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.

Bruins recall McIntyre from AHL on emergency basis

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Tuukka Rask was supposed to be back in goal for the Boston Bruins tonight.

But then, just a couple of hours before their game with the Nashville Predators, the B’s announced they’d recalled goalie Zane McIntyre from the AHL on an emergency basis.

It’s not yet clear why McIntyre was recalled. Rask missed Saturday’s game in Brooklyn with a lower-body injury, but coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier today that Rask was healthy and ready to go.

“Tuukka is healthy,” said Cassidy. “That’s what he indicated to me and that’s all I needed to hear. He’ll be our starter tonight.”

If Rask is unable to play, expect Anton Khudobin to get the nod.

Khudobin backstopped the B’s to a 2-1 victory over the Isles on Saturday.

Nestrasil blasts Carolina, says he’s finished with organization

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Andrej Nestrasil, the Czech forward who scored a career-high 23 points for Carolina last year, ripped the team in a recent interview and said he’s all but done playing for the organization.

SB Nation site ‘Canes Country has the details, including translation of the original Nestrasil piece from Czech news outlet Blesk. In it, the 26-year-old — currently playing with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte — said he was “done here, 100 percent,” adding “I don’t way to stay here.”

Nestrasil’s frustration stems from the aftermath of a fractured vertebra, an injury that prematurely ended his ’15-16 campaign. He recovered in time to start this season, but only dressed 16 times (compared to 24 healthy scratches) before he was waived in early January. In speaking with Blesk, he said the ‘Canes “didn’t give me much of a chance after the injury.”

“When I first got hurt, they wanted to help and were promising me things all over the place,” he said. “But when it came down to it, they weren’t willing to actually do anything.”

Nestrasil cleared waivers, and joined the Checkers. He’s since appeared in 28 AHL contests, scoring four goals and 10 points.

This falling out happened pretty quickly. It was less than two years ago when Carolina inked Nestrasil to a $1.825 million extension, calling him a “a big body and a good fit for our team and what we’re trying to do.”

‘Canes County did note “the word choice may be more harsh in translation than Nestrail intended.”

PHT reached out to the ‘Canes regarding Nestrasil’s remarks. The club said it was aware of them, and declined to comment further.

Pre-game reading: On Kopitar’s challenging first season as Kings captain

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— Up top, Drew Doughty talks about the Edmonton Oilers, who can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight over Doughty’s Kings. “Their top guys and their forwards want to play defense now,” said Doughty, “whereas in the past I feel like their top guys just kinda worried about getting points and weren’t worried about playing defense.”

— It’s been a frustrating season for Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who tells the L.A. Times it’s been an adjustment taking over the team’s top leadership role. “I wouldn’t say a burden,” said Kopitar. It was definitely a change. It’s definitely some adjustments that I needed to make. I’m still learning. I don’t know if you can learn that overnight. It’s been, not a burden, but a new challenge that I think I’m in the process of getting the handle of it and I’ll get there.” (Los Angeles Times)

— NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly insists that the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas won’t be a problem for the expansion Golden Knights. “No, there’s not widespread panic,” said Daly. “I do think that while fanbases overlap to a certain extent, I think the products of an eight-game NFL home schedule versus a 41-game home schedule in hockey make the products a little bit different.” (Sportsnet)

— A Q&A with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who talks about the changes he’s tried to implement on offense since taking over from Claude Julien. “I think it’s a lot to do with we’ve kept pucks going toward the net down low, more half-wall attacks, more plays down low. We’ve emphasized more of that than always going low to high with it. We’re trying to get the guys to use more of their skill set, separate down low, especially with man-to-man coverages. So I think our quality of chances, if you look at that stat-wise, has gone up quite a bit in the last 20 games.” (NHL.com)

— Another Q&A, this one with Steven Stamkos, who talks about all the exciting, young players in the NHL today. “Yeah, 30 is the new 40 in this league. I’m closing in on 30 here, so it’s crazy to really think about it. … I’m 27 now, and next year will be 10 years [since joining the league]. It’s crazy how time flies. Now I’m one of the old guys on the team. You just never take it for granted. It’s such an honor to play in this league, and like I said, 30 is the new 40 now. So you’ve just got to cherish it.” (ESPN)

— Hockey Canada is making young kids play on reduced-size ice surfaces. “We know statistically when you’re in a smaller playing area it increases the number of puck touches, it increases the number of battles for loose pucks, it increases the number of shots on goal, it increases the number of passes and pass receptions.” Hey, it worked for Auston Matthews in that hockey hotbed of Arizona! (Canadian Press)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: McElhinney ready for biggest start of his career

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Toronto has a massive game tonight as the Eastern Conference playoff battle tightens, but won’t have workhorse No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen available.

Instead, it’ll be backup Curtis McElhinney who faces the visiting Panthers, while Andersen deals with an upper-body injury.

Calling it the biggest start of his career, McElhinney can keep the Leafs locked into the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division with a win, on a night when Boston — just one point back of the Leafs — is also in action, hosting Nashville.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in this situation, in terms of being in a playoff race,” McElhinney said. “For me it’ll be business as usual.”

There’s a significant amount of pressure on McElhinney, who hasn’t been good in March. He’s allowed 13 goals on 113 shots — a .885 save percentage — which included three on 22 in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Buffalo, the game in which he replaced the injured Andersen.

Though Andersen’s injury isn’t believed to be serious — the Danish ‘tender hasn’t ruled out a return on Thursday in Nashville — the Leafs still must be concerned with the present. They need to get points over their next four games, lest they leave it to the end of the season.

Yes, the Leafs will play their four contests at the ACC. But those come against extremely difficult opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

For Florida, James Reimer gets the start in goal. How perfect.

Elsewhere…

— As mentioned above, the other big game tonight is Nashville taking on Boston at TD Garden. Tuukka Rask starts for the B’s (more on that here), while Pekka Rinne is likely after Juuse Saros beat the Isles last night.

Connor Hellebuyck returns to the starter’s crease for Winnipeg, after Michael Hutchinson played the last two. Cory Schneider also returns to the starter’s crease, for New Jersey, after Keith Kinkaid played on Sunday.

— No word from Columbus on who’ll start for the Sabres or Jackets. Robin Lehner won last night in Florida (so it could be Anders Nilsson), and Sergei Bobrovsky played on Saturday in Philly.

Cam Ward gets the start for Carolina after Eddie Lack‘s scary injury in last night’s OT loss to Detroit. Speaking of Detroit, no word on a starter yet, but Jimmy Howard seems likely after Petr Mrazek played last night.

— It’s Craig Anderson versus Steve Mason when the Sens take on the Flyers in Philly.

Al Montoya was expected to start tonight, but suffered a lower-body injury during the morning skate. As such, Carey Price will go as the Habs host the Stars. Dallas has yet to announce its starter.

— Marquee matchup in Minnesota tonight, as Devan Dubnyk and the Wild host Braden Holtby and the Caps.

— The Oilers can clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 tonight and, unsurprisingly, they’ll go with Cam Talbot in goal. The host Kings will counter with Jonathan Quick.

John Gibson is inching closer to a return, but the Ducks feel no need to rush him back. That’s because Jonathan Bernier is playing extremely well, and will get the call tonight in Vancouver. The Canucks are going with Ryan Miller.

— The Sharks will go with Martin Jones when they host the Rangers. No word yet on a New York starter.