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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    Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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    As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

    Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

    Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

    Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

    Things could get ugly in Game 3:

    One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

    Also, lateness of the check:

    The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

    Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

    Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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    The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

    Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

    That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

    Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

    Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

    Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

    Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

    PHT will make note if there are any swerves.

    2016 Calder Trophy finalists: Gostisbehere, McDavid and Panarin

    Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid lines up for a faceoff against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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    Ever since the NHL kept obstruction in check and thus placed a greater emphasis on speed and skill, we’ve seen some fascinating Calder Trophy debates. This 2015-16 season may present the toughest call in recent memory.

    The league named the three finalists on Monday, and even that couldn’t have been easy. They are Edmonton Oilers wunderkind Connor McDavid, breakout Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin.

    (The NHL made it official here.)

    All three make for fantastic debates.

    Do you go with McDavid, easily the youngest of the bunch, who produced gaudy per-game numbers but missed almost half of the season?

    Perhaps you lean toward Gostisbehere, who also scored at an impressive clip per-game for a defenseman while playing a huge role in the Flyers’ surprising run to a playoff spot?

    Or, do you go with Panarin, the guy who easily leads rookies in total points (77, 21 more than Jack Eichel‘s second-place finish) and was so effective that his bonuses will really put the Blackhawks in a bad way? Or do you penalize Panarin for being a little older and for the undeniable benefits he received from riding shotgun with Patrick Kane?

    Then again, plenty will merely spend their time griping about “snubs,” as the likes of Jack Eichel and John Gibson were not in the final three despite outstanding work.

    Yep, this should be fun … just be nice during your debates.

    WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

    Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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    There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

    Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

    We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE