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Where Does Joe Pavelski Rank Among Greatest American Skaters?

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Credit: NBC

Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s impossible to compare eras.

But yesterday, my colleague Jimmy Murphy from Boston Hockey Now threw this out there:

My initial reaction was there were at least 10 Americans that I could think of who I’d start a franchise with over prime Joe Pavelski.

However, Pavelski’s case to be a top-15 all-time American player might be stronger than you think.

After some spirited online debate, I identified three standards to compare between eras: Prime, Career, and Playoff.

And with the help of Hockey Reference’s Stathead, I actually had some measures to try to compare eras.

So who are the greatest American skaters? And where does Pavelski stack up?

But before we get going: To Brett or not to Brett?

Every significant American goal-scoring record is owned by Canadian-born Brett Hull, who represented the United States in international competition. You name it — Hull has the most single-season, career, and playoff goals of any American.

It’s because of Hull that every American NHL record has to be categorized as American-born, to simply give everybody else a chance.

Case in point:

Pretty good, right? Well, Pavelski is still 42 playoff goals away from catching Hull.

For the purpose of this debate and to include the best of the best, I’m making the executive decision to include Hull.

Prime

Including Hull, there have been 20 American 50-goal seasons:

PlayerSeasonTeamGoals
Brett Hull1990-91STL86
Brett Hull1989-90STL72
Brett Hull1991-92STL70
Brett Hull1993-94STL57
Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK55
Kevin Stevens1992-93PIT55
Brett Hull1992-93STL54
Pat LaFontaine1989-90NYI54
Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT54
Jeremy Roenick1991-92CHI53
Bobby Carpenter1984-85WSH53
Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF53
Keith Tkachuk1996-97PHX52
John LeClair1997-98PHI51
John LeClair1995-96PHI51
Joe Mullen1988-89CGY51
John LeClair1996-97PHI50
Mike Modano1993-94DAL50
Keith Tkachuk1995-96WIN50
Jeremy Roenick1992-93CHI50

Hull owns five of the top-seven spots. For what it’s worth, every one of these 20 campaigns occurred from 1984-1997, a mostly high-scoring period of time in the league. Pavelski’s career-high 41-goal 2013-14 campaign is tied for just 41st among top American goal-scoring campaigns.

That 41st, however, becomes far more impressive when we use Hockey Reference’s Adjusted Goals metric:

PlayerSeasonTeamAdjusted Goals
Brett Hull1990-91STL78
Brett Hull1991-92STL63
Brett Hull1989-90STL61
John LeClair1997-98PHI59
Auston Matthews2019-20TOR56
Keith Tkachuk1996-97PHX54
Brett Hull1993-94STL52
John LeClair1996-97PHI52
Patrick Kane2015-16CHI52
Tony Amonte1998-99CHI51
Brett Hull1994-95STL50
John LeClair1995-96PHI49
John LeClair1998-99PHI49
Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT48
Keith Tkachuk1995-96WIN48
Brian Gionta2005-06NJD48
Zach Parise2008-09NJD48
Jeremy Roenick1991-92CHI47
Tony Amonte1999-00CHI47
Bill Guerin2001-02BOS47
Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK46
Joe Pavelski2013-14SJS46
Keith Tkachuk1997-98PHX46

Pavelski’s 2013-14 rises to tied for 21st on the list.

These adjustments for era matter.

Patrick Kane, for example, shows up just twice in the top-10 list for single-season assists by an American forward. His career-high 66 assists in 2018-19 is fourth all-time.

But using adjusted assists, Kane suddenly dominates, taking five of the top-10 spots. His 2018-19 also shoots up to second behind Pat Lafontaine.

Here’s a comparison, by the way, of top-10 points by an American skater, raw and adjusted:

 PlayerSeasonTeamPointsPlayerSeasonTeamAdjusted Points
1Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF148Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF119
2Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT123Patrick Kane2015-16CHI119
3Kevin Stevens1992-93PIT111Patrick Kane2018-19CHI111
4Patrick Kane2018-19CHI110Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT109
5Joe Mullen1988-89CGY110John LeClair1998-99PHI102
6Jeremy Roenick1993-94CHI107John LeClair1996-97PHI101
7Jeremy Roenick1992-93CHI107John LeClair1997-98PHI100
8Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK107Doug Weight1995-96EDM100
9Patrick Kane2015-16CHI106Johnny Gaudreau2018-19CGY99
10Craig Janney1992-93STL106Patrick Kane2019-20CHI99

All these adjusted stats suggest that Hull is the dominant American scorer, Pat Lafontaine and Kane are the dominant playmakers up front. We also get a good sense of how unstoppable John LeClair was in the “dead puck” era.

So that was the statistical portion of the argument. Subjectively, which American skaters, in their primes, are clearly ahead of Pavelski?

From these lists, Hull, Lafontaine, Kane, and LeClair jump out. For his strong two-way play and leadership, both Pavelski strong suits, coupled with otherworldly skills, Mike Modano can’t be denied. Among defensemen, it’s hard to dispute American Norris Trophy winners Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, and Rod Langway. Three-time Norris Trophy runner-up Mark Howe deserves mention. Auston Matthews is simply too special a player right now, even at just 23 years old.

