A 2021 update of this breakdown can be found here.
About a year ago, TWC did a breakdown for every team in the NHL based on nationality. A lot has changed in the league since then, so we decided to update that post for the 2019-20 season, based on rosters heading into the holiday roster freeze.
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 last 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. For four consecutive years, the first overall pick in the NHL Draft has been a player that was not from Canada. Two of those picks were Europeans, something that just didn’t used to happen very often. The game is growing, and it’s great.
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 27%.
Teams included in the chart below, and all subsequent charts are as follows in order: Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, France, Austria, Latvia, Slovenia, Great Britain, Ukraine, Norway, and Australia. 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, up to the holiday roster freeze. 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 three players from outside Big Six countries, or just around 13% of their roster. This is up threefold from the same time last year, when each team averaged just one player from outside the Big Six. The Washington Capitals lead the league with nine players from non Big Six countries. This time last year, it was actually more common for teams not to have any players from the Big Six than multiple players. It’s a completely different story this season, where only five teams do not have multiple players from outside the Big Six. Six teams have at least five non-Big Six players on their roster.
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 (70%), but even within the Big Six, North Americans account for 75% of players. This is in line with last year’s ratio.
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 eight roster players from outside North America, or 35% of their roster. This is up from last year when the average was seven players per team. The Sharks have the most non North Americans on their roster with 13, closely followed by the Capitals and Blue Jackets with 12. The New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights have the lowest non North American representation with just three players each.
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 Islanders lead the league with 16 Canadians and the Boston Bruins lead with 15 Americans. The Blue Jackets have the most Swedish players with six; the Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, and Jets, have the most Fins with four each; the Sharks and Capitals lead with three Czechs; and the Senators have the most Russians with four. The Blue Jackets and Sharks are also the league’s most diverse teams, featuring players from nine different countries. Conversely, the Islanders have the fewest number of countries represented with just four. The Capitals have players from the most number of nations outside the Big Six with nine.
This season, of the 18 countries represented, five have just a single player in the league. These countries are Slovenia, Great Britain, Ukraine, Norway, and Australia. Tied for the ninth most represented countries are Germany and Denmark, both with seven players in the league. No team has multiple players from either country, and the Edmonton Oilers are the only team that has one from each.
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.