A look at agent Eustace King and the NHL's slow growth in diversity

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evanderkaneownscooke.jpgWhen you picture a hockey player, you probably envision a pasty Canadian guy … potentially with a killer mustache and/or a flowing mullet. It’s no doubt that the game is far behind other North American sports when it comes to diversity, although I think the climate is a lot friendlier than it was it the sport’s uglier days.

Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News spotlights the story of agent Eustace King, a former college hockey goalie turned player agent who might be the only black agent in the NHL.

But his future was not between the pipes. Instead, King went into business, eventually finding his way to the NHL headquarters where he focused on corporate sponsorships for the league, while also contributing to the NHL’s diversity program. Now as an agent, he’s doing his best to help his clients achieve their dreams – and the fact he is able to help some of the elite young black players in the game is icing on the cake.

“It’s not traditional for black athletes to play hockey,” King said. “But there has been a big outreach for blacks to play hockey.”

King, whose other clients include recent Anaheim Ducks draftees Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly, as well as white NHLers such as Tyler Ennis and T.J. Oshie, still gives credit to the man who started it all for black hockey players, Willie O’Ree.

“For me to even be where I am as a business executive,” King noted, “it goes back to him.”

Thumbnail image for Byfuglien.jpgIt’s a great story, but one interesting fact that stuck out was that the Atlanta Thrashers might be leading the way when it comes to minority hockey players.

Atlanta will be a particularly interesting market in the near future. Whether or not by design, the Thrashers now employ Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Akim Aliu in a city boasting a population that was more than 60 percent African-American as per the most recent U.S. Census.

“(New GM) Rick Dudley is a smart man,” King postulated. “He wants to put a good hockey team on the ice, but he also knows the demographics of his marketplace.”

Dudley, in fact, added Byfuglien and Aliu in one trade this summer. I’m not sure race was a big determining factor for the acquisitions – which is really a good thing, actually – since Aliu and Byfuglien fit Dudley’s vision of physically impressive players as much as anything else. Still, it’s interesting that all three players have been added to the team in the last two years.

The NHL still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity. After all, having a black agent wouldn’t be a story if it was a common thing, right? Either way, it’s a nice thing to read about and here’s hoping that the sport expands to plenty of non-traditional markets going forward.

Video: Marc Staal was no match for Alex Ovechkin on this goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against New York Islanders during the second period at Verizon Center on October 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After being held without a point in his first two games of the season, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has now scored a goal in three consecutive games.

That includes his goal on Saturday night in the first period against the New York Rangers.

It’s one that will probably make the personal highlight reel for Ovechkin, but it certainly won’t make the highlight reel for Rangers defenseman Marc Staal.

To say that this head-to-head matchup turned out to be a mismatch would be … well … a bit of an understatement.

As Ovechkin crossed the blue line into the Rangers zone he started to toe-drag around Staal, only to stop midway through and just rip it from outside the circle, using Staal as a screen and beating Henrik Lundqvist for the goal.

It is probably not a good sign when the defenseman has his back to the shooter when the puck is released.

That goal gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead.

Red Wings’ Abdelkader out with lower body injury

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 15: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Red Wings 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Red Wings will be without veteran forward Justin Abdelkader on Saturday night when they host the San Jose Sharks.

The official word from the team is that he is sidelined with a lower body injury.

He will be replaced in the lineup by Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou has appeared in three games this season and yet to record a point.

He was not only in the lineup on Friday in the Red Wings in their 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators, but also scored his first goal of the season and played a season-high 17:55.

After scoring 19 goals and recording 23 assists in 82 games in 2015-16 the Red Wings signed a seven-year $29.7 million contract extension.

According to general manager Ken Holland (via Helene St. James) he is expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday.

Former Canadiens coach Jacques Demers hospitalized

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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers has been hospitalized.

Demer’s director of parliamentary affairs confirmed Saturday that the 72-year-old Demers, a Canadian senator, had been admitted to a Montreal hospital, but couldn’t immediately provide any details.

Demers had a stroke in April. He was at the Canadiens’ home opener Tuesday night, smiling in a wheelchair while handing a torch to captain Max Pacioretty to close out a pregame ceremony.

Demers led the Canadiens to their last Stanley Cup in 1993. He also coached Quebec, Detroit, St. Louis and Tampa Bay in the NHL, and Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Quebec in the WHA.

Ales Hemsky returns to Stars lineup tonight

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 24:  Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 24, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Stars defeated the Devils 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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When the Dallas Stars take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday evening one of their top forwards will be making his 2016-17 debut.

The team announced on Saturday afternoon that forward Ales Hemsky will be activated from injured reserve after missing the first four games of the season due to a groin injury at the World Cup of hockey.

He is expected to skate on the Stars’ top line on Saturday night alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Now 33 years old, Hemsky isn’t quite as dynamic as he was during his prime years in Edmonton, but he is still an extremely skilled playmaker that is a solid fit in Dallas’ system. He is entering his third year with the Stars and has 71 points (24 goals, 47 assists) in 151 games with the team.

With Hemsky now activated and back in the lineup, the Stars also announced on Saturday that veteran forward Jiri Hudler has been placed on IR retroactive to Oct. 15 due to illness.