For all the jokes about "Captain America", could Jack Johnson be one part of an increased focus on US born players for the Blue Jackets? (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
An interesting rumor surfaced Monday that James van Riemsdyk could be on the trading block as part of a potential Rick Nash to Philadelphia deal - and that the Flyers forward was holding up on surgery to delay the trade.
Philly GM Paul Holmgren denied the report, and went so far as to say the delay in surgery is to clear up an infection, but it's interesting that Aaron Portzline's tweet debunking the report actually can be read two different ways - that a Nash to Philly deal is bogus, or that a potential trade being held up by surgery is bogus. Make of it what you will.
James Van Riemsdyk is, among other things, an American.
Despite their patriotic colors and iconography, it's hard to say that the Jackets have ever been terribly well represented by American players. After all, this is a sport that tends to attract Canadian talent and a diverse blend of European stars, and the lineup has been appropriately cosmopolitan as a result.
Now, however, it's worth considering how the roster is changing, and what might be behind it.
R.J. Umberger is, of course, a native son. Among the forwards you also have Jared Boll (Illinois) and of course Cam Atkinson (Connecticut). If the team added Van Riemsdyk, New Jersey suddenly becomes represented. Not enough to totally outweigh the Canadian contingent (even if Rick Nash was traded, you still have Derek Mackenzie, Ryan Russell, Mark Letestu, Ryan Johansen, Colton Gillies, Derek Dorsett, and Derick Brassard), but a respectable amount.
The defense, meanwhile, is starting to sound like an 80s action movie where an improbable foe has forced a combination of the best of the East and West.
James Wisniewski (MI), John Moore (IL), and of course Jack Johnson, fresh off his captaincy with Team USA and a man that quite a few expect to claim the "C" here in Columbus sooner or later. Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin represent the Rodina, while Marc Methot and David Savard represent the maple leaf.
Speaking of the prospects, there's starting to be an interesting amount of US born players in that system, too. Seth Ambroz, T.J. Tynan, Jake Hansen, Drew Olson, and Mike Reilly have all been major pickups from the last few draft classes, while Will Weber is another American expected to make a big impact in the near future.
Scott Howson has always been willing to go after players committing to the NCAA since arriving as the team's general manager, but you can't help but wonder if the shift to more and more US born players may have something to do with the presence of Craig Patrick. With his ties to USA Hockey and a strong appreciation for both the NCAA system and players from the US National Development program, could he be tapping American born players as another way to help provide an injection of identity to the club? For that matter, it also puts the pursuit of players like Chris Kreider, Brandon Dubinski, Tim Erixon, and Brian Boyle from the Rangers into a new light.
A lot of people have suggested that Scott Clemmensen could be part of a tandem for Columbus - do I need to mention he's from Iowa?
Of course, this may be nothing - humans are creatures of patterns, and we tend to create them even when they don't exist. Some of these players are likely being targeted simply because they would provide valuable skills and experience to the club. Some will be targeted because they help to balance a cap hit, or because they will fill a need the current roster lacks.
But on the other hand, we also just saw a postseason where two US born captains lead their teams to the Stanley Cup Final. US Men's hockey came within an OT of capturing gold in Vancouver, and back to back American Conn Smythe trophy winners. The US may never produce the sheer volume of hockey players that Canada has delivered to the NHL, but there's no question that we have been able to match them in quality.
A team in the heartland of America could do far worse than playing up their roots and bringing a talented core of American born players in as part of rebuidling the club, especially as they look for ways to engage the fanbase over this offseason. It might also be an interesting reason to tip the scales in favor of Alex Galchenyuk with the #2 pick.
Now if we could just hornswaggle LA out of Jonathan Quick...