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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

20231201, Coach Jackson's 400th win, Compton Family Ice Arena, Hockey, Meghan Lange, University of Michigan-63.JPG

McGuinness: Checking on Irish in the NHL

Notre Dame’s ability to produce professional athletes is usually talked about in a football context. However, that is hardly the only sport where Irish athletes go on to compete in the highest level. From the MLS to European Soccer to MLB to the WNBA, there are several leagues littered with Notre Dame alums.

The National Hockey League is one of them. Jeff Jackson has developed some outstanding talents during his 20 years behind the Irish bench. A few have been good enough to play in the best hockey league in the world. Here’s a check-in on the 11 Irish alumni in the NHL.

Anders Lee

In his sixth season as captain of the New York Islanders, Anders Lee is the most high-profile Notre Dame alum playing professional hockey. The career Islander is unfortunately having a bit of a down season, scoring at the worst pace over a full season in his career. However, his underlying numbers are still strong — Lee is first among Islanders forwards in expected goals percentage. At 33 years old, Lee remains an impactful player and perhaps he can re-discover his scoring touch under new head coach Patrick Roy.

Kyle Palmieri

The Islanders are the only NHL team with a pair of Domers, a distinction they’ve held since acquiring Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils in 2021. After dealing with injuries last season, Palmieri is putting together one of the most productive seasons of his 14-year career. Palmieri is on pace to crack the 40-point mark for the first time since 2019-20 and is fifth on the team in scoring.

Bryan Rust

One of two actively playing Notre Dame alums to have won the Stanley Cup, Bryan Rust is still going strong even though the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been their typical powerhouse the last two seasons. Rust missed about a month with an upper-body injury but returned Jan. 2. Rust is fourth on the Penguins in points per game, living up to the 6-year, $30.75 million extension he signed in 2022.

Ian Cole

Rust’s former Cup-winning teammate in Pittsburgh, Ian Cole is on his eighth NHL team and fifth in the last four years. Cole is part of a surging Vancouver Canucks team that is currently first in the entire league. In particular, he’s a key cog in improving the team’s penalty kill, which is 14th after being among the league’s worst over the previous two seasons. The 34-year-old is the oldest active NHLer who played for the Irish, but he’s still an effective defensive defenseman.

Andrew Peeke

Andrew Peeke has seen his role decrease a bit after the Columbus Blue Jackets added two veteran, top-four defensemen in the offseason. After missing just two games last season, Peeke has played in only 17 of 46 contests this season, often as a healthy scratch. Peeke is in the first season of a 3-year, $8.25 million cap hit. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him moved to a contender at the trade deadline looking for a right-handed defensemen with his skating ability.

Jake Evans

Evans is in another season as a solid fourth-line center for the Montreal Canadiens. He blocks shots, wins face-offs at a high rate and chips in about 20 points over 82 games. The 27-year-old will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time at the end of next season.

Dennis Gilbert

After going back and forth between the NHL and the AHL the last four seasons, Gilbert has established himself as a full-time NHLer. He’s already played in a career-high 30 games in his second season with the Calgary Flames. He did suffer a scary-looking head injury early in January, but thankfully returned to the ice Jan. 20. He could be in for a raise this offseason as a free agent.

Vinnie Hinostroza

Vinnie Hinostroza is the tricky “tweener” role where he’s capable of scoring at a high-level in the AHL but hasn’t been able to carve out a full-time NHL role. He’s split this season almost exactly 50/50 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and their AHL affiliate. We’re talking about a player who scored 39 points in 76 games a few seasons ago for the Arizona Coyotes and is fairly young at 29 years old. Hinostroza just hasn’t been able to find the sweet spot for his production the last two seasons.

Spencer Stastney

After making his NHL debut last season, Spencer Stastney is the Nashville Predators’ go-to call-up option whenever they need an extra defenseman. He’s already played more NHL games than he did last season and scored more points in the minors than a year ago in half of the games. Stastney had a moment he’ll never forget on Nov. 24, burying his first NHL goal against the division rival St. Louis Blues. Two of Nashville’s blue-liners will be unrestricted free agents this summer, so if Stastney impresses he could earn the inside track to a regular role next season.

Cal Petersen

Once thought to be the goaltender of the future for Los Angeles Kings, Cal Petersen found a new home this summer when he was included in a blockbuster three-team trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Flyers. Petersen has spent most of the year in the AHL, putting him up an unspectacular .890 save percentage in 15 games. He has already played in two games for the Flyers, winning one against the Kings, and he’s likely about to play in some more. With Carter Hart on an indefinite leave of absence, Petersen has been recalled and will serve as the backup to 24-year-old Samuel Ersson. Perhaps regular playing time can help Petersen rediscover the promising form he showed in his first three NHL campaigns.

Cal Burke

Cal Burke is enjoying another solid season in the AHL, registering 13 points in 24 games. In fact, he played well enough to earn a brief one-game call-up to the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 21.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of The Observer.