As the sport of hockey continues to grow worldwide, more and more countries are being represented on the national hockey stage. On any given team in the NHL, you are sure to find players from many different countries, and more and more from non-traditional hockey markets. This past weekend, for example, several Latin American nations including Puerto Rico, faced off in the 2022 Amerigol Latam Spring Classic.
For the past few years, The Win Column has done a breakdown for every team in the NHL based on nationality (see 2019, 2020, 2021, and the beginning of the 2021–22 season here).
In 2021–22, there are even more players from different countries, and a few new nationalities we haven’t seen in quite some time. Using the rosters for each team just after the 2022 NHL trade deadline, we broke down each NHL team’s roster by nationality once again.
Hockey arond the world
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, the 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 67 out of 75 total medals or ~90% of medals awarded.
The emergence of international superstars like Tim Stützle and even 2022 NHL draft eligible Marco Kasper (Austrian), the game of hockey is clearly growing overseas. It’s only a matter of time that we start to see countries like Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark rise up the international ice hockey charts and continually challenge for medals at international tournaments.
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. When Owen Power was selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 draft, it was the first time six years that Canadians were taken first overall in back-to-back drafts. Over the past 10 years, first overall picks have come from five different countries, something that just hasn’t been very common in the NHL’s history.
That being said, we’re still not at a point where we can say that any country is on a level playing field with Canada. In the NHL, 43% of players are from Canada, an uptick of 1% from last year. The USA is a not-so-close second at 27%, down 1% from last year.
Teams included in the chart below, and all subsequent charts breaking down nationality are as follows in order: Canada, United States, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark, Latvia, France, Belarus, Australia, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, and Slovenia. Additionally, there are players born in three more countries: Bulgaria, Great Britain, and Uzbekistan. The NHL features players of 18 different nationalities, and 21 birth countries this season.
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 still the most represented countries in the NHL. The drop off from the Czech Republic, the Big Six country with the fewest players in the NHL, to the next country is significant.
The average team has 0.4 players players from outside Big Six countries or just around 2% of their standard 23-man roster. This is significantly lower than the start of the season where the average was 1.3 players and 5%. The Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets lead the league with two players from non-Big Six countries, with 10 other teams behind them with one players. At the beginning of the season, the New Jersey Devils has six players from outside the Big Six.
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 74% of players. This is on par with last year.
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 7.8 players from outside North America, or 30% of their roster. The Blue Jackets have the most non-North Americans on their roster with 14, closely followed by the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals with 13. The Los Angeles Kings, Devils, and Toronto Maple Leafs are the other teams in double digits, all with 10 players from outside North America.
The Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, and Winnipeg Jets have the lowest non-North American representation with just three players each. The Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders follow closely with just two players not from North America.
Looking at the rosters of each team in the NHL shows an interesting rainbow of nationalities spread throughout the league.
By birth country, a few more countries are added to the chart.
The teams that have the most players hailing from each country are as follows:
|United States of America||12||ANA, BOS, BUF|
|Czechia||3||ANA, ARI, BOS, DET, TOR|
|Denmark||1||CAR, CBJ, VGK, WSH, WPG|
|Latvia||1||BUF, CBJ, PIT, SJS|
|France||1||ARI, CGJ, TBL|
For North American players, the Golden Knights lead the league with 20 Canadians and the Coyotes, Bruins, and Sabres lead with 12 Americans. The Kings have the most Swedish players with seven; the Stars Panthers have the most Finns with five; the Capitals and Blues have the most Russians with four; and the Ducks, Coyotes, Bruins, Red Wings, and Maple Leafs have the most Czechs with three.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are this season’s most diverse team, featuring players from 10 different countries. Conversely, there are 12 teams tied for the least diverse with five countries represented on their roster.
This season, of the 17 countries represented, five have just a single player in the league. These countries are Australia (Nathan Walker), Austria (Michael Raffl), Slovenia (Anze Kopitar), Netherlands (Daniel Sprong), and Norway (Mats Zuccarello).
In terms of birth country though, Bulgaria (Alexandar Georgiev), Great Britain (Nathan Walker), and Uzbekistan (Arthur Kaliyev) join the list.
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. We didn’t get to see a men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament this year, but hopefully the new World Cup of Hockey, that is said to feature only national teams unlike the last edition that had Team North American and Team Europe, will be the best-on-best tournament we’ve all been waiting for.
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