Thursday, May 18, 2006

The State of the State of Hockey?

I was checking out the NHL scoring leaders for the regular season recently and I noticed something missing: Minnesotans. In fact, the only player from Minnesota to be in the top 100 in NHL scoring was Moorhead's Jason Blake at #91. Cloquet's Jamie Langenbrunner is 115th. To find a player from the Twin Cities metro area, you have to go down to #129 with Mark Parrish.

The numbers are only slightly better for defenseman. Baudette's Keith Ballard is 33rd among defenseman and Minneapolis' Paul Martin is 40th. Bret Hedican has the best +/- rating among Minnesotan defenseman, but is only tied for 29th among defenseman. Jordan Leopold is the next highest defenseman in a tie for 66th overall.

The top Minnesotan goalie was St. Paul's Adam Berkhoel who only played 9 games this season. The only other Minnesotan goalie to play in the NHL this season was Adam Hauser, who was only on the ice for 50 minutes this season in one appearance, and registered a .750 save percentage.

Looking at those numbers, it's pretty safe to say that there isn't a single player from Minnesota in the top 100 players in the NHL. The question of how something like this happens needs to be asked.

Players from the state of Minnesota have many advantages over other parts of the country, and other parts of the world. First, hockey is the number one sports priority for most families, meaning any potential top athlete is likely to choose hockey over a different sport like basketball, football, or soccer. There is also the advantage that Minnesota probably has as many covered sheets of ice per capita as any other place in the world. Yet for some reason, with all those advantages, there are no elite world-class hockey players in the NHL from Minnesota.

One theory as to why this is happening is the way that youth players are developed. Perhaps there is too much emphasis placed on winning at a young age and not enough on developing skills. Young players are learning positioning and defensive systems rather than developing skills.

There's also the possibility that players are spending too much time praciticing and not playing enough games. The Canadian model of development is to have fewer practices while developing skills by playing more games. That model seems to have worked well as Canada has 6 of the 10 scorers in the NHL.

Of course there is also the theory that the state of Minnesota is just in a cyclical downswing. There was only one Minnesotan(Erik Rasmussen) drafted in the first round of the NHL draft between 1990 and 1998. This year, there are as many as 4 Minnesotans projected to go in the first round of the draft this year, including top pick Erik Johnson. There were four Minnesotans drafted in the first round last year too.

As the main producer of college hockey talent, the future of hockey in Minnesota is very important to the college game. If Minnesota can get back to producing world class talent, the college game will definitely benefit.

19 comments:

Moe said...

Excellent analysis, I really hope Minnesota can some day be the home to a few NHL elite players.

Anonymous said...

It is cyclical. There are some very good young players from MN just getting established in the NHL and there is a lot more on the way.

Anonymous said...

The dark period you have highlighted seems to also align perfectly with the Woog era. Coincidence?

USAFA Bulldog said...

I think that there is way too much emphasis on winning in the youth levels. My personal preference would be a 3 to 1 ratio. Three practices to one game. I know that ratio (also 2 to 1) has been talked about before.

Goon said...

It is going to be too bad when Johnson signs to play in the NHL before he ever plays a game in college. That is the word coming out of the pundents mouths anyways.

Anonymous said...

Goon, what "pundits" have said that about Johnson? The usual uninformed message board gossip? There has been nothing in the media coming from the player even remotely hinting he'll skip college hockey no matter where he is drafted. Not even a peep about it.

Funny how a guy like you that seems so intent on not believing any speculation on North Dakota players without seeing an actual link to a newspaper article is so willing to take the same types of rumors as if they are fact when it is about a rival team's player.

Hypocrite.

Donald said...

Minnesota has lost its once dominant postion during the last decade. Athlete's from small hockey markets like Wisconsin, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Alaska, and even Texas will continue to excel at higher and higher levels while the once powerful Minnesota Machine languishes in it's inability to adapt and/or produce much else other than the prototype gopher player (6'2" 210lbs). I don't know if the same sort of regimentation and compliance that were favored characteristics for youth players in Minnesota has changed at all. It prolly oughta.

Anonymous said...

What I have noticed playing against the Minnesota youth teams in the early-mid 90's that they are very very fast and have A LOT of players with great handles, but once you put a body on them they crumble. I also notice in the same time period that's how the Gophers played(the then all Minnesota lineup). Fast talented players that tended to be soft, exception-Rasmussen. I also noticed with their youth teams their were too many puckhogs that wanted to be flashy instead of passing to an open man, kinda like street basketball. However with the new NHL rules and the need for speed, I think you will see more Minnesota players in the NHL as the big grinders won't be a necessity anymore.

Anonymous said...

