Where in the World

February 9th 1998. Sports Illustrated ran an article talking about the Nagano Winter Olympics and how the NHL was going to allow their players to compete. In the article was a photo of Colorado Avalanche standing on a map, with the players that represent their homelands standing on their country (If anyone can find that photo, please let me know). Here's the caption to that photo:

Adam Deadmarsh of Team USA and Peter Forsberg of Sweden are best pals, whether they're leading Colorado's attack on the ice or riding their beloved Harleys together, so they may have the roughest adjustment of the nine Avalanche teammates who will find themselves playing for six countries at the Games. Where in the world are they all from and whose colors are they wearing? We're glad you asked. Clockwise from bottom left: Deadmarsh (U.S.); Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy (Canada); Forsberg (Sweden); Jari Kurri (Finland); Valeri Kamensky and Alexei Gusarov (Russia); and Uwe Krupp (Germany).

Milan Hejduk (Czech Republic) and Sandis Ozolinsch (Latvia) were also on that 1998 squad. Part of the Avs success flowed from their ability to dig up talent across the globe.

Now? Well here's a look at the Avs roster. Let's narrow down that list to include Avs that weren't born in North America:

Peter Forsberg (Sweeden)
Milan Hejduk (Czech Republic)
Ruslan Salei (Russia)
Peter Budaj (Slovakia)
Marek Svatos (Slovakia)
Jaroslav Hlinka (Czech Republic)
Wojtek Wolski (Poland)

Let's take a look at these players for a second. Forsberg was famously drafted and traded for Eric Lindross in 1991. Milan Hejduk was drafted in 1994. Salei was acquired via trade. Budaj was drafted by the Avs in 2001 (out of the OHL I might add). Svatos was drafted in the same year as Budaj (2001) in the 7th round (out of the WHL). Hlinka was recruited, by Milan Hejduk, last season and Wolski was North American raised and drafted from the OHL.

Looking at the Avs top prospects only 1 is from outside North America (Denis Parshin #17 on the list).

It's time to worry Avs fans, this is a major problem. Successful teams are finding talent outside the new world. The most obvious example is the Red Wings who are currently dominating the Western Conference on the backs of players like Datsyuk (Russia), Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Zetturberg, Kronwall, Franzen (Sweeden), Jiri Hudler (Czech or Slovak), Filpulla (Finland) and more. They are the best at it, but teams like the Stars, , Sharks, Rangers and Senators rely heavily on talent from across the pond. Just take a look at the recent drafts of the Wings and Avs over the last few years and you'll see why the Wings dominated the previous series.

The most frustrating part is that the Avs have an excellent scouting department. Some of their late round steals include Finger, Cumiskey, David Jones, Brad Richardson, Marek Svatos, Cody McCormick, and JM Liles. Despite having a good eye for talent the scouts are stationed here on the continent while teams like the Red Wings get the pick of the top talent overseas.

Before the lockout many pundits said the Avs and Red Wings success was in large part their ability to out spend teams on high priced free agents. The salary cap was supposed to change all that. That was only partially true, but part of their success was their ability to take some of the best talent from overseas and put them on their roster. The Red Wings adjusted to the Salary Cap era by spending all the money they would have on players and investing it into overseas scouting. What are the Avs doing with it?


  1. Good point. The Avs really like the US collegiate players it seems but it's time to hire an overseas scout - or find a different one if they already have one.

    If they dangle a $150,000 bonus in front of a new hire like the Wings scout just got, I'm sure they could find someone willing to travel across Europe watching hockey. In fact, maybe I should give the front office a call. It's been a while since I went on a trip ;)

  2. I know BFE Sweeden kinda sucks in the Winter, but it can't be any worse than BFE Saskatchewan (no offense)

  3. You make some good points, but...

    Last year, the conventional thinking was in favor of more Canadians, since that was the primary make-up of the Ducks. And where are they now, of course. Now that the Red Wings are so successful, it's about getting more European talent. What is the trend going to be next season, wooden sticks for defensemen (not a bad idea)?

    It is kind of sad that our best European scout was Hejduk, bringing in Hlinka, and I agree that the Avs could use better European scouting, but I don't think it's time to panic. I would love to see more talented European players on the team, and I think scouting in this area could use some improvement.

    I would be worried about the way the IIHF transfer agreement is falling apart, before I get too carried away with buying plane tickets. It's part of the reason there were so few Russians drafted this past offseason, and a few that were highly thought of were drafted lower than originally thought. Even though an agreement is inevitable, there is still plenty of risk involved, and with the European IIHF members nixing the current agreement, I'm sure everyone is being cautious.

    Toughness reigned last season, and every team followed. By my count, we have seen a few fights in the playoffs this season. Now, the name of the game is puck possession and European players. Is every team going to follow the trend?

  4. 1) With the collapse of a transfer agreement not only with Russia, but with most/all of Europe, its now more of a crap shoot drafting Euros than it was 5-10 yrs ago

  5. I've got to agree with Tapeleg here. After the Ducks won the cup several teams (see the Wild) went after big, physical North American forwards. The Anaheim cup was supposed to be the justification of the Canadian system. Now, Detroit is killing it and everyone thinks skilled puck possession is the panacea of winning the cup. I think there's room for both styles. The Avalanche shouldn't overreact to emmulate either of those teams.

    The Avs have gone after Euros and frankly it's been a disaster. To their credit they will dabble with Euro prospects but they are no longer better the farm on them. Their strength is North American scouting and they should stick to it until the European scouting proves itself. Let's review (starting at the beginning):

    1996: Yuri Babenko. 51st pick, our "Messier". Bust. Picked up Pahlsson with a 7th rounder and traded him away in the Roy deal. Picked before Pahlsson was Fischer from Germany and after Pylner from CZE. Neither played a shift in the NHL.

