John Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones

Hockey Day in America: USA Hockey’s growth taking off in unexpected places

13 Comments

Today is Hockey Day in America, an all-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States. NBC will air nine hours of live coverage across its networks; here at PHT, we’re taking a look at stories of hockey’s impact across the country.

The U.S. hasn’t always been a world force when it comes to hockey, but these days it very much is.

Following Team USA’s second World Junior Championship win in four years, hockey is becoming a big deal in the States, thanks in large part to youngsters taking a shine to the game.

Over the past few years, USA Hockey has seen the growth of hockey in the country grow dramatically. Enrollment numbers have more than doubled since 1991-92, from just over 230,000 in that year to over 550,000 in 2011-12. When you factor in rising numbers of coaches and officials, the number of people actively participating in hockey is huge.

USA Hockey has come a long way in a short period of time, and we’re seeing that at the NHL level. When you turn back the clock to 1987-88 season, there were only 118 Americans having played at least one game in the league.

Now that number has more than doubled to 237 players.

Add in the fact that there are more NHL teams playing in the U.S. now than back then, and you’ve got a good explanation as to why the United States has become a force at the senior international level.

Much of it started at USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Ann Arbor, Mich. As Mike Modano tells Mike Morreale of NHL.com, changing the world’s view of American hockey has been going on since the 80s.

“That perception they had about us … we were so young at the time that we wanted to change that perception. It was almost like the Europeans didn’t think we belonged on their level. We always wanted to prove to other countries that we could play with anyone.”

When it comes to the USA, you usually think of colder climate areas as the hockey hotbeds. But in recent years, non-traditional markets have become booming places for the game. As Chris Peters of United States of Hockey shared, growth in the Sun Belt states has been substantial.

California, for example, has seen enrollment rise 322 percent between 1990-91 and 2010-11. You only need to look at guys like California native Emerson Etem, a first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, to see how well things are working. In 2010, Beau Bennett became the highest-drafted California-born player ever when Pittsburgh selected him 20th overall.

The same can be said of Florida (804 percent growth) and Atlanta, GA (478 percent). Sure the Thrashers are gone, but the Lightning and Panthers are still going strong and helping spur interest in the game.

Those benefits are paying off with prospects coming from all corners of the country.

As an example, look where many players from this year’s gold medal-winning WJC team came from. Seth Jones, who could possibly be the No. 1 overall pick in 2013, is from Texas. Rocco Grimaldi is from California, and Shayne Gostisbehere is from Florida.

It speaks to how wide-ranging the game has become, which can only mean good things for the United States heading into the future.

Leafs avoid arbitration again, sign Corrado to one year, $600K deal

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 13: Frank Corrado #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots the puck in NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on February, 13, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Over the weekend, reports suggested that Toronto and RFA blueliner Frank Corrado were close to agreeing to a new contract.

On Monday, the two sides sealed the deal.

The Leafs announced they signed Corrado to a one-year contract, with Sportsnet reporting it to be a $600,00 pact, of the one-way variety.

Corrado, 23, was scheduled to go to arbitration tomorrow. His ask was $900,000, while the Leafs countered with a $625,000 figure on a two-way deal, and $575,000 on a one-way.

So Toronto was nearly spot-on with its valuation.

The former Canucks draftee took a while to make his Leafs debut last season — he sat 28 games after they claimed him off waivers — but when he did get into the lineup, he fared reasonably well. Corrado finished with a goal and six points in 39 games, averaging 14:27 TOI per game.

This marks the second player Toronto avoided going to arbitration with. Prior to signing Corrado, the Leafs inked center Peter Holland to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

Flyers need Schenn to build on career year

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Brayden Schenn #10 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates his goal in the second period against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The Philadelphia Flyers are hoping Brayden Schenn hasn’t finished improving. The former fifth overall draft pick signed a four-year, $20.5 million contract today, after posting career highs in goals (26) and assists (33) in 2015-16.

It took a few years for Schenn, 24, to start justifying his draft position. John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, and Evander Kane were selected with the first four picks that year. Oliver Ekman-Larsson was taken sixth overall.

So there was pressure.

“I think sometimes when you draft a player top five you tend to think he’s going to develop a little quicker than other guys,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Monday, per Flyzette. “When you look at Brayden, has he been a fast developer? I would say probably no. Has he been a slow developer? I would say probably no. He’s probably been average.

“The good thing is he’s gotten better every year and he’s a hard worker. He’s starting to figure out the intricacies of the game. He obviously had his best year to this point so hopefully he continues to build on that.”

Hextall reportedly danced around a question about Schenn being part of the “core” group, so there’s still some proving to be done. The Flyers have already committed long-term to forwards Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier. Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl have three years left on their deals, and Dale Weise signed a four-year agreement on July 1.

As for Schenn, he knows he needs to justify the Flyers’ trust in his ongoing development.

“I feel like I keep getting better and better,” he said. “I expect nothing else next year.”

Report: If the Sabres can sign Vesey, they could be more willing to trade Kane

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 03:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres speaks with referee Kevin Pollock #33 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 3, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Getty
11 Comments

If the Buffalo Sabres can sign Jimmy Vesey, they may be more willing to trade winger Evander Kane.

That’s what TSN 1040 (Vancouver) radio host Matt Sekeres has been hearing, and what he’s hearing does make a lot of sense.

Kane, whose off-ice issues are once again making headlines, has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. He plays the same position as Vesey, 23, who’s currently Buffalo property but can sign with any team he chooses on Aug. 15.

Even if the Sabres can’t convince Vesey to join them, Kane could still be traded. GM Tim Murray has already conceded that his patience is wearing thin with the 24-year-old that he acquired from Winnipeg not long ago. Alex Nylander, drafted eighth overall in June, plays the same position as Kane, and Murray has said it’s possible the teenager could make the jump to the NHL next season.

Buffalo, Boston and Toronto have generally been considered the favorites to land Vesey. Chicago and Pittsburgh have also been mentioned.

Related: Cue the Kane-to-Vancouver speculation

Leafs avoid arbitration with Peter Holland

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 11: Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates up the ice during NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre April 11, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t require arbitration with forward Peter Holland. They’ve signed the 25-year-old to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.3 million.

Holland had a hearing scheduled for today. Last week, the Leafs sent a message by putting him on waivers, which he cleared.

Holland had nine goals and 18 assists in 65 games last season. With him signed, the Leafs have only defensemen Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin as restricted free agents. Corrado has an arbitration hearing scheduled for tomorrow; Marincin’s is next Tuesday.

Related: Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart