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The Penalty Box: NTDP is A-OK

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com

The concept of the United States Team National Development Program drew quite the response from the CTN community.

Like any hot-button issue worth its salt, the opinions on the merits of the 12-year-old program and its ability to deliver elite-level American players were all over the map.

Some love the program, others think it is a colossal failure. CTN leans more toward a success-with-caveats viewpoint that was detailed in last week's Opening Faceoff. So this week, CTN let's the Penalty Box community have its say on the program.

Other topics of interest include Derian Hatcher, the Philadelphia Flyers as a whole, the debate about whether Mats Sundin or Peter Forsberg would be the better deadline-day acquisition and a shout-out for Life of Agony's inclusion in last week's CTN column.

Enjoy this week's Penalty Box and remember that you, too, can join the discussion by dropping a line with your thoughts to roarkeblog@nhl.com. CTN looks forward to hearing from you.

***

Despite a stylistic component that was down right maddening to read, your article on the U.S. development program was filled with weird assertions, lacking in the factual department. For starters, and perhaps most confusing, you're "birth date" criteria. You made passing reference to the fact that Canada's pool of elite players dwarfs the United States, and that might have a factor in the selection, when in reality, it plays an extremely significant factor in the difference. Just because they didn't make the team doesn't mean they are not "Olympic" caliber players. If anything, Canada has the luxury of taking the absolute best player in that birth year, other countries don't have that capability. Canada can pick and choose the elite because it doesn't rely on one draft class here or there for a couple of players from a certain age group if it doesn't want to. I could go on and on picking this, claiming to be, scientific method you have chosen apart. However, I think you understand yourself that you have some critically serious flaws in comparing the two programs based on such a random statistic. Then to further your argument, you take some players that are apparently "Olympic" caliber players, yet would struggle to make it on most people in Canada's 3rd or 4th string roster ... yet somehow that makes them elite. I think you need some perspective on putting a country's talent pool into context.

Just a couple that stand out:
Jordan Leopold
John-Michael Liles
Mike Komisarek
Matt Carle
Ryan Whitney
Nick Foligno

You think any of these guys would stand a chance in Hades of landing a spot on a Canadian Olympic roster? Not a chance. Yet this makes them "Olympic caliber" players, while guys like the following are not:

Briere ('77)
Spezza ('83)
E. Staal ('84)
Phillips ('78)
Beauchemin ('80)
Bouwmeester ('83)
Hamhuis ('82)
Campbell ('79)
Jackman ('81)
Savard ('77)
Cammalleri ('82)
Fisher ('80)
Lombardi ('82)
Ribiero ('80)

Not including the plethora of other talented Canadian players that could be added to this list of guys who have not, and may not, get to play for a Canadian Olympic team. Give your head a shake, man. These are just guys off the top of my head, and there is more than one player per birth year. Imagine what I could do if I put some thought into it. I would be willing to place a lot of money on being able to find at least two "Olympic" caliber players in each birth year for whatever amount of time you wanted to span. At LEAST two! I would be shocked if there wasn't more.

You also include Van Reimsdyk, a guy who has never played a game in the NHL, as a potential "Olympic" caliber player, and Erik Johnson (who may be), but hasn't played nearly long enough to be considered a lock as an "Olympic" caliber player. Going by that criteria I could rip off 30 or so Canadian-born prospects in the past five years that could be "Olympic" caliber players. If you hadn't lost credibility by this point in the article, your assessment of Ryan Whitney should seal the deal. Effective as a physical presence? Certainly you must be joking? Ryan Whitney has proven to be one of the softest players in the NHL, and that is being kind. Aside from that, his defensive skills leave PLENTY to be desired. His "puck-moving" skills? He struggles mightily to make passes out of his own end, and rarely do you see Ryan Whitney carry the play up ice. His supposed "strength," his offensive production, can basically be categorized as a power-play specialist, and without Crosby he cannot even live up to that title. And this assessment is coming from a Pens fan! In summary, a very flawed article, one which I just scratched the surface of inaccuracies. It would have been good for a laugh if you didn't drop an acronym in every sentence, therefore making it almost un-readable. In the future, I would suggest doing a bit more homework.
Regards,
--Matt Geisbrecht

Whitney
Matt, first of all, let CTN tell you that it was a true pleasure to receive a grammatical critique from someone that has clearly mastered the English language to a degree that us mere mortals can only hope to one day attain. Your sentence structure is impeccable. But CTN might suggest that you pay some extra attention when it comes to reader comprehension. At no time was it suggested that the NTDP players were comparable to what Canada is producing talent-wise. That argument, as you suggest, would be folly. Instead, the argument was that if the NTDP was producing one Olympic-caliber player per year, it was succeeding at its job. I used the 2006 Canadian Olympic team as an illustration of how such a success rate might translate into a finished product down the road. As for some of the younger players mentioned, there was obviously some projections being made. The NTDP is only a dozen years old. The Canadian developmental system has been producing players for more than 50 years. Sometimes, teenage players take a full decade before reaching their potential, so it was necessary to extrapolate a little in projecting where these kids will be in another five years. With all of that said, there is little argument that the NTDP has done a solid job in producing elite-level players, which, in the end, was the point of the column.

***

I just read your article about USA Hockey on NHL.com and thought it was very well done. I was wondering what your opinion is on Ryan Miller of the Sabres with regards to him making the Olympic team and possibly contending for the starting job.
Best regards,
-- Nick Gorzynski

Miller
Nick, thanks for the kind words. It takes some of the sting out of Matt's biting criticism. CTN thinks that Ryan Miller has an excellent shot at not only making the USA Olympic team, but also starting. Both he and DiPietro will have the resume to claim the No. 1 job, although, as of right now, Miller has more big-game experience at the NHL level. CTN actually thinks the interesting question is who will be the No. 3 goalie in Vancouver. There isn't a clear-cut candidate at the moment.

***

Another way to "grade" the NTDP is to look at the players/draft choices that did not go to NTDP and have been successful. Among current NHL players, Zach Parise, Drew Stafford, Matt Niskenen and Paul Martin come to mind. Others to come are those that are currently in college, T.J. Oshie of North Dakota and Ryan McDonough of Wisconsin, all high draft picks that didn't go the NTDP route. Aaron Ness and Jake Gardiner are currently playing high school hockey in Minnesota and will be high draft picks. There's a difference between selecting/identifying talented players and developing players. The NTDP does identify some great players -- would they have developed the same staying home? Hard to say, but others have had success staying home and playing with their local team. It's clear that if you have talent, you can play high school hockey or junior hockey in the USHL and still develop into an NHL-caliber player. Some in the U.S. believe the NTDP is nirvana, others'rank-and-file hockey parents in the U.S. that foot the bill -- disagree.
Here's another measurement -- how has the USA done before/after NTDP? There isn't much to show. One gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and the MVP of that tournament was Zach Parise, a non-NTDP player. The NTDP does have a good PR machine at USA Hockey. Just don't believe everything they put out.
-- Gordy Christian

Gordy, some very cogent points by you. It is the American hockey community'men and women like you -- that has most called into question the value of the USNTDP. For many USA hockey members it is difficult to rationalize spending so much on so few elite players. CTN would like to believe that the Opening Faceoff presented a fair-and-balanced look at the program. It was certainly not a blindly pro-NTDP story. There are many routes to the NHL for American hockey players'USNTDP, college, Canadian Major Junior, Junior A leagues in the states and high school hockey. In the end, that might be part of the problem. All of these different organizations are playing tug-of-war for the affections of elite-level players. But, if you have talent and drive, you will have the opportunity to make the pros; that is for sure. As CTN has already stated, the NTDP is a great program for those involved, but CTN feels the opportunity should be afforded to more players.

***

Hi Shawn,
I just read your CTN article on the NTDP and I've always had two questions about it :
How are these players recruited, by scouting lower age-group teams in the U.S.?
If there is just one team of 30, who do they play, other national teams? It doesn't sound like Canada has a similar national team -- one team of 30 within a certain age group -- so does Sweden have that?
Thanks,
-- Eugene Ngo

Eugene, you are spot on. The players are recruited from across the United States, usually on recommendations from scouts and various coaches across the country. Each year, the NTDP welcomes a 23-player class to fill the U-17 team. Those players, for the most part, graduate the next season to the U-18 team. The U-17 team plays a schedule against teams from the North American Hockey League, a Junior A circuit. The U-18 team plays a schedule loaded with NCAA Division I competition. Both teams play heavy international schedules as well. To CTN's knowledge, no other major hockey-playing country follows this centralized model. For the most part, though, that is because no other country feeds a strong college scene such as the one present in the United States. In other countries, the idea behind the development of players is to make them ready to play in that country's pro league. The agenda is slightly different for the NTDP. For the most part, they are developing players that will go on to college hockey before potentially turning pro. CTN hopes that explanation helps.

***

Derian Hatcher's reputation still serves him well at times just from the intimidation factor alone.
Watch Derian Hatcher use his checking strength
Hey Shawn,
In last week's Penalty Box, David Williams wrote, “I was surprised that Derian Hatcher did not make the list of heavy hitters. The one thing evident in every Flyers game is the fact that players from other teams don't even try to hit 'Hatch.' They purposefully avoid him, with good reason. Hell, even his own teammate (Lupul) ended up on the wrong end of a Hatcher hit. Players avoid him because they know the power of his hits. It's a sign of respect. I think he's right up there with Rob Blake, Chris Pronger and Jason Smith.”
Derian Hatcher? Is he kidding? I have seen utility poles that move faster then this guy. Lupul didn't get on the wrong side of a Hatcher hit. He skated into the most immovable object known to man. I was at that game before that one when the Devils played Philly and on the first goal-against, Hatcher stood in the faceoff circle and was so slow he barely could turn his head fast enough to watch Martin blow by him to score. Yeah that's right, Paul Martin.
Regards,
-- Jeff Edlund

