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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

10 Former Irish Players Make NHL Opening Night Rosters

Notre Dame’s influence goes well beyond the collegiate ranks in many sports, and ice hockey is no exception. NHL teams officially submitted their opening night rosters on Monday, with ten former Notre Dame players making the cut. From forwards to defensemen to goaltenders, across the Eastern and Western Conferences, and even including the NHL’s newest club, Notre Dame’s impact will be felt throughout the NHL landscape during the 2021-22 season.

No team has more Irish influence present than the New York Islanders, whose 28 playoff wins over the last three years are second-most in the entire league, behind only the 2020 and 2021 champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Anders Lee, a well-rounded left winger who will throw the body and is also an integral part of New York’s first line has been the team’s captain for that entire window .He's scored at least 20 goals in each of the last four full seasons (not counting last year's shortened campaign), surpassing 30 twice and even touching 40 back in 2017-18.

When Lee went down with a torn ACL in March, the Islanders attempted to fill the void with another ND product in Kyle Palmieri. His seven goals in last year’s playoffs were tied with Brock Nelson for the most on the Islanders and included an OT winner in Game 1 of New York’s first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Palmieri was scheduled to be a free agent last summer, but the Islanders made sure to bring him back with a 4-year, $20 million contract. Both should be key pieces on an Islanders team seeking to claim their fourth straight playoff trip in a deep Metropolitan Division.

Perhaps no Notre Dame product is more important to their team’s success than Los Angeles Kings starting goaltender Cal Petersen. Last year marked a passing of the torch from two-time Olympian and Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick to Petersen, who posted a solid .911 save percentage on an LA team that allowed the ninth most shots in the league. The 3-year, $15 million extension he received over the summer cements his status as the goalie of the future for a Kings team on the rise.

Also receiving an extension this summer was Montréal Canadiens center Jake Evans, who signed a 3-year, $5.1 million contract. Evans tallied 13 points in 47 games last year, his first as an NHL regular, though he was only able to play in 7 playoff contests in Montréal’s run to the final after he was injured on a controversial hit by Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. Evans delivered some memorable moments in Notre Dame’s run to the 2018 NCAA championship game, so he’s undoubtedly hoping to have a healthy playoff run with the Canadiens sooner rather than later. After Montréal lost shutdown centers Philip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi over the offseason, Evans will be a key part of the solution for the Habs down the middle moving forward.

The same goes for Columbus’ Andrew Peeke, who has played 33 games for the Blue Jackets over the last two seasons. Columbus’ best right-handed defenseman Seth Jones was traded to Chicago in July, and while Peeke won’t be asked to fill his large shoes just yet, the 23-year old figures to be a lineup regular for Columbus under their new head coach Brad Larsen.

Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust will also be counted on early in the season with star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out to start the year. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has taken his game to a whole different level over the past two seasons, picking up 98 points over 111 games. The right winger registered an empty-net goal in Pittsburgh’s 6-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Several Domers were on the move in the last few months as well. Anders Bjork was part of one of the biggest moves at April’s trade deadline, heading from Boston to Buffalo as part of the return for 2018 league MVP Taylor Hall. Bjork showed promise in his new surroundings, scoring six points in 15 contests last season to begin his Sabres career.

He may play with another former Irish talent and fellow winger in Vinnie Hinostroza, who signed a 1-year deal with the Sabres in the offseason. Hinostroza was limited to just 17 games last year with Florida, but tallied an impressive 12 points in that time and is just two years removed from scoring 39 points in 72 games with Arizona. Ian Cole, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Rust in Pittsburgh, inked a 1-year, $2 million deal in Carolina, who was one of the league’s top teams last regular season. Cole is a physical shutdown defender who split last season between Colorado and Minnesota.

Casual fans will probably be looking to see Riley Sheahan suit up for the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, who kicked off their season on Tuesday night with Sheahan centering their fourth line. Sheahan was once teammates with Rust and Cole in Pittsburgh. Sheahan is a defensively-minded center who will likely be a key part of Seattle’s penalty kill and is strong in the face-off circle. He tallied 13 points in 53 games and won just a shade under 51% of his draws for Buffalo last season.

From an expansion team to the Original Six, Notre Dame’s presence can be found up and down a lineup on any given night. With four of these players 26 or under and many more on the way, both in the AHL and on the current Irish team, which features eight NHL draft picks, that should be the case for many years to come.