From the World Junior Championship to World Championship, Canada Cup to World Cup, and, of course, the Olympics, Mike Modano became synonymous with Team USA throughout his career. But among all he accomplished while representing his country, it could be argued that no moment proved his standing among American-born players more than his two-goal night on Nov. 7, 2007.
That evening, in a contest against the San Jose Sharks, a 37-year-old Modano hit the ice with a chance to overtake Phil Housley as the top American-born scorer in NHL history. Entering the game, Modano sat one point back of the now-Hall of Fame defenseman. Little more than two minutes into the contest, though, Modano buried a slapshot past Evgeni Nabokov to tie Housley’s mark of 1,233 points. And it was only minutes later — 2:05, to be exact — that Modano found himself on a shorthanded breakaway tucking a backhand between Nabokov’s pads to take sole possession of first place among American scorers.
Modano’s two points that evening put him tops among all American-born players, the new record-holder with 1,234 points, and over the course of the next three seasons, Modano would stretch his point total to 1,374, including 561 goals, which made him the top American-born goal-scorer of all-time, too. (He surpassed Keith Tkachuk, the former record-holder, nearly 13 months to the day after taking the points record.)
But with Modano’s record-setting night a decade behind us and an influx of high-scoring American talent entering the league with each passing season, it’s worth wondering who could be the one to eventually break Modano’s record. Here are four outstanding offensive talents who could overtake Modano for the scoring crown among American-born players:
Among active American-born NHLers, no player has put up point totals quite like Kane. His 290 goals and 766 points in 755 games put him 73 points ahead of the next-best producer on the list, who just so happens to be Matt Cullen, a 41-year-old veteran of 1,379 games. Yes, you’re reading that right: Kane has about a full season’s worth of points more than Cullen in slightly more than half the amount of games. But Kane’s standing among American-born players isn’t just exceptional when compared to active skaters. He’s just as impressive among the all-time list. Only three American-born players — Pat Lafontaine, Joe Mullen and Kane — have scored at more than a point-per-game pace, and that has to make Kane the frontrunner to overtake Modano.
If you were to compare Modano and Kane at the same points in their respective careers, which is to say where they were entering their age 29 seasons, it looks as though Kane has the edge. In 740 games, he racked up 752 points heading into his 29-year-old campaign. Modano had 735 points to his name in 710 games. More points per game for Modano, but a higher total for Kane.
The big question for Kane is when the slowdown comes. For Modano, he only scored more than 57 points in a campaign once after his age 33 season, and his points pace dipped from 1.04 to 0.66 across his final seven seasons. If Kane is a point-per-game player again this season, it would take him another six-plus seasons at a point per game to catch Modano. So, realistically, Kane is looking at another eight or nine years of consistent production if he wants to be the top-scoring American-born player of all-time.
Spending a few years in college was great for Gaudreau’s development, but it puts him a bit behind the eight ball when it comes to catching Modano. By the time Modano was entering his age 21 season, he already had 159 games, 57 goals and 139 points to his name. Gaudreau, on the other hand, had one goal in one game. Gaudreau did prove to be a better point producer in his first two campaigns and during a much tougher era, it’s worth noting. In 80 games as a rookie, Gaudreau scored 24 goals and 64 points, following it up with a 30-goal, 78-point sophomore season to give him 142 points in 159 games through the first two years of his career.
The trouble is that Gaudreau’s first significant dip in production came much earlier than Modano’s. In his third, fourth and fifth season, Modano put up totals of 77, 93 and 93 points, while Gaudreau’s third campaign saw him drop off by nearly 20 points, finishing with 18 goals and 61 points. He seems to be heading in the right direction this year, though, with three goals and 18 points through the first 14 games of the campaign.
Without a history as deep as, say, Kane, it’s much harder to project the future for Gaudreau, but let’s assume he continues to score between 0.90 and 1.00 points per game until his age 33 season, which, as noted, is when Modano’s drop-off began. Including this campaign, that would make for another nine seasons of roughly 78 points per year, which works out to 702 points. Add that to Gaudreau’s current total and he’d have 906 points to his name come his age 33 campaign. If Gaudreau has a similar drop-off of about 0.40 points per game around that time, he would need about another decade to reach Modano’s career total.
The biggest question when it comes to Eichel is his ceiling. His points-per-game rates thus far are behind what Modano accomplished — roughly 0.80 to 0.87 — but Eichel is at 0.93 points per game through the early season which is consistent with what he managed last season. Many believe Eichel has another gear he can reach, though, and it’s far from unfathomable to believe he could be a consistent point-per-game player for several years when he really enters into the thick of his prime. And what works in Eichel’s favor is that he, like Modano, started in the NHL during his age 19 season. That means his career could match the length of Modano’s without Eichel having to play into his mid-40s, which, unless your last name is Jagr, is near impossible.
So, pair a potential increase in points per game with potential longevity and there’s a case to be made for Eichel. Let’s say he reaches between 0.95 and 1.05 points per game from this season to his age 28 campaign. That would see Eichel rack up 574 additional points to add to the 113 he had coming into the 2017-18 season, bringing him to a total of 687 career points. If he can maintain that level of play into his 30s, much in the same way Kane has, then Eichel projects to inch ever closer to Modano as he enters his mid-30s. If he slows down, though, he could stall out and end up short.
It’s far too early to crown Matthews as the most talented American-born player, but he’s making his case with each passing game. In his rookie season, he became only the seventh American-born player to reach the 40-goal plateau since the lockout and his 10 goals in 16 games thus far put him on pace to be one of only 11 American-born players to score 40 goals at least twice in their career in the post-expansion NHL. In addition, his impressive freshman year gave him the 10th-best rookie scoring season by an American-born player and the most goals ever by an American-born rookie. Remember that this is all coming in an era where scoring is significantly decreased, too.
The tricky thing about projecting Matthews’ totals, however, is doing so when he’s so early in his career. Granted, after 98 games and some downright dominant outings, suggesting Matthews is set to be roughly a point-per-game player for the better part of the next decade isn’t all that ludicrous. And some simple math would tell us that 10 years at roughly 82 points a campaign is going to give Matthews somewhere in the 900-point range by the time he’s entering his 30s.
If that’s the case, Matthews could be anywhere from 450 to 500 points back of Modano with several years remaining in his career. He would need to only score at a moderate rate to surpass Modano at that point. The question, however, is whether that alone is enough to take over top spot in scoring among American-born players, or if Matthews is instead chasing down Kane.
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