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?’”