Top NHL American Players to Watch This Season

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Zach Parise/Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild):  The most-highly sought after American free agents in the offseason will finally have the opportunity to show if the Minnesota Wild's biggest acquisitions in franchise history was money well spent.

Read more about Minnesota's firework signing.

Zach Parise

Last Season: Parise captained the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.

The 28-year-old led the Devils back to the postseason with 31 goals and 38 assists before scoring an NHL-high eight goals in the postseason during New Jersey's run to the finals.

Despite becoming the star inside the Devils dazzling new arena last season, Parise decided to return home to Minnesota this offseason.

Now he will have the opportunity to join Dany Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, and Mikko Koivu on the Wild's top line. The three can possibly become one of the NHL's most potent offensive lines if all goes well in Minnesota.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesThe potential is there for Parise to become one of the league's most productive scorers with the talented duo next to him. 

What's scary about Parise's potential in Minnesota is that he is still entering the prime of his career and will now be playing with two of the most talented offensive players in his career.

It's been a long time coming since the State of Hockey has had this much excitement leading up to an NHL season since the Wild brought the NHL back to Minnesota in 2000. Season tickets and jersey sales jumped off the charts following the signings of Parise and Suter and the pressure to win will be evident.

Pressure or no pressure Parise is sure to blossom into Minnesota's golden child and is prime for a breakout year.

Ryan Suter

Last Season: Suter paired with Shea Weber to form one of the best blue line tandems in the NHL. The NTDP product had a career-year with seven goals and 39 assists for the Nashville Predators.

Suter's signing shores up one of the Wild's biggest weaknesses from last season. He joins offensive-minded d-men Tom Gilbert and Jared Spurgeon as the Wild's top three defensemen while the last three will have to be harvested from the organization's talented prospect pool.

But will Suter be as effective without Weber by his side? Can Gilbert and/or Spurgeon generate enough attention and create enough opportunities for the 27-year-old to be as successful as he was in Nashville? Will it be enough to help the Wild return to the postseason for the first time since 2007-08?

Regardless, Suter's main responsibility will be to help improve the Wild's defensive corps.

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Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings): The defending Stanley Cup champions will once again rely on their star-studded goaltender in hopes of defending their crown with a roster completely in tact from last season.  

Last Season: Quick is no longer an unknown to those east of the Mississippi after backstopping the eighth-seeded Kings to their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

The Conn Symthe winner finished the postseason with 16 wins and a remarkable 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage on his way to becoming the second straight American goaltender to win the NHL's highest postseason award.  

While New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist rightfully won the Vezina Trophy for his stellar production in net, Quick was nearly as dominant during the regular season.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesQuick propelled the Kings into postseason ranking fifth in the league with 35 wins and a .929 SV%.  Even more impressive, the goalie finished the regular season second in the NHL with a 1.95 GAA.

Out of his 10 regular season shutouts the most remarkable has to be Quick's 38-save performance against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 28.  He then topped that mark with a 41-save performance against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Quick was awarded for his Stanley Cup heroic efforts with a 10-year contract from the Kings this summer and now everyone will wait and see if he can duplicate his success.

Will Quick post a sub-2.00 GAA again this season? Probably not. Will Quick post another 10 shutouts? I'm willing to say no.

Yet will he still be a dominant force? It's hard to see why not.

Best of all, it sure will be fun watching Quick try to duplicate his success this season.

Related Content: The Rise of the American Goaltender

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Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks): With more off-ice issues plaguing Kane this offseason, the talented winger will certainly be excited to return to the ice this year. Trade rumors began swirling around the young Blackhawk after his misconduct in Wisconsin following the NHL season. A strong start to this season can put some of his critics behind him.

Last Season: Kane had his least productive season of his career finishing with 23 goals and 43 assists. Still though, it was not terrible production from Kane and he will be a key factor if the Blackhawks try to rebound from their first round playoff exit to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Just 23 years old, Kane can easily regain his 2008-09 form when he helped Chicago hoist the Stanley Cup with an 88-point regular season and a 28-point postseason performance, third best in the NHL that year.

