USNTDP

U.S. trending to take 2019 NHL Draft’s first round by storm

It might be hard to top the record of 12 Americans taken in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, but the country might have a little history on its side once again this year.

In 2016, it was an American — Auston Matthews — who was taken first overall. He’s the last American to be selected at the spot, something that is likely to change on Friday night (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). 

There, in Vancouver, it’s expected that Jack Hughes, born in Orlando, will be taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils. Before the end of the first round, the number of Americans drafted could get dangerously close to numbers seen in 2016.

Depending on where you look, you’ll see varying numbers of Americans on mock draft lists and final draft rankings heading into Friday.

For example, TSN has declared that Americans are set to dominate the first round:

  • Jack Hughes
  • Alex Turcotte
  • Trevor Zegras
  • Cole Caufield
  • Matthew Boldy
  • Spencer Knight
  • Cam York
  • Arthur Kaliyev
  • Bobby Brink
  • Alex Vlasic

As Bob McKenzie points out in his final Top 31 rankings, eight of the 10 Americans all come from the U.S. U-18 team. Assuming the ‘Bobfather’ is right on his picks, it would more than double the current record of three taken in any one draft prior to this years.

Rotoworld’s latest mock draft adds Ryan Johnson and Robert Mastrosimone while substituting him for Alex Vlasic on TSN’s, making it 11 players on that particular list that could go in the first round.

And the lists go on and on. Rankings are everywhere and a common theme this year is that Americans are going be highly picked, including the possibility of five U.S. players going in the Top 10.

Meanwhile, Spencer Knight could become the first goalie to be drafted in the Top 15 since Jack Campbell in 2011.

“You can’t win without a good goalie and it’s hard to get goalies in trades,” Knight told NHL.com. “It’s tough to find guys who are high-caliber goalies because the team that found them isn’t just going to let them go. Look at the importance of quarterbacks in football and pitchers in baseball. Those players routinely go in the first round because you need them to win.”

Knight would become just the seventh goalie picked in the opening round in the past 10 years.

And like any first round at any NHL Draft, there will always be surprises. We’ll find out Friday if the U.S. can repeat 2016, or better.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

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.

Don Granato named head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program

When people talk about former NHL player and current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato, it’s common for the discussion to shift to one of his siblings as well. In most cases, they end up talking about his well-known hockey playing sister Cammi, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

This time around, Tony’s brother Don is the focus. Don Granato was named the head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (or USNTDP) today. Granato will become one of the two head coaches employed by the program, serving as the head coach of the Under-17 Team. The Penguins Web site points out that this was the same job that John Hynes – head coach of their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – once held for six years.

Don Granato has enjoyed plenty of success in his 15 years of coaching at various levels of hockey, as you can see from this mini-resume from the Penguins site.

Granato, 44, began coaching in 1993. The Downers Grove, Ill., native was the first-ever coach and general manager of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (USHL), where he twice led the team to two Anderson Cup titles as regular season champions and also coached them to a Clark Cup as playoff champion.

After spending three seasons in the ECHL – winning a Kelly Cup with the Peoria Rivermen in 2000 – Granato moved to the American Hockey League (AHL), where he won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the most outstanding coach in 2001 with the Worcester IceCats.

He spent four seasons with the IceCats, the minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, from 2000-05, becoming the winningest coach in franchise history with a 191-130-45-14 record.

After serving as an assistant coach for St. Louis in 2005-06, Granato was head coach of the Chicago Wolves, then the minor-league affilate of the Atlanta Thrashers, from 2008-10. He spent last season as a scout with the Vancouver Canucks.

(Photo credit: Ross Dettman of the Chicago Wolves via USA Hockey.com.)