Two days before his 21st birthday, nearly two months before he put pen to paper on his first NHL contract, Jordan Greenway had already cemented his place in American hockey history. Stepping onto the ice wearing the red, white and blue of Team USA at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, Greenway became the first black player to represent the country at the tournament.
What that means isn’t lost on the 24-year-old Greenway, not for a moment. However, he is quick to acknowledge the path to his barrier-breaking moment had been paved by the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Seth Jones, a pair of players who likely would have broken that same barrier had the NHL allowed its players to participate.
“It was interesting because obviously there are guys who are or were playing in the NHL – African Americans from the United States who probably would have been on that team who would have represented us really well,” Greenway said. “The way that worked out was obviously interesting, so give those guys credit, but it was something that I was very grateful for, and knowing that there are other African American kids out there who don't see too many guys who look like them playing hockey…knowing that I'm one of the guys they do see and someone who they can maybe look up to do something different or get out of their comfort zone, it’s special.”
Circumstantial or not, Greenway made the most of his Olympic appearance. The second youngest player on a veteran-laden roster, he absorbed what he could from former NHLers Matt Gilroy, Jim Slater, James Wisniewski and, in particular, Brian Gionta.
“It was great just to watch how he went about every day. Even though he was as old as he was, still being there and be able to do what he did during that tournament was great,” Greenway said. “Picking his brain a little bit, asking questions and just watching, that was a huge thing for me. Watching him in practice every day, his habits and stuff, he was one guy I definitely got some wisdom from.”
It’s a learning experience that paid and continues to pay tremendous dividends as Greenway feels out his place in the NHL. Returning from Pyeongchang, where he scored one goal in five games, Greenway was a transformed player. Little more than one month after his return stateside, he had inked his entry-level deal and he became a full-time NHL presence almost overnight. He skated in all but one of Minnesota’s 2018-19 contests, his 12 goals tying for 11th-best and 24 points the 17th-most among rookie skaters. An eight-goal, 28-point performance eschewed any notion of a sophomore slump in the pandemic-shortened season, but Greenway was in no way satisfied with his performance.
“There are games where I play great and have a huge impact on the games and do a lot of good things,” he said. “There are also a lot of games where I don't have a great impact, don't do a ton, and so for me, that always has been and definitely is a huge focus for me.”
And there’s no time like the present for Greenway, who is skating in his third full NHL campaign and putting up solid number: through 12 games he had two goals and 10 points. The Wild roster is in a state of change, the old guard ceding spots to the youth.
“This is definitely a time right now where roles are going to be changing and we're going to be relying on – not really other guys, but I guess more guys…I’m a younger guy, so I like to bring some energy,” Greenway said. “I think I should be expected to put points up and be the power forward that I am expected to be.”