Patrick Kane

Hockey Day in America: The USNTDP gets American players off on the right foot

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The prominence of American players in the NHL is something that’s gotten the attention of the rest of the hockey-playing world. Watching the United States make the gold medal game in the 2002 and 2010 Olympic games as well as seeing the World Junior Championships team take home the gold in 2010 has served notice to the world that America is serious about hockey and things are getting better year by year.

American players don’t pop up out of nowhere though and it all starts at the grass roots level playing pee-wee, bantam, and midget hockey. From there, if players are good enough they can take part in the United States National Team Development Program. The list of players who have come through the USNTDP in Ann Arbor, Michigan is illustrious and growing by the year. Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Jimmy Howard, and Ryan Suter are among the names the USNTDP can call alumni.

The success of the USNTDP is something they’re trying to improve upon and help grow the sport in the United States. Having success stories like the players mentioned as well as others only helps increase the program’s profile.

Chris Peters, formerly of USA Hockey and currently writing at The United States of Hockey, says that what the program is doing is only helping make hockey all the more popular in the States. The USNTDP’s growth, however, came thanks to the United States not liking where they stood compared to the rest of the world.

“USA hockey had struggled so much internationally,” Peters said.  “[current Notre Dame head coach] Jeff Jackson, I think, was the coach of the junior team in in ’95 or so and said they were getting killed out here. They obviously wanted to get the best players and develop them all the same way.

“Basically what it’s done over the 15 years in its existence is that not only has it made those 40-plus players better but it’s forced everyone else to get better at what they do… Now we’re not only seeing the high-end players being very good but also the depth players as well.”

source: Getty ImagesThe growth of the program has been impressive over the years. According to USA Hockey, since 1999 there have been 30 players (PDF) drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft that have gone through the USNTDP. Three players out of the USNTDP system have been No. 1 picks in the draft in that time: Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), and Patrick Kane (2007).

In 2007, the top two picks in Kane and James van Riemsdyk were both graduates of the USNTDP program and Kane went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks over van Riemsdyk’s Flyers. While Kane is the prime example of what can happen when coming up through the USNTDP ranks, the goals the USNTDP has are set high, especially on the world stage.

“The main goal is to get those guys prepared for international hockey, their future hockey careers. That’s part of the mission statement,” Peters says. “In the last seven or eight years, every international tournament the United States plays in now they have a chance to win gold.”

Going from being a country that was an afterthought in hockey development to being a world power takes time and hard work and what the USNTDP does and where American hockey is at now shows that their commitment is paying dividends.

Bolland back in, Bjugstad out with injury for Panthers

Evgeny Medvedev, Nick Bjugstad
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Message sent or not via healthy scratches or not, Dave Bolland returns to the Florida Panthers mix on Tuesday.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, it’s maybe not under the most ideal circumstances, as part of the explanation for his return is Nick Bjugstad‘s absence.

The Miami Herald’s George Richards reports that Bjugstad is out tonight against the St. Louis Blues with an upper-body injury that he suffered during a Monday practice.

In fact, as you can see in the tweet above, the young forward was sent home because of the injury.

This forces some shuffling, with Vincent Trocheck moving up to the second line while Bolland centers the third combo as usual.

The Panthers are currently on a two-game winning streak and visit St. Louis as the second date in a five-game road trip.

This is also the early part of a span in which they play nine of 10 games on the road (counting Sunday’s away win), so a prolonged absence from Bjugstad could sting that much more.


Royal pain: Kings’ Greene to have shoulder surgery, out indefinitely

Jiri Hudler, Matt Greene
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The Los Angeles Kings lost one of their most veteran defensemen on Tuesday, as the club announced Matt Greene would be out indefinitely following shoulder surgery.

Greene, 32, had only appeared in three games this season, missing extensive time with the ailment. He had recently resumed skating with teammates and looked to be on the way back to a return, but never got to the point where he was participating in drills, or taking contact.

With Greene out of the lineup, the Kings have primarily gone with a six-man defensive unit of Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Christian Ehrhoff, Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb. Derek Forbort and Jeff Schultz have also been in the mix, but sparingly.

If Greene misses extensive time, L.A. could be in the market for a defenseman come trade deadline day, like they were last year before acquiring Andrej Sekera from Carolina. Greene is one of the most playoff-tested players on the L.A. roster, with 79 games and two Stanley Cups on his resume (and another Stanley Cup Final, with Edmonton in 2006).

Looks like the Canucks will have an interesting lineup tonight

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The Vancouver Canucks got banged up last night in Anaheim. As a result, it looks like they’ll have an interesting lineup tonight in Los Angeles.

Coach Willie Desjardins confirmed this morning that wingers Chris Higgins and Jake Virtanen were hurt and wouldn’t dress against the Kings.

In game-day line rushes, AHL callup Andrey Pedan, a defenseman, was skating on the wing with Jared McCann and Radim Vrbata.

But hold on, that doesn’t necessarily mean Pedan will make his NHL debut tonight. This morning, the Canucks announced they’d called up d-man Alex Biega from AHL Utica. Theoretically, inserting Biega could allow the offensively inclined Yannick Weber to move up to forward. Biega and Weber both shoot right. Pedan shoots left.

But wait, there exists another possibility — that both Pedan and Biega could play. That will depend on Chris Tanev‘s status. He got banged up yesterday as well, though he was able to skate this morning.

Confused? It’s OK. So is everyone.

As an aside, the Canucks not only got banged up last night, they also got pushed around and embarrassed in a 4-0 loss to the Ducks.

On that note, here’s what Pedan did to Jarred Tinordi in a Utica-Hamilton game last season:

Francis, Kurri, McKenzie named to Hockey Hall of Fame committee

Ron Francis
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The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee added some big names on Tuesday — most notably, a pair of Hockey Hall of Famers.

Ron Francis (inducted in 2007) and Jarri Kurri (2001) have been appointed to the committee, the Hall announced. Longtime hockey scribe and hockey insider Bob McKenzie was also named; together, he and Francis and Kurri will replace an outgoing trio of Lanny McDonald, Mike Emrick and Peter Stastny.

Francis currently serves as the GM in Carolina while Kurri holds the same title with Jokerit of the KHL.

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McDonald resigned his spot on the committee to become chairman, while the terms of Stastny and Emrick expired.

The Hall also announced Eric Duhatschek, Michael Farber and Bill Torrey were reappointed to the selection committee for a further three-year term.

The next big meeting for the new members of the selection committee comes in late June, when everyone gathers to consider candidates for the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame.

The announcement for new inductees will be made on June 27. As we’ve written about in the past, the list of first-time eligible entrants isn’t exactly overwhelming, so this could be the year some “passed over” candidates get in.

Among those in that category? Eric Lindros, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Jeremy Roenick, to name a few.

Related: Poll: Who should be in the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame?