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The Opening Faceoff: Grading the NTDP

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com

If you don't walk with me, I will walk alone
Hard enough to believe in myself
When I know they don't believe in me
Unwilling to change for society
I'll be who I wanna be
I wanna tear it up, tear it out
Get my aggression out
This is what we're here for, control the dance floor
This is why we're here
I said, this is why we're here
So when will it end, when will it end
When will they comprehend, comprehend
That we will overcome this system
I said this is why we're here
They keep on kicking me down, kicking me down
Tryin' to keep me underground, underground
But did I mention we were paving the way
For the new breed of bad seed

Underground, Life of Agony

Shawn P. Roarke
Share your thoughts and comments:
Roarkeblog@nhl.com

In This Week's Edition ...

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Back in 2001, the River Runs Red album was in near-constant rotation on CTN's CD player while covering the Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils. CTN couldn't get enough of this disc and especially the song, Underground.

At the time, CTN was relatively new on the NHL.com scene and the website was changing rapidly for the better as new resources poured into the organization. Once we hit the road that spring to cover the Final, it felt a little like NHL.com was an unproven band, traveling from town to town to get the hockey message out. So, the core message of Underground spoke volumes to CTN.

Like Life of Agony, a much younger CTN decided he was going to keep plugging away until the hockey community embraced the message CTN had on offer. Today, CTN has his own column, Crashing the Net on NHL.com and has advanced to the position of being among the people in charge of shaping the site's daily editorial message.

Needless to say, Underground is not in as heavy a rotation these days for a slightly more mellow CTN, but its inspirational message has never faded. For that reason, CTN started thinking about the song and its message about the power of determination when CTN started mulling this week’s opening segment of Crashing the Net.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics just two years away, Olympic hockey fever is starting to take hold. Across Canada, they are already debating who will be on the team that represents the host country in Vancouver.

Here, in the States, there has been much focus – a good deal of it negative – on the National Team Development Program, an initiative started in 1996 by USA Hockey to develop elite-level players to strengthen the national team in world-class competitions like the Olympics and the World Junior Championships.

CTN has been a fan of the NTDP setup from the start, believing it was a tangible step by USA Hockey to close the obvious developmental gap seen when comparing young Canadian players to their American peers.

But, like everyone else, CTN also harbors questions about the program. Particularly, CTN wonders if concentrating such a huge portion of developmental resources on so few players (30 or so) from each birth year is the wisest of investments.

As a result, CTN thought it would be interesting in this week’s Opening Faceoff to see how the NTDP stands a little more than a decade into its existence in fulfilling its mission statement of producing high-caliber international players.

CTN would love to hear your thoughts on the NTDP, or any other Olympic hockey issue. Feel free to drop CTN a line at roarkeblog@nhl.com. Remember to include your name and hometown if you would like your submission to be included in the Penalty Box.

Opening Faceoff

The fairest way to judge the NTDP, in CTN’s opinion, is to look at the players it has produced since its inception. Are these players of Olympic pedigree?

In CTN’s mind, the applicable standard of success must be graduating players from the program into Olympic participation. But the number of “successful” graduates, in CTN’s mind, can be much smaller than the numbers advocated by critics of the program.

In fact, CTN would argue that if one player from each NTDP class becomes a mainstay on the national team, the program is producing at an acceptable rate.

Where, you ask, does such a low threshold come from? The answer might shock you. It comes from the Canadian national team, the gold standard in measuring hockey competitiveness.

CTN went back and looked at the 2006 Canadian roster for the Torino Olympics and studied the birthdays of the 23 players named to represent that country. There were 13 different birth years represented on that team and only three birth years – 1975, 1976 and 1980 -- contributed more than two players to the 2006 roster. Two other years, 1971 and 1977, contributed two players. The other nine players were born in nine different years, ranging from 1969 to 1984.

In its simplest form, you could argue, therefore, that Canada’s vaunted developmental program, on average, only produces one Olympic-caliber player per year. Now, it’s clear that there is far greater competition for spots on Canada’s roster than those same spots in the United States, but there is no arguing with the raw data about birth years.

