Overall, 63 of the 211 choices in the draft were Americans, about 30% of the total. But while some folks were amazed at this development, the one hockey writer who wasn't was Corey Masisak of the Washington Times, who had the top story of the draft pegged on Friday morning before it even began:
[Y]outh hockey in this country is flourishing. The number of people playing, coaching and officiating has more than doubled in the past 15 years. There are more opportunities for kids to continue their careers, and these avenues are doing a better job of developing them.Here's more from my Fanhouse colleague, James Mirtle:
"[There is] better development and more players," Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. "There are players coming from everywhere. It is an interesting sort of phenomenon that is taking place in the U.S. now. We have hockey in more markets than the league has ever had. All these other places where people are playing hockey and kids are getting turned on to hockey. ... I think it is great for the game. The U.S. is just this incredibly untapped market that will continue to develop good players."
[I] hadn't even set out to measure the among of U.S. born players in the league, but with that number at about 18 to 20 per cent, it's up significantly from where it was a decade ago, when I seem to remember that figure being about 12 to 14 per cent. That observation set Tyler and I off a little discussion about how places like California are producing players now (Jon Blum was taken in the first round, for instance) due to what they call the Gretzky influence.Untapped markets ... Developing new players ... And how do you develop untapped markets that eventually create new talent streams that feed into the U.S. national development system and eventually have an impact in the NHL? For years now, plenty of hockey writers -- including myself at times -- have harshly criticized the league for expanding into non-traditional markets that have no history with hockey. Could it be that the results of this draft, along with the rise in the percentage of Americans reaching the NHL in recent years, could be a backdoor justification for expansion?In any case, if you'd like to know more about how hockey is taking root in non-traditional American markets, I'd suggest picking up a DVD copy of In The Crease, a documentary that follows the California Wave, a AAA Bantam team, as it attempts to win the 2005 U.S. National Championship.
What it comes down to, I believe, is that more U.S. markets are getting grassroots hockey programs, more kids are playing and more are doing so at younger ages. Canadian major junior hockey heavily recruits into the U.S. now, especially in the WHL where there's an entire U.S. division.
The aforementioned Blum, a first round pick of the Nashville Predators, is a Wave alumni, but he's not the first graduate of the program to be selected at the NHL Entry Draft. Overall, five other former members of the Wave have been selected in previous drafts, the first being Robbie Earl who was selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto and spent last season with the Toronto Marlies after three seasons at the University of Wisconsin. Click here for a list of other Wave alumni, who are currently plying their trade in the minors, U.S. colleges, Canadian Juniors, or in elite private school programs across North America.