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Tom Thompson's Blog: US program improving, Czechs, Slovaks diminishing

Jakub Culek ws one of only few Czech players pick in the draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Jakub Culek ws one of only few Czech players pick in the draft. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – The gifts have all been unwrapped and most of the people involved in the 2010 Entry Draft can now have a nap prior to "Christmas dinner" this evening. The only people not relaxing right now will be the ones in charge of the respective scouting programs. They are already on their phones speaking to players who were not drafted and their agents. These players will be urged to sign tryout forms with the respective teams in order to attend NHL training camps.

It is far too early and far too simple to try and label "winners and losers" from this draft. The development of one top player can make the draft appear pretty good for a team in a few years. Other teams will trade some of their draft picks for immediate help. In that respect, the picks are converted into "assets" which are used to enhance the value of the team.

A more worthwhile short-term exercise is to examine the backgrounds from which the prospects are coming. There were 210 players selected in this draft and slightly more than half of them played in the Canadian League. More than three-quarters of the players selected were born in North America. The gap between Canadian- and American-born players continues to narrow, a credit to the development of the USA hockey program.

There were 52 European-born players selected in this draft. This is almost one-quarter of the total selections. More than one-half of the European-born players came from Scandinavia. The hockey programs in Sweden and Finland are obviously flourishing and the programs in Denmark and Norway are starting to produce prospects.

The Swiss and German programs do not produce a quantity of top prospects at this time, but every year now they have an early selection. This year it was Nino Niederreiter, selected fifth overall.

The Russian situation is complicated by the presence of the Kontinental League and the absence of a player transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation. Most teams are reluctant to invest a draft pick in a Russian player unless he is a top prospect who can step right into the NHL within two years.

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The situation in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is sad. Virtually no prospects are playing in their leagues and only a hand full play in the Canadian League. This is an area of concern for hockey.

Recent trends in North America continued. Virtually half of the USA under-18 team was selected. Fifteen Minnesota high school players were taken, compared to six from New England. The numbers from a decade earlier have been reversed. The United States League continues to improve. This year, 11 players were selected from the league, the same number as all the tier two leagues in Canada combined.

The annual draft continues to be an integral part of our hockey culture. Players and their families and friends come from all over the hockey world to enjoy the festivities together. Rabid fans journey to the draft city and loudly support their teams while decked out in jerseys. In many ways, the weekend of the draft has become "Christmas in June" for these people as well. Let us all continue to enjoy it.

THN Puck Panel: 2010 NHL Entry Draft roundup

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

Tom Thompson worked as head scout for the Minnesota Wild from 1999-2001 and was promoted to assistant GM in 2002, a post he held until 2010. He has also worked as a scout for the Calgary Flames, where he earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1989. He will be blogging for THN at the NHL Entry Draft.

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