This Thursday is a special day for all Americans. Most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving by feasting ourselves into a comatose state and watching “America’s team” play “America’s game”. I’m not sure what qualities Tony Romo or the Dallas Cowboy’s possess that constitutes this title, but I digress. For those of you who may not be interested in the Thursday night NFL match up between two teams with losing records, be sure to tune in to some NHL action.
I can’t remember the last time the NHL has tried to compete with football on turkey day. From Wednesday to Friday, the NHL plays 27 games including two Thanksgiving prime time games and a few Black Friday matinees. While the NHL still lags behind in mainstream popularity in the United States, it’s clear that the league is beginning to take advantage of the highly rated Stanley Cup Playoffs from last season to stay relevant.
While the 2013 cup run lacked the story book ending my fellow Massachusetts folks were looking for, there is no denying that we all experienced one of the most exciting playoff runs in NHL history. After all, ’tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Or something like that.
Whether my fellow Yankees know it or not, this season is crucial for the state of hockey in the land of the free. According to CBSSports.com writer Chris Peters, 34% of current NHL players are products of the NCAA, a number that has trended heavily upward over the past 12 seasons. Not to mention, 5 outdoor games are slated to be played on US soil in 2014. Some are projecting the Canadian and US national hockey squads to clash once again in pursuit of Olympic Gold in Sochi this February. Team USA has a legitimate chance to be the first American hockey heroes since the days of the Cold War and a scrappy kid Winthrop, MA Mike Eruzione.
The best way to prepare yourself for the Winter Olympics is to watch in awe at some of the performances your own American players have put on through the first quarter of this season. USA coach Dan Byslma has an embarrassment of riches to sort through for his roster. Here are a few young American players who’s hot fantasy starts have them on the Team USA radar.
Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) November 25, 2013
Woah. Here I thought I could sneak a quick homer on the list. It seems as though TK47 might have crafted his way into the Team USA conversation. The un-drafted Michigan State product is currently tied for the league lead in goals for defensemen and is in the top 20 in shots on goal and power play points.
The streaky Boston Bruins power play is often only as effective as Krug. He routinely uses his mobility and fluid puck-handling skills to change his shooting angle. His speed and skill set are dangerous in open ice. Last night he crept up the wing during 4-4 over time and blasted a game winner over hot goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s shoulder.
Judging by Krug’s 54% Corsi, the Bruins are generally in possession of the puck when he is on the ice. His +2.9% Relative Corsi also suggests that the Bruins out-possessing opponents by a wider margin when he’s on the ice than when he’s sitting. Our friends at Extra Skater provided this statistic of the Bruins recent victory of the New York Rangers: with Torey Krug on ice, 5v5 shot attempts were 18-2 Bruins. Without him, 41-41. Krug has proven he is up to the task of playing on the big stage after his meteoric rise in the 2013 postseason, and is a legitimate contender to wear red, white and blue a few months down the road.
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
University of New Hampshire standout and New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk has exceeded expectations in almost all types of fantasy leagues this season. He is one of 14 players to accumulate 60+ SOG and 20 PIM this season. Regardless of how much I dislike the penalty minute stat, he’s been a valuable player. He has also tallied 16 points; 3 of the points came by way of the power play, and 1 of his 9 goals came shorthanded.
He and Phil Kessel have shown great chemistry throughout the young season and Dan Bylsma has taken notice. With Kessel as a front-runner for Team USA honors, the Toronto Sun recently asked Byslma if he’d considered not only taking JVR aboard but playing him alongside his teammate.
“They had the Anaheim line (Ryan Getzlaf-Cory Perry) that played together mostly and had some chemistry and they had the San Jose line (Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton) that played together.
“It’s certainly a factor we are looking at.”
James has begun to throw around his large frame more this season, registering nearly 2 hits per game. If he continues to physically, van Riemsdyk will have no problem fitting in on what is usually a scrappy bunch.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Ben Bishop has relished in his first opportunity as a full time starting goaltender. Bishop is the #4 fantasy goalie in Yahoo! leagues behind the white hot Ben Scrivens, Josh Harding, and Tuuka Rask. His .931 saver percentage and 2.08 GAA are precisely what Tampa Bay dreamed of when they dealt Cory Conacher and a 4th round pick to Ottawa in exchange for the 6’7″ behemoth known as “Big Ben”.
Bishop had flown relatively under the national radar until his recent call up to the Olympic Orientation camp in Washington DC. Concerns about Johnathan Quick’s health and Ryan Miller’s recent inconsistency may have been driving forces behind the call up. Nonetheless, Bishop has without a question performed as well this season as any other contender for the Team USA roster.
Along with Tim Thomas, Ben Bishop was among the last American players to receive an invite to camp. The first full season after the lockout has been a tough one in terms of injuries. While Thomas might have been called up as a precaution, expect Bishop to make a concerted run at a roster spot despite his inexperience,