American hockey players are filling the void made as NHL teams shy away from drafting Europeans

evgenykuz.jpgWe’ve discussed the fact that some think NHL defector Alex Radulov created “The Russian Factor” when he left the Nashville Predators for the KHL, but it seems the real “Russian Factor” is a lot simpler: it’s the lack of a stable transfer agreement between the NHL and most international leagues.

That’s the subject of a great number crunching post today by Habs Watch: the writer broke down how NHL teams have shied away dramatically from drafting European players since 2005, and what kind of players are often filling the gap.

Let me spotlight some of the article’s most interesting findings, although I highly recommend that you read the full piece.

The author found that Sweden is the only European country to see an increase in draft picks when you compare the 2000-04 drafts with the 2005-10 drafts, with a 21 percent increase. Other countries saw a dramatic decrease (Finland is down 45 percent while Slovakia saw a 70 percent and the Czech Republic dipped 65), but this paragraph about Russia’s lack of NHL exports is especially stunning:

NHL teams drafted 39 players from Russia in 2000 but just 4 in 2010, a decline of 90% within a decade. That decline accelerated when Russia backed out of the transfer agreement in 2005 and it appears it’s only a matter of time now before we see an NHL draft where no players are selected from the Russian leagues. The last time that happened was 1981, when Russia was mired in Afghanistan and Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

It’s almost as if there’s an Ice Cold War going on.

After the jump, I’ll discuss where the new picks are coming from … it might make some of you want to wave a flag or two.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bennettandetem.jpgAmerica is filling the void

Although the author points out that the number of players drafted from the NCAA dropped dramatically, he points to a whole other shift: most draftees are now entering college after already being drafted.

The most important thing to understand is the number of players being drafted in the US before they even reach college has gone supernova, doubling almost overnight in 2005, the very first draft after the lockout. The days of US kids going to the NCAA, being drafted as a college player and turning pro with a degree are long gone and have been for some time.

Regarding the primary focus of this article, players who’ve just been drafted, all the charts I’ve provided show there’s no exodus of players to either the US or Canada. Any increases appear to be matched coming the other way and one fact can’t be ignored:

United States minor league programs now produce more NHL draft picks than any single Canadian league.

It appears that high schools and the US National Team Development Program have seen the biggest jumps since the lockout. According to the article, the number of picks coming from high school tripled since the lockout while USHL produced 25 percent more.

More from Canada, too

Here is a quick snippet about some of the Canadian leagues that are seeing growth (read the article to get more in-depth numbers about each league).

Within Canada, the OHL grew by 15% while the WHL appeared to be stable or on the verge of stagnation. The QMJHL also saw a 15% increase which actually hides the fact most of that improvement came from import players from the rest of Canada and Europe. The number of Quebec-born draft picks has actually stagnated while the quality of those picks in the NHL has diminished over the years.

What this means

On the bright side, this means that more American hockey players will have a chance to hit the big leagues. It also is a boon for North American hockey in general.

The bad news is that the league and its fans will miss out more and more on talent from European countries, especially Russia. One of the best things about the NHL is that it is truly a worldly league; most successful teams blend the skill and shiftiness often associated with European players with the rugged, tough-in-the-corners style often thought to be North American traits. If this trend continues, the league itself suffers.

Hopefully, someday – maybe the next CBA in 2012 – the NHL will stop the bleeding on imports and open that pipeline of talent once again.

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    Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

    It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

    That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

    “The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

    Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

    Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

    With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

    Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

    (Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

    Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

    In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

    Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

    BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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    Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

    ***

    Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

    The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

    MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

    Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.

    Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

    ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

    That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

    “There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

    Hey now.

    As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

    Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

    If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

    Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

    Sounds like a guy to watch.

    Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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    TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

    In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

    Team Europe had other plans.

    The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

    “I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

    The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

    When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

    They do now.

    A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

    “He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

    Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

    Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

    “We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

    Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage