Mike Modano has averaged nearly a point-per-game over the course of his NHL career, a pace that should give him the all-time scoring record for an American-born player very early in the 2007-08 season, maybe even before all the fall TV shows have premiered.
Modano needs six points to tie Phil Housley’s record of 1,232 points, which has stood since the defenseman retired following the 2002-03 season. In March, Modano broke Joe Mullen’s American-born goal-scoring record of 502 goals; he now has his sights set on owning both American hockey records and completely rewriting the record book.
"I think it’s a new standard," Mullen told NHL.com. "Phil set a standard with the points, I set a standard with the goals, and now Mike is coming along and setting all new standards. That’s terrific. It gives all these other guys something to shoot for. I expect him to have it for a long time, but there’s some kids coming up."
Indeed, there are plenty of talented American hockey players whose careers are just getting started, including Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson, the top picks in the last two NHL Entry Drafts. But no matter how good you think someone is going to be, no matter how much hype is heaped on them, there are no guarantees they’ll get as far as guys like Modano, Mullen and Housley did.
The bar continues to be raised extremely high.
"You never know," Mullen says. "I think Brian Lawton was the No. 1 pick at one time. Brian had a good career, but probably not the career everyone expected him to have, being the No. 1 overall pick. Everyone expected him to have a career like Mike Modano or somebody. But like I said, you never know what the future’s going to hold. Maybe an injury or something. I’m sure there’re kids out there, and Patrick Kane looks like the one who’s going to come next. Only time will tell."
The future of American hockey is certainly bright, but it was just as promising 20 years ago, when many expected Modano to eventually challenge for this record when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 1988. The other player many thought would be gunning for the all-time points mark was Jeremy Roenick, who signed a one-year deal this summer to play with San Jose.
"I thought it would come down between Mo and Jeremy," Housley said. "Mo has been so good throughout his career and he’s going into his 19th year -- it took me 21 -- but it’s good to see somebody like that being able to represent the record. He’s a class guy, he’s done a lot for USA Hockey, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy."
When asked who he thought would eventually challenge for the record, Mullen offered a similar response.
"Roenick and Patty LaFontaine," he said. "Unfortunately, Patty had the injury or else I’m sure he would have. Bobby Carpenter, who I think was the first American to score 50 goals. Jimmy Carson was another one. You never know how their careers are going to turn out.
"Bobby Carpenter had a serious injury, then Jimmy had some injuries later on in his career," Mullen said. "So it’s stamina, being able to play for a long time at a high quality, and guys like myself and Phil and Mike have done that. Like I said, you stay healthy and play a long time, your records will keep going up. In a game that’s fast-paced and you’re playing 80-something games a year, it’s a tough grind. Especially if you’re making the playoffs every year."
Last season was one of only two in his long career that Modano played fewer than 76 games. He was limited to 59 appearances, but scored 22 goals and 43 points. Modano enters 2007-08 with 507 goals and 1,226 career points in 1,238 games and says he would love to break the record with a goal rather than an assist.
On the verge of the new season, he’s eager to get it started and to resume the chase for the elusive scoring record.
"I think that first game will be some excitement to get it started, get chasing it and going after it," he said. "So I guess going into it, I think it will be on my mind, certainly. Just wanting to just in general get off to a good start. But again, just trying to get that number and get it over with."