The United States has made major inroads into hockey since the 1980 gold medal win at Lake Placid. Despite producing some talented players, they haven't produced at a level high enough to warrant much individual NHL hardware in most areas. Brett Hull won the Hart in 1991, Tom Barrasso won the Vezina in 1984 and John Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina in 1986.
This lack of hardware doesn't apply to the Norris Trophy. Since Rod Langway won back-to-back Norris Trophies in 1983 and 1984, Americans have won the Norris seven times in 24 seasons. Led by Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch, the US has consistently produced elite level defensemen and has consistently captured the hardware to prove it.
Norris trophies aside, Americans have produced defensemen of quality since the early 80's. Another American, Mark Howe, was Norris runner-up three times. Both Gary Suter and Bryan Berard won Calder trophies.
Other great American blue liners include Phil Housley, Derian Hatcher, Kevin Hatcher, Al Iafrate, Brian Rafalski and Mathieu Schneider. Other than Rafalski, Ryan Whitney and Mike Komisarek, Americans have been quiet recently. That's about to change.
Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski both show lots of promise. Both could easily notch 40 points next season on their way to high scoring careers. Matt Niskanen broke through last year with 35 points while Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter both scored 45 points.
Considering the pedigree of Jack Johnson, 22, and Erik Johnson, 21, it won't be long before an American sees his name etched on the Norris.
It may come as a surprise to many that I haven't mentioned the most likely Yankee defender to rival Chelios, Leetch and Langway. His name is John Carlson and 22 teams passed on him in the 2008 NHL draft.
Carlson had 43 points in 59 USHL games heading into the draft, but he was 6'3 and 210 pounds and can really move. For whatever reason, he fell between the cracks and Washington stole him 27th overall. Carlson then proceeded to tear apart the OHL in his rookie season, notching 76 points for London and finished tied for 17th in scoring as an 18 year old. Sure, Ryan Ellis scored 89 points, but Ellis is five inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than Carlson. It was also Ellis' second OHL season. Carlson’s size makes him a better pro prospect.
Carlson can play defense as well. He was second on the Knights in plus/minus (33rd in the OHL) and finished behind only Cody Hodgson and John Tavares as the OHL's "Total Package" player in Hockey Prospects Magazine Spring 2009 edition. I think "Total Package" is a good description for Carlson who has a bit of a mean streak to go with his huge frame. He lacks nothing.
Some call him the next Mike Green; others compare him to Erik Johnson. I say everyone already knows who Mike Green is, everyone already knows who Erik Johnson is and everyone already knows who Jack Johnson is. But does everyone in your pool know who John Carlson is? Probably not.