A 2020 update of this breakdown can be found here.
About a year ago, TWC did a breakdown for every team in the NHL based on the acquisition method used to acquire each player on their roster. It was interesting to see how different teams chose to use one method over another, and how that could relate to the level of success they experienced. An updated roster breakdown by acquisition method is on its way (stay tuned in the coming weeks), but in the meantime, we dove into each team’s roster and broke them down based on the nationality of every player.
Hockey is globally known as “Canada’s game”, and while that might still be true today, there are several countries that have closed the gap in the past decade or so. Now, hockey is mostly dominated by the Big Six: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. There have been 24 winter Olympic games that have had men’s ice hockey, and these five nations have won 65 out of 72 total medals awarded, or 90%.
The game is growing though, and it’s clear that countries like Switzerland, Germany, and Slovakia are steadily climbing up the international ice hockey charts. At this year’s U20 World Junior Championship, Switzerland finished in fourth place, and their leading scorer, Phliipp Kurashev, ranked seventh in the whole tournament. Each year at the NHL draft there are more and more players selected from non-traditional hockey markets, and the game really is growing in more countries around the world.
That being said, we’re still not at a stage where we can say that any country is on a level playing field with Canada. In the NHL, 43% of active players are from Canada. The USA is a not-so-close second at 28%.
Teams included in the chart below, and all subsequent charts are as follows in order: Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Latvia, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Norway, Netherlands, Slovenia. Players included in the Russia category also include those the USSR, and the Czech Republic category includes players also from Czechslovakia. Countries that show 0% on the graph do have at least one player in the NHL, but the percentage rounds down to zero. Rosters include all players who have played a game for their respective NHL team this season. The NHL features players from 18 different nations.
Even from the graph above, it’s easy to see that the Big Six, or the nations of Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and Russia are the most represented countries in the NHL. When looking at each team in the NHL, the vast majority of every team’s roster comes from a country in the Big Six.
The average team has one player from outside Big Six countries, or just around 5% of their roster. Four teams lead the rest of the pack with three players from non Big Six countries: the Predators, Islanders, Senators, and Capitals. In fact, it’s more common for teams not to have any players from the Big Six than multiple players. Six teams fit into this category: the Bruins, Flames, Stars, Canadiens, Penguins, and Blues.
Broken down even further, most of the Big Six players hail from North America. Canada and the United States make up the majority of players in the NHL, but even within the Big Six, North Americans account for 74% of players.
Once again, most teams are composed primarily by North American players, though the separation between North America and the rest of the world is not nearly as large as it was for the Big Six. On average, each team has seven roster players from outside North America, or 30% of their roster. The Capitals have the most non North Americans on their roster with 12, closely followed by the Stars with 11. The Jets have the lowest non North American representation with just four players.
Looking at the rosters of each team in the NHL shows an interesting rainbow of nationalities spread throughout the league.
Out of North American players, the Blues lead the league with 17 Canadians and the Devils lead with 14 Americans. The Ducks and Red Wings have the most Swedish players with five each, the Stars and Canadiens have the most Fins with four each, the Buins lead with four Czechs, and the Capitals have the most Russians with four. The Capitals are also the league’s most diverse team, featuring players from 12 different countries including Denmark, Switzerland, and the league’s only Australian. The Capitals and Senators have players from the most number of nations outside the Big Six with three, the Senators having players from Denmark, Slovakia, and Latvia.
The Oilers, Wild, Canadiens, and Predators each have just five different countries represented on their rosters, the lowest count in the league.
Hockey might still be dominated by the Big Six, but the winds of change are blowing. Several new nations are joining the fold and becoming fixtures in the hockey landscape. Their surge up the international charts, and the draft board, signals a new era of ice hockey, where victory for the Canadians is no longer guaranteed. Here’s hoping for NHL participation in a best-on-best tournament soon.
Correction: The Washington Capitals have the lone Australian player in the league, not Austrian. Thanks to Redditor /u/miner88 for pointing out the error.