COLUMBUS-ZÜRICH, June 22-23: The 2007 NHL Entry Draft was a historic one for USA Hockey, but forgettable for Europe, especially for the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The United States development system has been the most improved in the hockey world in the last ten-year period thanks to its standing U17 and U18 team program and this was proven once again when the National Hockey League held its annual draft on June 22-23 in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
USA Hockey and its National Team Development program are certainly proud of the following numbers from the 2007 Entry Draft:
++ For the first time two U.S. born players were selected first and second overall; Pat Kane was picked number one by the Chicago Blackhawks and James vanRiemsdyk was the second overall selection by Philadelphia.
Both represented the USA in the 2007 IIHF World U20 Championship in Sweden (winning bronze) while vanRiemsdyk also grabbed silver at the 2007 IIHF World U18 Championship. Kane was named to the Media All Star Team at the U20 World Juniors, while vanRiemsdyk was named the Best Forward and also named to the Media All Star team at the U18's.
++ For the first time, U.S.-born players were first overall selections in consecutive years of the draft as 2007 World U20 standout Erik Johnson held the distinction last year in Vancouver.
++ As almost half of the players whose names were called in Columbus on the weekend were Canadians, the U.S. contributed 63 players, which was a record 30 percent for USA Hockey.
++ The ten Americans taken in the first round matched the record set at last year's draft in Vancouver.
At the same time Europe, is clearly declining as provider of hockey talent to the NHL. The total number of Europeans selected in Columbus was 45, the lowest since 1989, at a time when Europe was still divided by the iron curtain and players from Eastern Bloc countries could not move freely.
The draft clearly indicated the continuing decline of former talent producing powerhouses Czech Republic and Slovakia. Only five Czechs and four Slovaks were selected by the 30 NHL clubs, an astonishing all-time low for the post-iron curtain period, especially considering that in 2004 when 21 Czechs and 10 Slovaks were picked.
The decline could most probably be attributed to the continuous migration of Czech and Slovak players to the Canadian major junior leagues has depleted the developmental systems of these two countries to the point where talents of NHL-caliber can be counted in single digits.
Out of the 575 European players who have gone on to play in the Canadian junior system since 1997, around 500 have come from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The downfall is not only reflected by the NHL draft, but even more so by the respective countries' performance at the IIHF U18 and U20 competition. For the first time ever the Czech Republic was this season relegated from the top pool of the IIHF World U18 Championship, while Slovakia won just one game in the IIHF World U20 Championship in Sweden, barely avoiding relegation.
Russia, from where the NHL selected 20 players as late as 2004, had only nine prospects taken. Also for Finland, with only four players selected (and none in the first three rounds), the draft was a disappointment.
The only European exception was Sweden who had 17 players picked as the draft also was an unprecedented success for the junior program of the Frolunda Indians hockey club from Gothenburg, who had five players selected with a sixth player who was developed at Frolunda, but who recently left the club.
Frolunda's Danish forward, Lars Eller, became the highest drafted Dane ever when St. Louis picked him 13th overall.