It comes as no surprise that Chicago would want to hang on to their young and talented center.

Kane started off the first month of last year on a point-per-game scoring streak (15 points in 14 games) and had three, three-point performances against Winnipeg, Nashville and Tampa Bay. However, Kane would not a register another three-point game the rest of the way.

The young star will continue to develop into a force on the ice and he can also continue to mature and grow off it. If Kane can find the balance of the too, the Blackhawks front office will not only be happier but they may also find themselves back amongst the thick of the NHL postseason.

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Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins): Does he actually stay retired? All reports say that Thomas will take this year off to spend time with his family, but if a playoff contender or even the Boston Bruins come calling for his services does he reconsider?

Last Season: Thomas showed no signs of slowing down after leading the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup. The former UVM goaltender finished the year fifth in the NHL with 35 wins, his second straight year accomplishing such a feat. But Boston fell victim to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs in their defense of Lord Stanley.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesThomas appeared in 59 games, the second most in his career, and finished the season with a 2.36 GAA and a .920 SV %.

A former ninth-round draft pick, Thomas did all he could to propel the Bruins past Washington in the postseason with his .923 SV%.

Hence it caught the hockey world off guard when Thomas announced his leave of absence, not retirement, from the Bruins in June.

Thomas plans on spending this year with his family and friends away from hockey but will he eventually get that desire to return to the brotherhood of the locker room?

He certainly has the skills to backstop a Stanley Cup contender and he has already waived his no trade clause.

Therefore, once a team loses a marquee-starting goalie to injury this year keep your ears open for a possible return of Thomas.  

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Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal Canadiens): The highest drafted American-born player since Zach Bogosian (3rd overall in 2008 by Atlanta) is coming off an impressive showing during Team USA's gold-medal winning run at the World Junior Championship. Galchenyuk, selected third overall by the Montreal Canadiens last June, was one of the most gifted players on the ice finishing with two goals and six assists.

Last Season: Galchenyuk suffered a torn ACL on Sept. 16 after he crashed into the net in Sarnia's second to final exhibition game. It was a devastating blow to the young center that put up 31 goals and 52 assists the previous season, the second-most among OHL rookies only behind this year's No. 1 NHL draft selection Nail Yakupov.

The injury limited him to just two regular season games, but he was able to play in all six of Sarnia's postseason tilts against Saginaw.

This year Galchenyuk appears ready to go, to the surprise of many, and has notched an impressive 27 goals and 34 assists in 33 games before being invited to the Montreal Canadiens training camp.

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Keith Yandle (Phoenix Coyotes): One of the quietly successful defenseman in the NHL looks ready to enter the prime of his career.

Last Season: Yandle continued his solid offensive blue line play with another 11-goal season. He did take a slight step back in terms of total points, dropping from 48 assists two years ago to 32 this past season.

Yet after being dangled by the Coyotes at the trade deadline the young defenseman notched eight assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs after Phoenix marched its way to the Western Conference Finals.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesIf the Coyotes want to have any shot at returning to the postseason they will need Yandle to continue his development into an NHL star. If you combine him with Oliver Ekman-Larsson the desert may boast two of the top offensive d-men in the league.

Despite his solid playoff performance the Coyotes, once again dealing with ownership issues, Yandle was once again at the center of trade speculation this offseason. There were reports that the Flyers and Red Wings, both in need of blue line help, inquired for the 26-year-old's services.

Phoenix was wise enough to hang on to him, but will they keep him if they are out of contention come the trade deadline this year?

If so there will be more than one potential buyer for one of America's top defensemen in the game.

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Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets): After spending his entire career with the New York Rangers, Dubinsky was a major piece of the Rick Nash summer trade. Dubinsky now heads to Columbus to team with fellow American Jack Johnson in hopes of turning around the misfortunes of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Last season: Dubinsky became expendable after producing only two points in the postseason, appearing in only nine games due to a right foot injury for the Blue Shirts prior to being a main piece of the Rick Nash deal this summer.

