Quick shouldn't have to worry about playing time.
He'll be the No. 1 netminder on that squad. After all, he's the best American player in the NHL right now.
Photo via Facebook/Jonathan Quick Sk/Cz