Therefore, if the NTDP is producing one Olympic-level player per class, the program needs to be considered a success, right? So, the question becomes: Is the NTDP producing an Olympic-level player each go-round?

The answer is yes. And, to prove it, here is a look at NTDP graduates (with NTDP graduation year) that could very well be named to the Americans’ 23-man roster to play in Vancouver in two years’ time. Note: There is no Olympic-worthy players from the original 1997 NTDP class.

Leopold
Jordan Leopold (1998) -- A long-shot to make the team, Colorado’s Leopold has seen a once-promising career derailed by injuries. But at his peak, he is just the type of smooth-skating, puck-moving defender that excels in the Olympic atmosphere.

Rick DiPietro (1999) -- There is little doubt that DiPietro will wear the red-white-and-blue in Vancouver. In fact, there is a good chance this No. 1 overall choice of the Islanders will be the American starter in two years. He started at NTDP in 1997 and played there until 1999.

John-Michael Liles (1999) -- Like Leopold, Colorado’s Liles is a transition defenseman at his best on the larger ice surfaces of international hockey. His ability to produce points and cover large swaths of ice with ease should have him under consideration come 2010.

Mike Komisarek (2000) -- The Montreal Canadiens defender rarely gets the due he deserves. But the Long Island native can do it all. He can play a shut-down role that has been handed to players like Hal Gill in the past. He can provide a physical element and he can kill penalties. He is the type of heart-and-soul player any team needs.

Ryan Whitney (2001) -- The soon-to-be 25-year-old was a first-round pick of Pittsburgh back in 2002. Come 2010, he will have almost five years of NHL experience under his belt. Plus, he is effective as both a physical presence and as a puck-mover. Honorable mention: Patrick O’Sullivan.

Carle
Matt Carle (2002) -- The San Jose Sharks defenseman has surprised many observers by jumping into the NHL earlier than expected and succeeding as a solid two-way defender with above-average puck skills. He will have more than 300 games of NHL experience by the time 2010 rolls around

Ryan Suter (2003) -- The hard-hitting Nashville Predators defenseman has a gold-medal pedigree, courtesy of his dad, who was a member of the 1980 Team USA Olympic team that authored the “Miracle on Ice.”. Suter has quickly come of age as a young player in Nashville and should be hitting his prime in two years.

Nick Foligno (2004) -- There is no telling whether Foligno, who has bounced between the Ottawa Senators and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, will ever reach the success projected for him. It is unlikely he will reach it by 2010, however. Yet, he remains the best bet from that graduating class.

Phil Kessel (2005) -- The shifty Bruins center, who is quickly developing into an elite offensive talent as he is handed more responsibility in Boston, could make the Olympic team in much the same way that 24-year-old Rick Nash made the 2006 Canadian team. Honorable mention: Jack Johnson, Peter Mueller.

Patrick Kane dominated the OHL. Kane highlights
Patrick Kane (2006) -- Kane left the NTDP to move on to junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. But he proved that was the right move when he dominated that league and took the OHL scoring title before being selected No. 1 overall by the Chicago Blackhawks this past June. Now, he is on his way to winning the Calder Trophy. Can Olympic glory be far behind? Honorable mention: Erik Johnson.

James van Riemsdyk (2007) -- The No. 2 overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, van Riemsdyk is only a freshman in college right now. But he is projected to be an elite NHL power forward, which means he will eventually challenge for a spot with the senior national team. Will that time come by 2010? It’s unlikely.

So, there you have it. Not a bad production record by NTDP in CTN’s humble opinion.

Could it be better? Of course it could. With that said, CTN hopes that USA Hockey, and the NTDP, continue to look at ways to produce even more top-flight American players.

One suggestion CTN has longed mulled is expanding the NTDP into a full league instead of just solitary U-17 and U-18 teams. There are enough good young American players these days to fill several teams. Put all these elite players together in the same league, make the league regionally based to count down on travel costs and have individual owners underwrite the remaining budget after the USA Hockey stipends are used up.

But, that is a conversation for another day.

If you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of the NTDP or American hockey in general, CTN would love to hear them. Drop me a line at roarkeblog@nhl.com and CTN will use the best ones in the next edition of the Penalty Box..




The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box

 

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