International Flavor in the NHL

International Flavor in the NHL

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    With the imposition of the salary cap taking some clout away from the financial Super Powers (or so they say), the “new” NHL focuses upon the importance of successful drafting and a constant flow of young players on cheap, entry-level contracts. With scouts now being dispatched to all corners of the globe, it’s getting to be quite a small world. The boundaries of the Hockey Community are ever-growing, and we’re starting to find ourselves with a neat little global village forming in the NHL.

    Aside from the G8 (Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia) which comprise nearly 90% of all players’ nationalities, we are also privileged to enjoy the best of what…

    Slovenia (Kopitar),
    Austria (Vanek),
    Germany (Goc),
    France (Huet),
    Kazakhstan (Antropov),
    Latvia (Ozilinsh),
    Switzerland (Aebischer),
    Ukraine (Fedotenko),
    Ireland (Nolan),
    South Korea (Park),
    Belarus (Kostityns),
    Brazil (Regher),

    ….and even South Africa (Kolzig) have to offer. If we go back a few more years, and we can even add les Anglais (Thomas and Dafoe) to the list. Quite the impressive list, isn’t it? And as the scouting and team-building philosophies of NHL organizations continue to evolve, the longer and more reputable that list will become.

    The Detroit Red Wings are the epitome of successful drafting and team building. They were the first ones to truly dip their hands into the cookie jar, that is international scouting and team building.

    Consider:

    -Their goaltending duties are being split by a Czech (Hasek) and a Canadian (Osgood).

    -Their respective top scorers are a Russian (Datsyuk) and a Swede (Zetterberg), picked in the 6th and 7th rounds of consecutive drafts

    -Their top four defenders are comprised of 2 Swedes (Lidstrom and Kronwall) and 2 Americans (Chelios and Rafalski)

    -Their top young NHL-ready prospects are a Finn (Filpula) and a Czech (Hudler).

    -Their top 5 prospects include a Czech (Kindl), an American (Howard), a Swede (Ryno), a Slovenian (Mursak), and of course a Canadian (Smith).

    Holy cow, maybe Ken Holland’s vying for a spot in the United Nations when his hockey days are over?

    But the Detroit Red Wings are not the only team that seem to be “getting it”. Lately, the entire NHL seems to have finally jumped on the international scouting bandwagon, now that’s it’s the “in” thing to do. The “International Scouting’ record books of the NHL are constantly being re-written, and here are examples from the past few years:

    1. In 2007, winger Lars Eller of Frolunda HC, became the highest ever Danish-born and trained player in NHL history.

    2. The 2006 and 2007 drafts were the first ever drafts to have two American-born players (Erik Johnson and Patrick Kane) go back-to-back as first overall picks.

    3. The 2007 draft year was also the first time in NHL history that two American players were picked #1 and #2 (Patrick Kane and James Van Riemsdyk).

    4. The 2001 draft saw the first ever Russian born #1 overall pick, Ilya Kovalchuk of HC Spartak Moscow.

    5. The 2004 draft, only 3 years after the first Russian #1 overall pick, produced the first ever consecutive #1 and #2 Russian picks ( Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin).

    Those small signs point to continued international expansion of hockey.

    And by that, I don’t mean more NHL Centre Ice subscriptions from the southern United States. I’m talking about the growth of hockey’s popularity and the emergence of world class talent from all parts of the globe.

    The World Juniors, the World Hockey Championships, the Olympics, gotta love em all. Hockey on the world’s grandest stage.

    But above all, you gotta love the multiculturalism and plurality that hockey embodies. Doesn’t matter if you only speak Russian, or Swedish, or English, because that flashing red light means the same thing in all those languages.

    It’s been a pleasure,

    Alex Tran

    [email protected]

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