The Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils should be a great match-up, making for entertaining games and an enthralling series. This year’s Stanley Cup Final will also have an added American flavor.
By now you’ve probably heard that either Dustin Brown of the Kings or Zach Parise of the Devils will become just the second American captain to lead his team to the Stanley Cup in the modern era. It’s hard to believe, but Derian Hatcher was the last American captain to do so with the Dallas Stars in 1999.
Both the Kings and Devils have six American-born players among the regulars on the active roster for the playoffs.
As the number of Americans playing in the National Hockey League continues to grow, so are the ways for U.S.-born players to reach the league. And as the variety of ways Americans find their way to to the top level continues to expand, the debate heats up as to which one is the best.
The finite answer to that debate should be simple, but not too many see it that way. When it comes right down to it, there is no best path. There is no sure-fire way to reach the NHL. A lot of it depends on the player. Some will thrive in college hockey, while others are better suited for the Canadian Hockey League. No matter the path, the cream always rises to the top.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the development paths for each of the 12 Americans vying for the Stanley Cup.
This year’s Stanley Cup Final offers a very unique group of players, with many different developmental paths on display. There’s no point to prove, or to say one is better than the other, because this is far too small a sample size to prove anything.
However, with the backdrop of the Stanley Cup Final, it’s a good time to take a look at how these 12 players reached the game’s pinnacle.
The following list includes only those players that have played at least one game during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is broken down by team, with forwards listed first, then defensemen, then goaltenders. The first team listed for each player on his development path is the first team listed in his NHL.com statistical biography.
Ithaca H.S.-NYHS (1998-2000) > Guelph Storm-OHL (2000-03) > LA Kings (2003-Present)
Draft to NHL regular: 0 years
Notes: Brown’s path to the NHL was a short one through Guelph, skating in the OHL from 16-18. He went from the draft floor to the NHL lineup. Despite losing what would have been his second NHL season to the lockout (he played in the AHL for that season), Brown has already appeared in 595 regular-season games in the NHL at age 27 … The Kings captain is third in playoff scoring heading into the Cup final with seven goals and 13 points, making him a strong contender for the Conn Smythe.
Trevor Lewis — Salt Lake City, Utah — Selected 17th overall by LAK in 2006
Des Moines Buccaneers-USHL (2005-06) > Owen Sound Attack-OHL (2006-07) > Manchester Monarchs-AHL (2007-10) > LA Kings (2010-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 4 years
Notes: Lewis may have taken a longer path than Brown, as it was four seasons between the draft and his becoming a full-time NHLer, but he has turned into a solid player … You don’t often expect a first-rounder to be a fourth-line type of guy, but Lewis has been a defensive stalwart for the Kings and played an integral role in shutting Phoenix down in the Western Conference Final.
Matt Greene — Grand Ledge, Mich. — Selected 44th overall (2nd Rd.) by EDM in 2002
NTDP (2000-01) > Green Bay Gamblers-USHL (2001-02) > Univ. of North Dakota (2002-05) > Edmonton Oilers (2005-08) > LA Kings (2008-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 3 years
Notes: Greene did have a brief stop in the AHL before catching on with the Oilers, but it lasted just 26 games (with the Iowa Stars). He’s been a full-time NHLer ever since, having appeared in 461 career games so far … Greene is one of LA’s alternate captains and has played a significant role defensively for the Kings throughout the playoffs.
Alec Martinez — Rochester Hills, Mich. — Selected 95th overall (4th Rd.) by LAK in 2007
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (2004-05) > Miami University (2005-08) > Manchester Monarchs-AHL (2008-10) > LA Kings (2010-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 3 years
Notes: As a fourth-round draft pick, there was less pressure to get to the league as quickly as possible for Martinez and LA was content to let him marinate in college hockey a bit. He left after his junior season at Miami and spent one full season in the AHL before splitting between the AHL and NHL in 2010-11. For being a fourth-rounder, Martinez attained a regular-role in the NHL by age 23 … He’s been a solid presence for the Kings on the blue line throughout the playoffs, averaging 14 minutes a game.
