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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    Rozsival to make season debut for Blackhawks

    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks passes against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on December 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    An injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk has paved the way for Michal Rozsival to make his season debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Rozsival might’ve been scheduled to play anyway, as the veteran defenseman is expected to replace Michal Kempny when the ‘Hawks host the Flames tonight at United Center.

    “We want to get everyone in at some point,” said head coach Joel Quenneville, per the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful, gives us some experience and can play minutes against top guys.”

    At 38, Rozsival is one of the oldest players in the NHL. When the ‘Hawks re-signed him for another year, it came as a surprise to many. And by the time training camp rolled around, even he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be this season.

    But not surprisingly, after last season, GM Stan Bowman would rather err on the side of too much depth on the back end.

    “It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?'” Bowman said, per the Sun-Times. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”

    Related: Blackhawks’ issues go beyond the penalty kill

    Goalie nods: Slumping Flames go back to slumping Elliott

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan made a noteworthy decision over the weekend, opting to sit No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott against his former team, the St. Louis Blues, in favor of backup Chad Johnson.

    The move didn’t pay off. Calgary lost 6-4, with Johnson allowing five goals on 39 shots.

    So now, Elliott is back in goal was the Flames take on the ‘Hawks tonight at the United Center.

    Acquired to fix the goaltending issues that plagued Calgary all of last season, Elliott has gone 0-3-0 with an .839 save percentage and 4.72 GAA.

    Not good, obviously — especially for a 31-year-old pending UFA that’s looking to score a contract extension.

    The Flames will hope that Elliott’s former goalie partner, Jake Allen, is something of a psychic. Over the weekend, Allen predicted that Elliott “will find his game very soon,” and tonight would be a good night for that to happen — Chicago’s offense has been firing over the last four games, finding the back of the net 16 times.

    That said, the ‘Hawks are facing issues of their own.

    They’ll give Corey Crawford the start tonight.


    — Just one other game on the ledger, as the Flyers will take on the Habs in Montreal. Philly is going with Steve Mason, who allowed three goals on 30 shots in a win over Carolina on Saturday. The Canadiens are going with Carey Price, who allowed two goals on 21 shots in a win over Boston on Saturday.

    Crosby skates in full-contact practice, but still no timetable for a return

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    His official status hasn’t changed, but Sidney Crosby wasn’t wearing a no-contact jersey at Penguins practice today, and that’s progress.

    “Sid is day-to-day, as he has been. We’ll take tomorrow as it comes,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club’s website. “It’s obviously a big step when he joins the group. To have him join the group in a full-contact practice like that is encouraging from our standpoint.”

    Crosby has not played this season due to a concussion. There remains no timetable for his return, and the Pens aren’t going to rush their captain. But the way things have been progressing, don’t be surprised if he plays pretty soon. The Penguins host Florida tomorrow and the Islanders Thursday, then it’s off to Philadelphia for a game Saturday before embarking on a three-game trip to California.

    “I got the OK to go out there and be in a full practice,” Crosby said. “It was just good to be back on the ice with the guys. It’s not easy watching. To be out there was nice and hopefully a good step.”

    Budaj getting the job done, so far

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Peter Budaj #31 of the Los Angeles Kings makes a save on Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks for a 4-3 overtime shootout win at Staples Center on October 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    He hasn’t been perfect, but Peter Budaj has been good enough to give the Kings a two-game winning streak. Now the 34-year-old goalie is just hoping to keep it going, while Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff recover from their groin injuries.

    “I just want to take it one game at a time,” Budaj said, per LA Kings Insider. “I know it’s a cliché and you guys probably hate it when players say that, but it is true. You just want to look up one game ahead, and that’s what you want to look at. We won today, we’re very happy, but we’ve just got to regroup, come back to work.”

    Again, Budaj hasn’t been perfect. His save percentage is just .889, which isn’t very good at all.

    But for a guy who’d started just one NHL game since the 2013-14 season, simply playing well enough to give his team a chance to win is about all that could be asked, and on that he’s delivered. He was a perfect three-for-three in Saturday’s shootout versus Vancouver, recovering nicely after allowing a late goal to send the game to overtime.

    Next up for the Kings is a home game tomorrow against Columbus. After that comes a visit from Nashville, and then it’s off on a two-game trip to St. Louis and Chicago.

    “There are a lot of tough games coming up for us, so we’ve got to just be ready and work hard and try to focus on the next game and don’t look too far ahead,” said Budaj, “because then you’re going to get caught in the moment and the present’s going to kind of slip away from you, so you’ve just got to focus on the present.”