For a winter sport, ice hockey is pretty darn busy in the spring.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing; the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championship is underway in Slovakia; the IIHF’s World Championship kicks off in Paris and Cologne, Germany, May 5; USA Hockey begins evaluating players for the 2018 Winter Olympics women’s hockey team; and National Hockey League teams are making their lists and checking them twice ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago in June.
And players of color are in the thick of all these events. Of the 16 teams in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all but four – the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks – have minority players.
While NHLers battle for the Stanley Cup, teenagers from 10 North American and European nations are fighting for international bragging rights at the IIHF U18 World Championship.
Akil Thomas, a rookie forward with the Niagara Ice Dogs, is playing for Canada. The son of a Canadian career minor league hockey player and a mother from suburban Washington, D.C., Thomas had 21 goals and 27 assists in 61 games for the Ontario Hockey League team.
He’s joined on Team Canada’s by another major junior rookie, defenseman Jett Woo of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Woo collected 5 goals and 17 assists in 65 games with the Warriors.
Tyler Inamoto, a defenseman for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program is patrolling the blue line for Team USA in Slovakia.
The 6-foot-2 NHL draft-eligible defenseman skates for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and is ranked as the 68th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting.
Inamoto tallied 2 goals and 9 assists in 42 games for the U.S.’s Under-18 team in 2016-17. He had 2 goals and 5 assists in 17 games for Team USA in the United States Hockey League.
If Inamoto is drafted, the NHL will have to wait. He’s committed to play hockey in the fall for the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
“Inamoto is a predator,” Badgers Head Coach Tony Granato said in November. “He is a physical, hungry, intimidating player. He is a great athlete. He’s big, strong, and has a mean streak…He’ll be a physical impact player right away next year. He’s strong enough already to play a physical game at the college level.”
While the Under-18 championship is going on, 16 countries are finalizing their rosters for next month’s IIHF World Championship, a tourney that will feature some NHL players whose teams didn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs or were eliminated in the early rounds.
Team Canada quickly snapped up forward Wayne Simmonds, who led the Philadelphia Flyers‘ in goals with 31 in 82 games.
Team USA named Boston University massive forward Jordan Greenway to its squad. Greenway, a 2015 Wild second-round draft choice, was a 6-foot-5, 230-pound force in January, powering the U.S. to a Gold Medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.
Greenway scored three goals and five assists in seven games for the U.S. and was the team’s second-leading scorer. Two of his three goals were game-winners. He was BU’s fifth-leading scorer in 2016-17 with 10 goals and 21 assists in 37 games for the Terriers.
Despite his impressive season, Greenway has elected to return to BU for his junior year instead of trying to make the leap to the NHL.
“I have a great time here with my teammates, and BU has just been great to me,” Greenway told Boston Hockey Blog’s Jonathan Sigal. “I want to win a couple more championships here, so definitely one more year is what I’m going to do.”
I haven’t seen co-host country France’s roster yet for the Worlds, but you can bet that it will include Flyers forward Pierre Edouard Bellemare, who has become one of the best French-born players to skate in the NHL.
A late bloomer, the 32-year-old defensive specialist tallied 4 goals and 4 assists in 82 games. The Flyers liked Bellemare’s grit and grace enough that they re-signed him for two years at $1.45 million per year and added him to the team’s leadership, making him an assistant team captain.
He’s as pumped about the prospect of playing in his home country during the World Championship as he was getting the new contract and the ‘A’ from the Flyers. France, whose men’s team is ranked 14th in the world, opens the tournament May 6 against Norway in Paris.
“I think it’s going to be incredible,” Bellemare, a member of the French national team since 2004, told IIHF’s Lucas Akryod. “It is the first Worlds in France. I hope we will get a lot of fans for all the games, and that hockey will continue to develop in France.
And let’s not forget women’s international hockey. USA Hockey recently invited 42 players – including all 23 members of the 2017 Gold Medal-winning world championship team – for a selection camp April 30 to May 4 in suburban Tampa, Florida.
The camp is a prelude to developing a final U.S. a roster for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeyongChang, South Korea.
Kelsey Koelzer, a senior defenseman for Princeton University and the 2016 first overall pick of the
Hockey’s busy spring rolls into summer when the brain trusts from the NHL’s 30 teams convene inside Chicago’s United Center for the draft June 23-24.
The NHL’s Central Scouting released its final player rankings earlier this month and there are several players of color to watch in addition to Inamoto.
There’s Nick Suzuki, a 5-foot-10 center for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. Central Scouting ranks the London, Ontario, Canada native as the 10th-best North American skater. He was the Attack’s second-leading scorer with 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games.
Then there’s Jason Robertson, a 6-foot-2 left wing for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Central Scouting ranks the Michigan native as the 14th-best North American skater. He led the Frontenacs in scoring in 2016-17 with 42 goals and 39 assists in 68 games.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a defenseman for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He’s ranked as the 27th-best North American skater by Central Scouting.
The 6-foot-2, 161-pound 18-year-old notched 6 goals and 33 assists in 62 games for the Charlottetown.
Joseph is the younger brother of forward Mathieu Joseph, a sniper for the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He signed an entry level contract with the ‘Bolts prior to playing for Canada in the 2017 World Juniors.
Another potential 2017 draftee is Cole Purboo, a forward for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s ranked as the 189th-best North American skater. The 6-foot-3 Oakville, Ontario, Canada native scored 11 goals and 6 assists in 68 games for the Spitfires.
“I was hoping (to be) a little higher, but it’s alright,” Purboo told The Windsor Star last week of his Central Scouting rank. “It’s just people making a list…The same thing happened with the OHL draft. I don’t pay too much attention to them.”
Standing on the outside of top North American skaters on Central Scouting’s list is Elijah Roberts, a defenseman for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.
The 5-foot-8, 159-pound blue-liner, slipped from 208th in Central Scouting’s midterm list. He scored 4 goals and 14 assists in 65 games with the Rangers in 2016-17.
He’s considered undersized by today’s NHL standards, but his height hasn’t stopped him from excelling on ice. He was a major contributor for Team Canada in the World Under-17 hockey challenge.
“He’s a fast skater, very mobile, very aggressive on the ice,” one scout told Canada’s Sportsnet. “He’s been aggressive at the OHL level, too. He’s just a good kid; he skates hard and he works hard.”
Some NHL teams have drafted small D-men. The Vancouver Canucks took Jordan Subban, P.K. Subban’s 5-foot-9 younger brother, in the fourth round in 2013.
The diminutive defenseman was the sixth-leading scorer for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ American Hockey League farm team, in 2016-17 with 16 goals and 20 assists in 64 games.