AROUND THE RINKS: Next wave of U.S. stars hit NHL
Long before he was a budding star for the Philadelphia Flyers,
James van Riemsdyk was a big New York Rangers fan.
Brian Leetch and Mike Richter were more than champions and star
They were proof that Americans could play hockey, too.
”Loved those guys,” van Riemsdyk said. ”Any American, you
always kind of have a special connection. Being American, you take
some pride. Brett Hull. Mike Modano, I loved.”
Raised in New Jersey, van Riemsdyk was a prospect, even in youth
hockey. He also played partially at a private high school in the
Garden State, the genesis of a career that led him all the way to
being the No. 2 overall pick of the 2007 NHL draft. In his third
season in Philadelphia, van Riemsdyk has already played in a
Stanley Cup Final and been rewarded by the Flyers with a six-year
Van Riemsdyk is also one of the standouts of the current crop of
great American players in the NHL. As players like Hull, Modano and
Chris Drury have retired, they’ve been replaced by a new wave of
All-Star Americans that are among the best at their respective
Ryan Callahan captains the Rangers. Phil Kessel leads the NHL
with 11 goals and 22 points entering Wednesday. Tim Thomas won a
Stanley Cup with Boston last season. Zach Parise is one of the top
goal scorers for New Jersey. Patrick Kane twice bested van
Riemsdyk, first as the top pick of the `07 draft, then leading the
Chicago Blackhawks past the Flyers for the championship in
”We already have a pretty young Olympic team and the USA team
won the gold in the juniors last year, so that’s a good sign,”
Parise said. ”I see a lot of good players from the colleges coming
up and making it in the league now. There are younger, more
talented players, even younger than me, moving up.”
Americans are coming from more than traditional hockey areas
like Minnesota and the New England states. Van Riemsdyk was the
highest draft pick out of New Jersey since New Brunswick’s Brian
Lawton was taken first overall by Minnesota in 1983.
”If you look back 15, 20 years, it was unheard of if there was
even a guy drafted from Jersey, let alone a first-round pick,” van
Riemsdyk said. ”There’s no reason to think it can’t become a
Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan is from New Jersey. Washington Capitals
defenseman John Carlson was born in Massachusetts, but played youth
hockey and high school hockey in New Jersey.
The state known for Bruce Springsteen could find a rising number
of prospects become stars in the NHL.
”I know when I played in New Jersey, we’d produce teams that
went to the national tournaments and hung right with teams from
those states,” Carlson said. ”You’re now starting to see guys
make it to the NHL from there, and it’s only going to continue.
There’s a lot of talent there, in New Jersey, and it’s improved
talent. It’s kind of a place now, where players coming out of New
Jersey can decide on whether to go to college or whether to go pro.
Maybe before, there were guys striving to get to college. Now,
they’re pushing for more.”
But how much more the Americans achieve outside the Stanley Cup
is in doubt. An aging group of American veterans flamed out at the
Turin Games, kickstarting a youth movement that led to a silver
medal in Vancouver.
St. Louis Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner, one of the older
American stars easing the transition to a new generation, captained
that Vancouver team. He said the result there can only help
Americans earn more respect at the international level.
”You don’t have to win every time, but you’ve got to be a tough
team. You can’t be a walkover,” he said. ”The Olympics were a
But there’s still work ahead. The U.S. has struggled at the
”I don’t know if it’s put on quite the same pedestal for the
Americans as it is for other countries,” Langenbrunner said. ”But
I think the young kids you see in the league right now, there’s so
many good young Americans. It’s in good hands for a while. They
should continue to be in that upper group.”
It’s still in doubt whether NHL players will be making the trip
to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics. Van Riemsdyk has
represented his country at various world championships and would
love to try and earn Olympic gold.
”When you get a chance to do that, it gives you an extra sense
of pride,” he said. ”That’s something I never take for granted.
Any chance I can pull on that red, white and blue sweater, I’m
always anxious to do it.”
Players like Kane and van Riemsdyk have long, distinguished
careers ahead of them and plenty of time to try and match the
careers of great American players like Pat LaFontaine, Chris
Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Modano and Leetch.
”I don’t think we look at it so much as carrying the torch for
those guys. They were all great players, and they did so much for
our game, for our game in this country, certainly,” Carlson said.
”But we are our own players, and we’re going to have our own
impact on American hockey as we continue to develop in this