After this elite top-10 though, perhaps we can start to debate Pavelski. But it would be a fierce debate: Up front, prime Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, Bill Guerin, Kevin Stevens, Joe Mullen, Bill Guerin, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, Neal Broten, Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, and Doug Weight are very much in this tier of the conversation. In the back-end, Phil Housley, Ryan Suter, Dustin Byfuglien, and John Carlson, among others, are in the discussion too.

Career

We’ll focus on regular season careers here.

The 36-year-old Pavelski actually shows well here.

Pavelski’s 792 points is 20th among all Americans. But let’s look at adjusted all-time points:

PlayerCareer PointsPlayerCareer Adjusted Points
Brett Hull1391Mike Modano1408
Mike Modano1374Brett Hull1390
Phil Housley1232Jeremy Roenick1228
Jeremy Roenick1216Patrick Kane1154
Keith Tkachuk1065Keith Tkachuk1150
Joe Mullen1063Phil Housley1148
Doug Weight1033Doug Weight1099
Brian Leetch1028Brian Leetch1039
Patrick Kane1022Phil Kessel968
Pat LaFontaine1013Tony Amonte953
Chris Chelios948Bill Guerin921
Neal Broten923Joe Mullen918
Tony Amonte900Chris Chelios908
Phil Kessel861Pat LaFontaine902
Bill Guerin856John LeClair893
Gary Suter844Joe Pavelski882
John LeClair819Zach Parise881
Ed Olczyk794Blake Wheeler857
Zach Parise792Brian Rolston828
Joe Pavelski792Scott Gomez820

Pavelski finds himself just outside the top-15 now and a lot closer to Hall of Famers Lafontaine and Mullen. Tkachuk, Weight, Amonte, Guerin, and Kessel’s careers suddenly start to look more impressive.

Meanwhile, Pavelski’s 369 goals is 13th among all American skaters. Once again, however, his adjusted figures are more impressive:

 PlayerCareer GoalsPlayerCareer Adjusted Goals
1Brett Hull741Brett Hull738
2Mike Modano561Keith Tkachuk584
3Keith Tkachuk538Mike Modano578
4Jeremy Roenick513Jeremy Roenick514
5Joe Mullen502Bill Guerin467
6Pat LaFontaine468Patrick Kane449
7Bill Guerin429John LeClair447
8Tony Amonte416Tony Amonte443
9John LeClair406Zach Parise435
10Patrick Kane389Joe Mullen432
11Zach Parise386Phil Kessel422
12Phil Kessel371Joe Pavelski418
13Joe Pavelski369Pat LaFontaine414

Pavelski has suddenly joined the 400-goal club, moving ahead of Lafontaine.

Do we start to have the argument that Pavelski can be a top-15 all-time American skater?

Playoffs

If we don’t yet, this is where Pavelski absolutely shines.

Unfortunately, Hockey Reference doesn’t have adjusted post-season stats. But we can do some quick-and-dirty math to approximate adjusted playoff figures — basically, I extrapolated regular-season adjustments and applied them to playoff goals.

Here’s your new top-six among Americans in post-season goals:

 Adjusted Playoff GoalsPlayoff Goals
Brett Hull103103
Joe Pavelski6961
Patrick Kane6052
Mike Modano6058
Jeremy Roenick5353
Joe Mullen5260

Obviously, Pavelski is still sitting pretty.

And here’s something truly striking. Among the top-13 all-time American regular season goal scorers, Pavelski is the only one whose goal-scoring pace increased in the playoffs, albeit marginally:

 PlayerRegular Season Goals Per Game Playoff Goals Per GameDifference
1Brett Hull0.580.51-0.07
2Mike Modano0.370.33-0.04
3Keith Tkachuk0.450.31-0.14
4Jeremy Roenick0.380.34-0.04
5Joe Mullen0.470.42-0.05
6Pat LaFontaine0.540.38-0.16
7Bill Guerin0.340.28-0.06
8Tony Amonte0.350.22-0.13
9John LeClair0.420.27-0.15
10Patrick Kane0.40.38-0.02
11Zach Parise0.380.35-0.03
12Phil Kessel0.350.350
13Joe Pavelski0.360.380.02

Now that’s impressive.

Top-30, Top-20, Top-10?

Prime Pavelski is a clear top-30 American skater. Factoring in his longevity, top-20 seems reasonable. Do his post-season exploits get him into the top-10 debate?

I’m not sure — but if you had to win a Game Seven with all U.S. skaters, Pavelski would be a sure-fire pick. Besides production, you’ll also get inspiring leadership and reliable two-way play.

We’ll see if Pavelski can keep adding to his illustrious playoff legacy tonight.

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Skyler Greenberg

We also have to remember Pavelski’s stats would be better if he didn’t have two lockout seasons and this recent Covid shortern season.

Skyler Greenberg

It’s also the reason why Ovi8 should be closer to Wyane Gretzky’s goal total then he actually is.

Gary To

And the reason the Thornton should even be higher on the career lists. As for Pavelski, top-20 sounds about right, anything in the top-10 is too high cause he lacked the elite offensive upside. His offensive upside is very good, but not elite, also need to consider he scored a lot of those points with Thornton in the latter part of his prime years. Although I guess you can say that about other players on the list, they all likely played with great players.

Gary To

So you mean Modano could’ve reach 1500 games despite of Babs? 🙂

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