Jeff, good to hear from you again, it has been awhile. Obviously, you are not much of a Derian Hatcher fan. That's cool; we all have our own preferences. But, the nice thing about the Penalty Box crowd is that we are not the insulting types. We allow each other to have our own opinions and discuss them intelligently. Hatcher is not the fleetest of foot; CTN thinks we can all agree with that statement. But like a power pitcher that has lost a few miles off his fastball and turns to off-speed pitches and guile, Hatcher has learned to compensate for his lack of foot speed by using his other assets. And let's not forget that not too long ago, Hatcher was one of the most-feared hitters in the League. That well-established reputation still serves him well at times just from the intimidation factor alone.

***

Shawn,
As a longtime Flyers fan, I need to ask a question and it is about the Flyers difficulties getting out of their end. I've heard it at a thousand times that the Flyers defense is slow; but while that can be said of Hatcher, his partner Braydon Coburn certainly is not nor are Keith Jones or Kimmo Timonen. So what gives? They sure don't lack speed up front or depth in scoring, especially if Joffrey Lupul can come back strong. Thanks for the answer.
-- Keith McMakin

Timonen
Keith, a great question by you! It's hard to knock much about the Flyers at the moment. They are playing inspired hockey and currently proving CTN wrong. As loyal readers will remember, CTN said the Flyers were too undisciplined to stay in the playoff race. CTN would say that the Flyers speed on the blue line, as a whole, is average. Timonen is above average in skating skills, while Hatcher and, to a lesser extent, Jason Smith are below the NHL norm. But, foot speed on the back line is only one factor in having a successful transition game. Foot speed can be easily camouflaged by intelligent puck play and quick first passes. Detroit, which has more speed on the blue line, is so effective in its transition game because it moves the puck quickly'usually D to D and then to a forward'and never really lets the opponent's forecheck gain traction. It seems to CTN that Philadelphia has gotten a little better in the breakout department during the last month. CTN expects that trend to continue down the stretch as coach John Stevens continues to scheme to cover up his team's weaknesses.

***

Hi Shawn,

Please excuse my bluntness when I say, how on Earth could you think that the Flyers would not make the playoffs? As of today, not only the Flyers, but ALL 5 teams in the Atlantic would be in the playoffs! Besides, in this environment, it's going to come down to who is on the better streak at the end of the season. Just like in the NFL, the cap has evened things up a bit (except for those friggin' Red Wings). I hold that to be the primary reason for this playoff logjam on the horizon. Once there, besides Ottawa and Detroit, it's anybody's guess what their seed will be.
Thanks,
-- Pat Case


Pat, how on Earth, you ask? CTN will tell you how. It's quite simple in fact. You are right that if the season ended today, the Flyers would make the playoffs. But, the season does not end today. It ends April 6. And the Flyers must play 27 games between now and then. Philadelphia is only 5-5 in its last 10 games and, as of Tuesday morning, is riding a three-game losing streak. Simon Gagne has suffered his second concussion of the season and his availability is in question. And, most importantly, the Flyers may be in the playoffs as of today, as you mentioned, but they are also just five points above the chasing horde of non-playoff teams. Buffalo leads that charge, followed by Carolina and Atlanta, both of whom sit just seven points in arrears. CTN thinks that it is just as easy to say the Flyers won't make the playoffs as it is to say that the team will make the playoffs. It is truly a 50-50 proposition at this point. CTN wishes you and your team the best down the stretch and will be happy to eat crow if it comes to pass that the Flyers are in the postseason.

***

Hey Shawn,
Another great Life of Agony reference, plus you got to hang out with Mastodon; awesome. I have to say Leviathan was an incredible album; blew me away when I heard it and Blood Mountain rocked, too. Having always been a big fan of Foppa, I do hope he comes back to the NHL this year; but I think teams strengthening for the playoffs should look toward Mats Sundin first. He's healthy and been having a great year on a terribly performing team. What do you think on this? Good to see Calgary tie up Dion Phaneuf, too, although salary cap problems look likely for them now.
Slave to the grind,
-- Aidan

Sundin
Aidan, it wasn't a bad gig to meet the boys from Mastodon and the guys from The Hives at All-Star Weekend in Atlanta. CTN knows he is one lucky dude. As for the Sundin/Forsberg comparisons, it is like comparing apples and oranges. CTN imagines most teams would love to take Sundin first this year just because he has been playing all year, is in hockey shape and is a proven commodity. The same can not be said about Forsberg, who is coming off an injury and has not played competitive hockey all season. But, a lot of teams are looking at Forsberg because they are unsure they could get Sundin if he becomes available. Plus, Forsberg will be the less expensive option. It will merely cost money'and cap space'to gain Forsberg's services. Meanwhile, it will require money, cap space, draft picks, prospects and/or players to pry Sundin away from the Maple Leafs.

   

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