There are many talented young hockey players born and raised in the United States who have big dreams to play in the famed National Hockey League. Many must prove their skills to coaches and scouts around the world, and others are blessed enough with the natural gift to play hockey at an extremely high level.
Ice hockey in the United States is interesting since it allows players to be seen at such a young age; these incredibly talented players normally pursue a few different routes to get noticed. For Americans, it is common to play Division I Ice Hockey at a college or university. Many of these academic institutions offer generous athletic scholarships. After college, players will likely aim to enter the National Hockey League entry draft if they are eligible.
For other Americans, they choose to play in smaller, overseas leagues where professional scouts lurk around every corner. However, if life abroad is too daunting, many United States-born players travel up north to seek participation in prominent Canadian leagues like the Canadian Hockey League or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The ones that filter through the clutter are drafted or signed by general managers at the highest level; these players are sure to make a splash in the league. The National Hockey League’s official website curated a list of American-born defensemen under the age of 25 who they think will do just this within three seasons, and I’m here to tell you who belongs on this list (and who doesn’t).
One player included on this list is Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, the older brother of the superstar centerman Jack Hughes. At only 21 years old, Hughes absolutely deserves his spot on this list, as I believe he will have the largest three-season impact on his team out of anyone on this list.
Not only is he a tough-as-nails defender who lets nothing get in his way, he is also no stranger to producing points. He leads the Canucks’ team in points with two goals and 18 assists, according to his official stats page. The multi-faceted menace that is Quinn Hughes is sure to light up the league in the next few years.
Although having a terrific first season, he came just shy of the Calder Trophy awarded to the rookie of the year. He lost to Cale Makar, another young defenseman in the league who plays for the Colorado Avalanche. Makar would have been my top pick for this list, but he was born in Canada.
The New York Rangers actually have two players featured on this short list, the first being Adam Fox and the second K’Andre Miller. After arguably one of the most rapid and successful rebuilds in hockey history only two years ago, the Rangers came back with a team full of young stars like these two defensemen.
Miller, who played hockey at the University of Wisconsin, racked up 40 points in only 62 games according to College Hockey News. Fox, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the oil the Rangers needed to get the machine working again. According to the same article by nhl.com, Fox had the most on-ice time out of any Rangers player, with 24:53 on average!
I believe that these three players will likely be the ones to lead their team to victory within the next three seasons, and I absolutely agree with the National Hockey League’s picks. However, I believe that one standout player was left off this list, and one maybe should have been left off of this list.
Another team that went through a rampant rebuild process recently was the Winnipeg Jets, who, like the Rangers, have a squad stacked with fresh talent. The cream of the crop on this Canadian team is none other than Neal Pionk, who has been thrown into a position to be the go-to guy for this Jets team.
In my opinion, the 25-year-old is a huge sleeper pick for this list, but I think that he truly belongs here. In a different article, the league rated him number 25 out of the 50 best defensemen in the league.
The Nebraska native has only put one goal in the back of the net this season, but according to his official stats page, he has connected with his teammates for nine assists so far. Even though this may seem like a slow start for the selfless player, do not count him out; in three years, I am sure he will be playing on a top defensive pairing and achieving his full potential.
On the flipside, I believe that one player on the list is a bit of a stretch. This would be the Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Do not get me wrong, Chychrun is a brilliant offensive player. But, that’s just my problem: the Coyotes need more defense. In their questionable goalie situation, defense is more important than ever to ensure that they are protecting your netminder. The Coyotes’ offense is pretty solid, and they need more people to step up on defense, something I think Chychrun has not done enough of.
If the Coyotes are able to perform a fairly successful rework of their team over the next two years, I think Chychrun’s potential will be boosted, but I ultimately disagree with the NHL’s prediction for now; until Chychrun’s offensive tendencies cool down, I’m not entirely convinced. It is far too early to call.
All around the league, young superstars are making their mark on their respective teams and proving that success is in the horizon. The names that the league cited are sure to be very valuable in the years to come, but in all corners of our country, kids are working to rewrite history and cement their name on this list one day.