    1997: Nieminen and Aebischer. Not bad, not great.

    1998: Ryazantsev. Yeah, rolls right off the tounge.

    1999: Here it gets good. Kuleshov, our Jagr. Picked in the first round and quite the dissapointment. Others that year, Lindstrom, Kovac, Lovdahl, Riku Hahl and Radim Vrbata. Our year to try and emulate the Red Wings. Lost of wasted picks, Vrbata and Hahl paid off well with the late selections.

    2000: Nedorost (ick!), Soin, Klyazmin. Yeah, they were all picked before JM Liles believe it or not.

    2001: Budaj, Skladany, Viitanen, Horvath, Svatos. Svatos and Budaj were very strong. Goaltending has always been pretty good for oversea scouting, forwards and defensemen? Not so much. Svatos was picked up at 227th pick.

    2002: Johansson (you'd be sick to your stomaches if I listed players we could have picked instead of Kuleshove, Johansson and Nederost in the first round), Kalteva, Shemetov.

    2003: Svagrovsky, Videll. Letting Videll go could prove to be a mistake next year but we shall see. Neither did well in the NA game.

    2004: Oreskovich, Parshin, Demen-Willaume. Willaume is probably not coming back to NA and is out. Parshin still has an outside chance after next year and Oreskovich is another high Euro pick that isn't going to work.

    2005: None :)

    2006: None :)

    2007: Hellgren and Alcen in the last two rounds.

    So, the lesson here is that high round picks just haven't been successfull for the Avs. In fact, high round draft picks could be labled as a disaster for the franchise. They've done just fine with mid to late round picks.

    What I'm saying is that the Avs have tried to draft from Europe but it just hasn't worked out.

  6. "The Avs have gone after Euros and frankly it's been a disaster"

    That's why they need a better Euro scout than Hejduk ;)

    I don't want the team to be filled with Europeans by any means but the right ones can really supplement the grittier North American style of play.

    I certainly don't just want to jump on a trend set by a winning team for one season, especially since Anaheim crashed and burned this season and we've seen the Wings do the same. However the Avs don't seem to be willing to split their scouting staff up and really focus on the US collegiate system which, while producing some solid players, isn't going to provide an overabundance of skilled players.

    And yes, Saskatchewan in the winter tests the mettle of the best of us :)

  7. Yeah I'm agreeing with Shane. They have busted because their Euro scouting is clearly not as good as their NA scouting.

    Anaheim's cup run also had 2 of the best defender's in the world (Pronger and Niedermeyer). Plus they still had Euro's in key roles (Pahlsson and Selanne).

  8. Dario - Nice breakdown.

    Jib - Exactly, they had the best defense out there, and if anyone knew it, it was Burke, who picked up another D-man when Neids was in doubt.

    But everyone wants a good base of solid Dmen, and there are only so many out there. But there are an abundance of tough guys, just waiting for a call up from the AHL, or even lower. If the option is Europeans, they will be jumping on those as quickly as possible.

    They do need a better scouting system in Europe, but think about this. If Hlinka was the top scorer in his league in Europe, it should have been a no brainer. But he didn't work out so well (mind you, I hope he comes back). So is it an inability to draft and sign good European players, or are the Avs breaking them?

  9. Well i think Hlinka started out pretty good this season, and Q completely misused him. Also he's not very physical because he had never played in a physical league before.

    But there are plenty of young swedes, czechs and fins out there waiting to be discovered.

    And all the busts Dario mentioned are well and good, but the Avs have a lot of NA busts as well. That's part of the draft is busts.

  10. My point is that the Avs have tried to draft out of Europe. They've used high draft picks and invested assets in oversea scouting. The problem is the higher draft picks just haven't paid off. Sure, you can say that there are North American high picks that haven't worked out as well but there are plenty that have. The Avs have recently used lower round picks for Euros and I think that's the right approach for now. Hellgren just might work out, we may even see the Avs try and bring him over this year for the AHL and/or camp. Parshin is in the transfer agreement snafu so he's not showing up until '09 and that could still work as well.

    I think that Americans are going to play bigger and bigger roles in the NHL in the next five years also. Youth hockey in the US has grown by large leaps in the last 10 years and a lot of those kids are starting to make the transition to pro-level hockey.

    Hey, Flopilla, Lebda and Hudler are nice players but I don't think they are any better than the Avs NA players at the same positions. I think Zetterberg and Datsuyk along with Lidstrom make that puck possession game very enticing. But it's no secret to winning. Those are very talented players that are playing in the perfect system for them.

    More so than Euro scouting in particular the Avalanche need to improve their defenseman scouting. They haven't drafted/developed a premier defenseman since Adam Foote. That's like 15 years or so now. They should have found another guy by accident. When they have obtained some talent to develop they've given up on it way too soon. See Sauer, Ballard and Gilbert. Finger and Liles are relatively new successes but considering their draft positions they were project picks. Let's hope Shattenkirk, Cohen and Nigel Williams prove to be better targeted picks.

  11. The Avs have recently used lower round picks for Euros and I think that's the right approach for now.

    My point was that they had been burned on a few Euros (possibly due to improper scouting) and so they have given up drafting and scouting them altogether.

    In the last 5 years they have drafted only 5 players from foreign teams. And for every Nederost there's an equally comparable Johnny Boychuk. Busts happen, it's part of drafting, but the Avs need to put the same vigor into international youth as they do into American and Canadian.

    I agree that US born players are going to startr being the wave of the future as well, and the Avs do seem to be a step ahead of everyone in that department