Dubinsky struggled last year with only 10 goals and 24 assists after his career-year in 2010 when he put up 24 goals (tops for N.Y.) and 30 assists

The former second round pick gets a new opportunity with the now, gritty Columbus Blue Jackets after Columbus General Manager Scott Howson assembled a new roster featuring grinders like Dubinsky.

After falling out of the good graces of Rangers head coach John Tortorella, the 26-year-old will get a chance to be a featured center for Columbus.

He may have struggled wearing a blue shirt; maybe all Dubinsky needed was a Blue Jacket?

Related Content: Anchorage Natives Look To Give Hometown Team More Than Just A Full House During NHL Lockout

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Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings): It's no secret the Red Wings are no longer the team they used to be. With the retirements of Nick Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, and Brad Stuart leaving through free agency, some may believe Detroit will no longer be a strong contender in the West. Jimmy Howard can change that.

Last Season: Howard (35-17-4) finished tied for the league-lead in wins among U.S.-born goaltenders with Stanley Cup Champion Jonathan Quick and Boston's Tim Thomas. The 28-year-old also had a career-high six shutouts to go along with his 2.13 GAA and .920 SV%.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesHoward's strong performance in net earned him his first NHL All-Star Game appearance as a member of Team Chara. He also made 25 saves against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 12 to earn his 100th career victory.

Yet can Howard still put up those numbers without Lidstrom's support?

You also have to remember that the Red Wings have been one of the league's biggest offensive juggernauts over the last few years and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyk are getting no younger.

Regardless of his teammates possibly searching for the fountain of youth, Howard is entering the prime of his career and there will certainly be pressure on the American goalie to keep the Detroit winning-tradition alive.

Related Content: Howard Goes From Maine Man To Mainstay In Detroit Net

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Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders): The New York Islanders seem poised to eventually become a playoff contender in the East after having top draft picks for the last couple of years. With the loss of P.A. Parenteau to free agency, Okposo will be looked upon to take a larger role and may breakout into a force playing alongside John Tavares.

Last Season: Okposo finished with a career-high 24 goals in 80 games for the Islanders and chipped in 21 assists to end the year with 45 points.

But more importantly it was his tear at the end of the season that may have given us a glimpse of the 2013 version of the right winger. In the final nine games of the season, Okposo carried the Islanders with nine goals and showed the offensive production that was one of the reasons why the Islanders drafted him 7th overall in 2006.  

Okposo demonstrated the poise to bounce back from a shoulder injury in 2011 and has reached the moment in his career where he has to take on a leadership role with the Islanders after serving last year as the alternate captain.

If the Islanders young players, such as Okposo, continue to mature and develop Long Island may just be ready to surprise some teams, and their fans, with their first playoff appearance since the 2006-07 season.

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Peter Mueller (Florida Panthers): When healthy, Mueller has a knack for finding the back of the net. The question that remains? Does the Florida sunshine instill new health for the injury-plagued Mueller?

Last Season: Mueller showed flashes of potential for the Colorado Avalanche after missing the first 40 games of the season because of lingering concussion issues that cost him the entire 2010-11 season.

In 32 games last season he had seven goals and nine assists.

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesYet Mueller, who also had groin issues, told the Miami Herald during the summer he believes he is the healthiest since his rookie year. And if that is the case than general manager Dave Tallon has another steal of a signing on his hands after taking a gamble on Tomas Fleischmann (27g 34a) last year.

As a rookie in 2007-08, Mueller was brilliant for the Phoenix Coyotes scoring 22 goals in 81 games.

The problem is can Mueller stay healthy? Ever since suffering a season-ending concussion injury in April 2010 the left winger could not return to the goal scorer he once was. Despite his play over the last couple months of the season, the Avalanche decided not to tender Mueller probably because of his inability to stay healthy.

So what do you think? Does Mueller stay healthy and help the Panthers return to the postseason?

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