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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    Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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    For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

    But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

    In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

    Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

    “We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

    The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

    Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

    The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

    Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

    “Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

    Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

    Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

    Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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    Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

    “Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

    Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

    That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

    Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

    “We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

    Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

    You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

    Just don’t bet the house on it.

    Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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    Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

    The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

    Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

    From the press release:

    Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

    Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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    Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

    According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

    Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

    “Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

    But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

    Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.