Rob Scuderi — Syosset, N.Y. — Selected 134th overall (5th Rd.) by PIT in 1998
NY Apple Core-MTJHL (1995-97) > Boston College (1997-2001) > Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins-AHL (2001-05) > Pittsburgh Penguins (2005-09) > LA Kings (2009-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 7 years
Notes: Scuderi might have taken a while to get there, but he got there and he’s been a solid NHLer over his six full-time seasons in the league. He won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 and parlayed that into a $13.6 million contract from LA the following season … Scuderi has been worth the money as a solid defensive-defenseman for the Kings. He’s posted a plus-8 rating while averaging 21-plus minutes a night in the playoffs.
Avon Old Farms Prep (2002-05) > University of Massachusetts (2005-07) > Reading Royals-ECHL/Manchester Monarchs-AHL (2007-08) > LA Kings (2008-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 3 years
Notes: Jonathan Quick is somewhat freakish when it comes to goalies. Typically a goaltender can take around six years between being drafted and making it to the NHL. The development curve is just more steep for a tender. Quick made it to the NHL in half that time. See? Freak. An injury forced the Kings to play him earlier than expected, but Quick posted a 2.48 GAA and .914 save percentage in 44 appearnaces as a rookie … Quick has been simply sensational in the playoffs, leading the Kings to a 12-2 record with a 1.54 goals-against average and .946 save percentage, along with two shutouts. He’s certainly the front-runner for the Conn Smythe heading into the Final.
All, but two of the six Americans on the Kings active roster were drafted originally by LA. Two played in the Ontario Hockey League, four played college hockey, while three also played in the United States Hockey League at some point.
Kings GM, Dean Lombardi, a native of Holyoke, Mass., has done a nice job of building the Kings through the draft, while making some savvy trades along the way for some big-ticket players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The more you look at what the Kings have done in the postseason, the less surprising it becomes. This is an incredibly well-built team.
New Jersey Devils
Green Bay Gamblers-USHL (2002-04) > Minnesota State Mankato (2004-06) > Portland Pirates-AHL (2006-07) > Anaheim Ducks (2007-10) > Anaheim-Carolina-Florida (2010-11) > Florida Panthers-New Jersey Devils (2011-12)
Draft to NHL Regular: N/A
Notes: Ryan Carter’s NHL career is an unlikely one. Undrafted out of the USHL, Carter managed to grab a contract after just two seasons at Minnesota State Mankato, where he put up 58 points in his brief career. He won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, after not appearing in a single regular season game (but four postseason contests) … Carter has been a revelation in the playoffs with six points including two huge goals in the Eastern Conference Finals. He doesn’t play a ton of minutes, but he’s been effective.
Stephen Gionta — Rochester, N.Y. — Signed as undrafted FA by NJD in 2010
NTDP (2000-02) > Boston College (2002-06) > Lowell/Albany Devils-AHL (2006-12) > New Jersey Devils (2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs)
Draft to NHL Regular: N/A
Notes: Gionta is a great story of perseverance and patience. He did not get any NHL offers after a pretty good four-year career at Boston College, but the Devils AHL affiliate signed Gionta to an Amateur Tryout Contract in 2006. He’s been a solid, if unspectacular AHLer over six years. Gionta was signed to an NHL deal in 2010 by New Jersey and appeared in 12 games in 2010-11. After just one regular-season game with the Devils in 2011-12, he remained on for the playoff run and has he ever come in handy … Gionta has appeared in all of the Devils’ playoff games, registering seven points. He was the first star of New Jersey’s Game 5 win over the Rangers with two points (1g-1a) and added another assist in the decisive Game 6. It’s been an incredible postseason for a guy that really wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Shattuck-St. Mary’s-Prep/AAA (2000-02) > Univ. of North Dakota (2002-04) > Albany River Rats-AHL (2004-05) > New Jersey Devils (2005-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 2 years
Notes: Parise has become arguably the best American-born player in the NHL over his seven-season NHL career. It didn’t take him terribly long to get there, either. Drafted after his freshman season at North Dakota, he stuck it out for one more year, helped the U.S. win its first World Junior gold medal and came out as ready as he’d ever be for pro hockey. The lockout forced him to spend a year in the AHL, however. In 2008-09, Parise posted 94 points, the highest total for an American player since the lockout. The Olympics made him a household name in the U.S. and the Devils captain could be looking at a huge payday if he goes to free agency after this year … Parise has been his regular productive self in the playoffs, tied for third in the NHL with seven goals and ranks sixth with 14 points. Depending on what he does in the Final, he could have a good shot at the Conn Smythe.
Mark Fayne — Nashua, N.H. — Selected 155th overall (5th Rd.) by NJD in 2005
Noble and Greenough-Prep (2003-06) > Providence College (2006-10) > New Jersey Devils (2010-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: 5 years
Notes: Fayne was never heralded as a big time prospect, but he developed into a pretty solid NHL defenseman with three years at a top prep school and four years at Providence. He had a brief stay in the AHL in 2010-11, but played 82 games at the top level in 2011-12 … Fayne has been really strong in the playoffs, averaging over 20 minutes a game. He’s posted a plus-5 rating and three assists while appearing in all 18 playoff games. Fayne isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done, which is what Devils GM Lou Lamoriello seems to really love.
Andy Greene — Trenton, Mich. — Signed as an undrafted FA by NJD in 2006
Compuware Ambassadors-NAHL (2000-02) > Miami University (2002-06) > Lowell Devils (2006-07) > New Jersey Devils (2007-Present)
Draft to NHL Regular: N/A
Notes: Greene turned out to be a terrific college free agent find for Lamoriello. He’s been a fairly strong two-way defender for New Jersey over his career. He spent just over half a season in the AHL in 2006-07, but also saw action in 23 NHL games that year and never looked back … Greene has posted just one assist this postseason, but has seen an average of 22-plus minutes of action in the playoffs.
Peter Harrold — Kirtland Hills, Ohio — Signed as undrafted FA by LAK in 2006
Cleveland Barons-NAHL (1999-2002) > Boston College (2002-06) > Manchester Monarchs-AHL (2006-08) > LA Kings (2008-11) > Albany Devils-AHL (2011-12) > New Jersey Devils (2011-12)
Draft to NHL Regular: N/A
Notes: It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster career for Peter Harrold after being signed as a college free agent by Los Angeles in 2006. He’s had three up-and-down seasons going between the NHL and AHL including 2011-12, when he spent 61 games with the Albany Devils … Harrold has appeared in 14 of the Devils’ 18 postseason contests and has performed admirably. He’s posted four assists and a plus-3 rating while averaging 14:29 of ice in the playoffs.
Of the six Americans, only two were drafted at all, both by the Devils (Parise and Fayne). Three were signed as free agents out of college hockey, only one of which was signed originally by the Devils (Greene). Gionta was signed out of the AHL.
All six of the American regulars for the Devils played college hockey. Four of those players spent all four years in school. Zach Parise, the lone player to leave school early, reached the NHL two years after he was drafted, though that’s only because of the lockout.
Lou Lamoriello, a native of Providence, R.I., is a true college hockey guy, as a former coach and athletic director at Providence College, so his taste in college players is nothing new.
The Devils have a very international flavor to its roster and as a result have the fewest Canadian-born players of any team in the NHL this past season. Seven different countries are represented on New Jersey’s roster. It’s really the best of all worlds, in terms of developmental paths to New Jersey.
Americans in Stanley Cup Final Breakdown:
States Represented: 6 — Michigan-4; New York-3; Minnesota 2; Connecticut-1; New Hampshire-1; Ohio-1.
Colleges Represented: 6 — Boston College-3; Miami U-2; North Dakota-2; UMass-1; Minnesota State Mankato-1; Providence-1.
CHL Teams Represented: 2 — Guelph-1; Owen Sound-1.
USHL/NAHL Teams Represented: 6 — Green Bay-2; NTDP-2; Cedar Rapids-1; Compuware-1; Cleveland-1; Des Moines-1.
Prep Schools Represented: 3 — Avon Old Farms-1; Noble & Greenough-1; Shattuck-St. Mary’s-1
Each player took a fairly unique path to get where he is now. Some took longer than others, but each now has a shot at the Stanley Cup. The best players, whether they play Major Junior or college hockey, will find a way.
There will be many debates in the future as to which path is the best for the American player to reach the NHL, but this year shows that there’s no perfect way and perhaps not even a right way. Each player must simply find his own way.