You'd have to be pretty stupid to say Minnesota has lost its lofty position as the top talent producer when you see how many NCAA players from the state on on NCAA rosters and see their homegrown talent having an consistent presence among the top rounds of the NHL draft year in and year out. Some very good young NHL talent from Minnesota is just starting to make their mark. Just to name a few like Parise, Leopold, Martin, Ballard, Pat Eaves and so on.

Then start naming off some players of the future. Recent 1st round guys like TJ Oshie (though technically from Washington, he honed his game in MN), Matt Niskanen, Brian Lee, Joe Finley, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, and AJ Thelen. Of course, there are plenty in the 2nd or 3rd rounds in recent years as well. Then look at guys this year who are likely to go in the 1st round (or shortly after) this year like Erik Johnson, Peter Mueller, Kyle Okposo, Carl Sneep, David Fischer and Mike Forney.

I don't see any other state in recent years producing the sheer number of highly regarded prospects that Minnesota has. Minnesota has lost its dominant position? Maybe in the mind of a fan whose local college team hasn't had much talent in many years which probably makes him incapable of identifying talent in the first place.

Donald said...

Minnesota doesn't produce as many D-1 hockey players as a percentage of their population as Alaska. That's a FACT. While the totality of Minnesota production is greater than the state with the second smallest population in America the FACT remains that anyway you slice it the loaf from the Land-o-Lakes is becoming STALE.

Of course since the the Seawolves have stunk it up under a wimpdick from Minisoda (Talafous) and limpdick neuvo-Minisodan (Hill) means that I don't know anything about hockey. Yeah ... nice logical progression there. What kind of stupid argument is that?

Minnesotan's involved in youth hockey can either look at their systems and correct the defeciencies (like having to bring outside talent onto it's best high school team in order to CLAIM they're from Minnyland) or they'll continue to lose their grip.

Donald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Percentage of the population? That is supposed to say anything about who is developing the best players? Jesus, I realize Alaska Anchorage hockey is God awful but do the people up there have to reach that much to feel good?

I suppose the per capita argument is sort of like having one billionaire in a tiny town and saying you have more billionaires per capita than New York City.

As Mark Twain once said, "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics"

While Drop the Puck hangs on to one flimsy figure as "proof", everybody else has a grasp on reality.

Packer487 said...

Looks like you touched a nerve there eh? That was a pretty interesting post.

I think it's going to be really funny when the same Minnesota fans who last year were saying there was no chance that Jack Johnson would ever suit up for Michigan start to beg for Erik Johnson to show up and play for them after he goes #1.

Donald said...

Woo Hoo!!! The state with 20 TIMES the population of Alaska produces 10 TIMES the number of D-1 Hockey players. Wow. Congrats. The pride in that awesome accomplishment must be overwhelming. Ya ... you betcha.

Goon said...

Just for general knowledge what is the population of Alaska? I have no clue that is why I asked.

Runninwiththedogs said...

Hey! Everyone! We are all allowed to be biased and blind when it comes to our own teams! Lighten up!

Goon: the population of Alaska is 236. It will be 235 when DTP rips the still-beating heart out of the UAA coach.

Donald said...

I won't consider ripping out any still beating hearts until some point in the 08-09 season. I find it quite likely that Shyiak (after the same number of games) will have much better win/loss percentage than Talafous or Don-lite. He should get a full four years before I'll "judge" him.

Uh-Oh. There's that percentage word again! How dare I! What the hell are scientists thinking depending on such things as mathematics to advance our technology. I wonder if Luddites on the Internet know that none of this would be possible without the "Statistical" Multiplexing in modern communications systems?

Minnesota = 5.2 Million people and about 220 D1 players ...
Alaska = 655 Thousand people and an average of about 30 D1 players over the last few seasons ...

Anonymous said...

I think all you Minnesota guys are missing the point. Who gives a shit how many 1st round draft picks they have or will produce. They are not in a NHL uniform yet and who the hell knows if they will be good. Everyone thought Mike Crowley was going to be the second coming, but he never seem to regularly crack a NHL lineup. Until these 1st rounders that you talk about actually do something substantial at the next level then talk all you want. But as of RIGHT NOW as the article implies there are few NHL stars coming out of Minnesota.

Also consider the millions of dollars thrown into programs provided the mighty duck grants by the state, taxpayer's money, as yet another reason why they should produce more quality NHLers

dggoddard said...

Interesting article.

I think some other factors include access to top tier coaching and facilities (USHL), the lack of pond hockey and backyard rinks that once attracted kids to the sport, the lack of free or inexpensive ice time where kids could play casually for hours on end, the emergence of roller blading, the unbelievable expense of developing an NHL player and finally the "European Invasion" that has shrunk the number of NHL jobs available.