Red, White and Blue Jackets: The Top American Players in Columbus history

By Jeff Svoboda on July 4, 2017 at 8:50 am
Jack Johnson, captain America
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

Not quite.

While those things are famously American thanks to an advertising campaign – speaking of things that are uniquely American – there's more to our country than that notable quartet.

There's fireworks, of course, especially on a day like today. But the United States is also good at plenty of sports other than baseball; we invented basketball, dominate at football and have been pretty darn good at hockey, too. 

And it's probably no coincidence that the NHL team named after the Union Army in the Civil War has often been filled with accomplished American players. The Columbus Blue Jackets wear union blue for a reason, and many of the top players in franchise history have often traded that color for the red, white and blue of Team USA at the international level.

So on a day we celebrate all things American, we thought it would be the perfect time to celebrate the best American-born Blue Jackets as well. If we had to put six guys on the ice with U.S. roots, here's the six we'd pick – along with a bench boss as well.

Center: RJ Umberger. This spot came down to the Pittsburgh native and Alaskan Brandon Dubinsky, but Umberger has the edge. In six seasons in Columbus – which he returned to after spending his three-year college career with Ohio State – Umberger slots third overall and first among Jackets centers all-time with 120 goals and 250 points in union blue in 445 games. Umberger was a gritty forward who played in all situations and also was a solid faceoff presence, though he played less center and more wing as his career advanced. Still, he deserves a spot on this list as one of the most identifiable players in Blue Jackets history.

Left Wing: Nick Foligno. The Blue Jackets captain was born and Buffalo and spent time with the U.S. National Team Development Program growing up. His career began in Ottawa before he returned to the states during the summer of 2013 in a swap that sent Marc Methot to the Senators, and since then Foligno has used his energetic style of play and tremendous charity work off the ice to become a fan favorite. He had 31 goals and 73 points in a breakout career year two seasons ago and posted a 26-25-51 last year, upping his Blue Jackets totals to 93 goals, 126 assists and 219 points in 351 games over five seasons. That goal total leads all Columbus left wingers all time.

Right Wing: Cam Atkinson. There wasn't much debate on this one as Atkinson leads all Columbus right wingers in goals all-time with 121, good for second in the team's all-time annals. In 382 games since his 2011-12 debut, Killer Cam has matured into one of the best pure goal scorers in the game, setting career highs with 35 goals and 62 points a season ago. The only member of our list actually drafted by Columbus, Atkinson has always been able to score dating back to his days at Boston College, but the Riverside, Conn., native has worked his way into being a key part of the team's penalty kill and is trusted in all situations by head coach John Tortorella. 

Defenseman: Jack Johnson. The man once known as "Captain America" is a no-brainer, as Johnson is second all-time in points among Jackets defensemen (143) as well as third in games (368) and goals (33), trailing only Rostislav Klesla and Fedor Tyutin in the latter categories. A key part of the American player pool for much of his career, Johnson was a member of the 2016 World Cup roster. He is also an important figure in Blue Jackets history not just for his time on the ice but for embracing his trade to the team for Jeff Carter in 2012. Johnson was born in Indianapolis but raised in Michigan, where he took part in the National Team Development Program before playing at the University of Michigan.

Defenseman: Ron Hainsey. We could have gone a few directions here. If we were going on pure talent, the young Seth Jones and/or Zach Werenski would be on the squad, James Wisniewski was a key player over four seasons, Deron Quint was the most dependable defenseman on the original Jackets team, and Bryan Berard was a notable player as well. But we need a defensive defenseman to go with Johnson, and Hainsey has some pretty good numbers. The Bolton, Conn., native's 19 goals and 83 points as a Jacket are sixth among team defensemen all time, and he played in 213 games over three seasons with the team. He went on to become a steady defenseman throughout the league before winning the Stanley Cup this past season with the Penguins. 

Goaltender: Ty Conklin. We wanted to go with Shawn Hunwick, the diminutive Michigan goaltender the team signed amid a spate of injuries at the end of 2012 who played three scoreless minutes to cap the season. It's really six in one, half-dozen in the other here, as the Blue Jackets have dressed only four American goaltenders in the history of the franchise: Conklin, Hunwick, Brian Boucher and Mike McKenna. That's a combined 19 appearances between the pipes from Americans, 11 by Conklin, who went 2-3-2 in 2006-07 with a 3.30 goals-against average and .871 save percentage. That was one season after the Arizona-born and Alaska-raised goalie had to play the end of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals vs. Carolina because of an injury to Dwayne Roloson, only to commit the late-game gaffe that let the Hurricanes win. Jussi Markkanen took over to play the final six games of the seven-game final. And this seems like a good time to end this.

Coach: John Tortorella. We have to tip our hat to Tortorella, the Boston native who this past season became the first American coach to win 500 career games at the NHL level. The two-time NHL coach of the year and 2004 Stanley Cup winner has been with the Jackets for not quite two seasons but has already helped turn around the fortunes of the franchise, leading the best season in team history a season ago. Also the coach of the 2016 World Cup team, Tortorella can add to his legacy over the next few years with a Jackets team that seems poised for big things.


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