Monday, June 25, 2007

The tide goes out for European picks

This weekends draft provided hockey fans with a definite trend for the NHL of the last few years and perhaps a glimpse into the next few years, as North American born players found themselves striding up to the podium frequently on Friday night, a reassurance for hockey fans on this side of the ocean that they still produce the talent that the NHL is looking for.

In years past, it seemed that NHL teams were tripping over themselves to make sure that their European scouts gave them the hot tip, the exotic name that would soon become a household name. But as the negotiations to get European players out of their federations become more bitter and protracted, the lure of going overseas to stock your team or the farm team seems to be fading a bit.

With the game once again starting to emphasize a more physical nature (hello there Anaheim), it seems that days of the European invasion may be slowing down.

There will always be the high profile picks that can’t be ignored, this first celebrated European was Jakub Voracek, and selected seventh over all by the draft hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets. But while Columbus seemed quite happy with their selection, many other General Managers chose to stay closer to home on draft day.

Lars Eller put Denmark on the map as the 13th overall pick of the St. Louis blues on a draft pick taken from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The most anticipated European pick, Russian Alexei Cherepanov, plummeted on draft day from an expected top six pick to the 17th overall selection of the New York Rangers, a selection that probably will take away his pain of dropping so far down the pecking order, with the exception of Montreal and Edmonton, most of the other teams picking above the 17th spot probably didn’t resonate as much as New York would with a young European immigrant.

Calgary selected the fourth and final European of the first round, Mikael Backlund, a Swedish centre who at 6 feet tall and a solid 194 lbs may even make Mike Keenan smile in a few years, should he still reign in Calgary upon Backlund’s arrival.

But of thirty picks in the first round, that was it for European hockey. As low a success rate as can be remembered in the last few years.

The 2007 draft was very much an American day, with 10 of the first thirty picks claiming US citizenship, including the first two picks of the draft, back to back American boys staking their claim to the marquee picks of the draft.

Canada of course continues to be the foundry of the NHL, sixteen of the thirty picks came from Canadians cities and towns, still the production line of NHL talent. From PEI to BC, they took to the stage to show the flag for Canadian hockey, but that image in our rear view mirror from the south is getting closer and closer.

This draft year has offered up an interesting study of hockey in the USA. While there is no shortage of American teams struggling to get by at the box office and take a permanent place in their markets, the game it seems has never generated such talent from the USA before.

It must be a frustrating bit of timing for Gary Bettman, who can probably sense the future of the game in the high schools and colleges of America, only to see the present times providing for a rather worrisome portrait of a game in trouble in many of his key US markets.

Born in the USA the theme of the draft
Americans beginning to make their presence felt
Star spangled selections: Americans go 1-2 for first time
U.S. makes draft in-roads
Where have all the Russians gone?

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