Reasons American NHL Players Deserve More Respect
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In America, hockey is generally thought of as the third or fourth ranked sport in the country.
It is almost always ranked behind football and baseball, and sometimes basketball will beat out hockey.
This is especially true for the young people of America, the future athletes who will dictate which sports rise and fall. Hockey generally isn't the first choice of middle and high school students, who are more concerned with being the star quarterback on their football team or the first baseman on their baseball team.
In the past, this has shown in the National Hockey League.
The league was, and still is, dominated by Canadians and foreign players, many of whom are from European countries.
However, over the past several years, American hockey players have worked to take back the game that is mainly played on their soil.
Through stronger junior leagues, a greater presence in the draft, and the emergence of several American stars, things are starting to look up for a sport that has been trumped by baseball and football in the past.
An Increase in the Number of American Players Drafted
Defenseman Erik Johnson, now with the Colorado Avalanche, was the first American in years to be taken No. 1 overall in the NHL Entry Draft in 2006 when he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues.
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In 2006 and 2007, two American players were taken back-to-back in the top spot in the NHL entry draft.
First, defenseman Erik Johnson went to the St. Louis Blues, and the year after that, Patrick Kane went to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Since 2004, Americans had consisted of 26.4 percent of NHL draftees, according to an article in the Feb. 18 issue of The Hockey News.
That makes for an average of a little less than 50 new players from the United States being drafted by NHL teams per year.
This is a huge increase from prior years. In 2001, only 20.7 percent of the draftees were American, and just about the same amount were picked in 2002, according to The Hockey News.
Seth Jones could be the next No. 1 pick this year, as the highly coveted defenseman has been part of the 2013 USA Junior Ice Hockey Championship team, which won gold.
This uptick in highly-coveted Americans is proof that more and more young athletes are picking up the sport at a young age.
The Total Number of American Players in the League
Scott Gomez has been one of the highest producing American players in recent years, putting up 688 points in his 12-year career.
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During the 2003-04 season, only 162 American players put on an NHL sweater, according to The Hockey News.
Since then, the American demographic in the league has been climbing and improving. Last season, there were 235 different U.S. players who took part in an NHL game. That is just about a 45 percent increase in the total number of American players.
In the 2001-02 season, 15.6 percent of the league was made up of American players, according to The Hockey News. As of last year, 23.9 percent of players in the NHL were American-born.
There is no question that more and more Americans are picking up the game, and no matter how they get into the league, once they get in, they are staying.
While Canadians still have the majority of players in the league, the U.S. should be proud to see the increase in the number of players who have entered the game.
More American Stars
Patrick Kane is one of the biggest names in hockey, and is possibly the most well-known American player in the NHL.
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Yes, there was a time when Americans Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Dough Weight were making a huge impact on the NHL.
However, the Americans lacked a big name in the league for a while, until some new and fresh faces came along to make a name for themselves.
Patrick Kane is probably the most well-known American player in the game right now, and wingers Scott Gomez and Mike Knuble, while they aren't the biggest names, have been staples in the NHL for years now.
Hardcore NHL fans will be able to pick out American NHL players who are shining, but for the average sports fans, especially younger ones, it's much better to have recognizable American names if the NHL wants to extend its reach in the U.S.
It's one thing for a middle school student to wear an Alex Ovechkin or a Sidney Crosby jersey, but when they can wear a sweater from someone who is representing their home country, it means something much more.
As these American players work their way to becoming household names, it will surely get to younger athletes who are considering what sport to start, and the bigger the name, the more likely they are to follow in their footsteps.
Higher Overall Production of American Players
Phil Kessel was the top-scoring American last season, ranking sixth out of all players.
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According to an article in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hockey News, Americans accounted for only 15.2 percent of all points in the league in the 2002-03 season.
In the 2011-12 season, players for the U.S. scored 19.5 percent of all points in the league.
This is part of a greater trend of overall better production from American players. Last season, Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs broke into the top 10 of all scorers in the NHL with 82 points, which ranked sixth in the league.
Patrick Kane is the only American currently in the top 10 in scoring this season with 24 points.
American production really declined after 2004, as only four U.S. players per season made it into the top 50 scorers between 2005 and 2009, according to The Hockey News.
Since then, more players from the U.S. have cracked that list, with seven players making that list in 2010 and 2011, and then eight players in 2012.
Not only have skaters been putting up better numbers, but so have goalies.
During the 2011-12 season, 17 goalies passed the 30-win mark, five of which were American. These goalies, Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Tim Thomas, Craig Anderson and Ryan Miller, are still major players in the league, outside of Thomas.
The more production increases from American players, the more respect they will get from inside and outside of the league.
The Success of American Development Leagues
Seth Jones is one of the up-and-coming American hockey players, and has won a number of gold medals in the U.S. development system.
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The American players in the NHL have to be coming from somewhere, and they are coming from winning backgrounds.
Over the past few years, junior development teams from the U.S. have dominated international play.
In the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 tournament, the Americans have won gold four years in a row, and in 2008 and 2007, they won a bronze and a silver medal, respectively.
The American junior team has been just as successful, winning gold in 2013 and 2010.
The success of these programs has improved since USA Hockey introduced the American Development Model.
According to the ADM website, since 2000, 60 percent of players dropped out of hockey before they even made it to peewees, and 20 percent dropped out after seeing only one season of play.
After looking at these numbers, USA Hockey developed the program to get young athletes involved in hockey, and then working with them to stick with the sport.
"A model was created that valued practices and proper training above all else," the ADM website says. "This isn’t to say that the ADM is about taking the fun out of hockey, quite the contrary. Practices can and should be fun, especially if the kids are all playing together and having a blast with a game that they love. The more they play it, the better chance that they’ll love it."
Programs like this have certainly shown improvement. Team USA's win in the 2004 Junior Championship was America's first gold in the tournament ever, and in the Olympics, the U.S. hasn't won gold since the 1980 games.
But with continued development, younger players could vault these programs into the world spotlight.
Improved Attendance at Games
American attendance at hockey games has improved since 2000, and four of the top-10 teams for attendance this season are American.
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During the 2007, 2008 and 2009 season, five of the top 10 attended stadiums in the NHL were for Canadian teams.
Americans have started to show some more love for their teams over the years, and last season only four Canadian teams were in the top 10.
While there are a much smaller number of Canadian teams than American ones, the Chicago Blackhawks have led the league in attendance over the past five seasons.
If fans wanted to make the argument that hockey was a Canadian sport, then more Canadian teams would have to occupy the top five list for attendance.
Montreal and Toronto have been the only two Canadian cities to break into the top five over the past four seasons.
This shows that fans are starting to respect American players more, and are spending their money to see them put on a show.
If more and more Americans show up to hockey, then maybe one day it has a chance to be one of the top two sports in the country, but the players are certainly working hard to show that it deserves more respect than it is getting.