Report: American-born NHLers on the rise

Interesting article from James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail on the rise of American-born players in the National Hockey League. In it, Mirtle states the 2010-11 season saw 156 U.S. players play in 25 or more games — up from 101 during the 2002-03 season — which means the NHL has gone from drawing 15 percent of its players from America to a whopping 23 percent.

Why the influx of Americans? Mirtle points to a few reasons.

One, growth and exposure in non-traditional markets (and states) has created a deeper talent pool to draw from.

“Years ago, we talked about the three Ms in terms of Massachusetts, Minnesota and Michigan as the only places where there was hockey played,” said Nashville Predators GM David Poile. “We’ve now drafted a player like Jonathan Blum from California in the first round. There are players in the NHL or Division I colleges from Florida and Texas. I think the exposure of hockey has increased so much more in the last 10 to 15 years.”

(Of note: Nashville has 10 American players this season, second only to Buffalo, with 15.)

Two, the creation of the U.S. National Team Development Program — since its inception in 1997, notable alumni have included Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter and Jimmy Howard. The NTDP might’ve reached its apex at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft when Kane and James van Riemsdyk went first and second overall, the first time in which American players were selected with the top two picks.

“That’s been really a strong point of developing elite players,” Poile said. “It’s probably not a lot different than what we used to hear about the Russian system where they’d bring all the top players from around the country to play on a national team.”

While the NTDP has been huge, Mirtle’s first point about expansion and growth into new markets is perhaps most important. This year alone there are NHLers from non-traditional “hockey states” like Nebraska (Jed Ortmeyer), Florida/Tennessee (Blake Geoffrion) and North Carolina (Jared Boll, Ben Smith).

“Once they see someone else make it from their neighbourhood or that program, kids start believing a little bit more,” Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek (from West Islip, New York) said. “They think, ‘If he can make it, why can’t I?’”

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”