Breaking down each NHL team’s roster by nationality: 2022–23 season

The sport of hockey is always growing worldwide. A concerted effort by hockey leagues around the globe has led to the rapid development of minor hockey programs in traditional and non-traditional hockey countries, and each year the game becomes more diverse and includes representation from more and more countries. On any given team in the NHL, you will find players from many different countries. Beyond the NHL, tournaments and leagues in many countries allow new players to try their hand at the sport.

This past September, for example, several Latin American nations faced off in the 2023 Amerigol Latam Cup. Puerto Rico was crowned this year’s Division One champion, winning a playoff tournament against Argentina. In Division Two, Egypt beat Puerto Rico, Chile, a Central America combined team, and Israel. They also had a women’s division won by Mexico, beating Columbia, Chile, and Puerto Rico.

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, 2021–22, and 2022 trade deadline here).

In 2022–23, 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 start of the season, we broke down each NHL team’s roster by nationality once again.

Hockey around 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, Timo Meier, Mats Zuccarello, and many others, 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. This past draft, Juraj Slafkovsky became the first Slovakian to be selected first overall in the NHL draft. Over the past 11 years, first overall picks have come from six different countries, something that just hasn’t been very common in the NHL’s history.

Juraj Slafkovsky, the first Slovakian to be drafted first overall in the NHL, signs his entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens
Credit: Montreal Canadiens Twitter

NHL nationality breakdown

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, 41% of players are from Canada, a slight decrease of 2% from last year. The USA is a not-so-close second at 29%, though up 2% 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 two more countries: Bulgaria, Great Britain, and Uzbekistan. The NHL features players of 20 different nationalities, and 18 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 0.3 players players from outside Big Six countries or just around 1.3% of a standard 23-man roster. This is significantly lower than the start of last season where the average was 1.3 players and 5%. The Minnesota Wild lead the league with two players from non-Big Six countries, Marco Rossi from Austria and Mats Zuccarello from Norway. Nine other teams are behind them with one player from outside the Big Six. At the beginning of last 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 75% of players. This is up 1% from 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 7.3 players from outside North America, or 32% of their roster. The Detroit Red Wings have the most non-North Americans on their roster with 13, closely followed by the New Jersey Devils with 12. The Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and Toronto Maple Leafs are the other teams in double digits for non-North American players.

The Vegas Golden Knights have the lowest non-North American representation with just one player, Sweden’s William Karlsson. The Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens follow closely with just three 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.

Team nationality leaders

The teams that have the most players hailing from each country are as follows:

Canada17MTL, VGK
United States of America13CHI
Russia4NYI, STL, TBL
Denmark1CAR, SEA, WSH, WPG
Latvia1BUF, CBJ, FLA
Belarus1NJD, WSH, WSH

For North American players, the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights lead the league with 17 Canadians, and the Chicago Blackhawks lead with 13 Americans. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the most Swedish players with seven; the Dallas Stars have the most Finns with five; the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues, and Tampa Bay Lightning have the most Russians with four; and the Boston Bruins have the most Czechs with six.

The New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks are this season’s most diverse team, featuring players from eight different countries. Conversely, the Golden Knights are the least diverse with just three countries represented on their roster.

This season, of the 18 countries represented, six have just a single player in the league. These countries are Australia (Nathan Walker), Austria (Rossi), Slovenia (Anze Kopitar), Netherlands (Daniel Sprong), France (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare), and Norway (Mats Zuccarello). Belarus moves out of this list, now with two players in the league: the Washington Capitals’ Aliaksei Protas and Devils’ Yegor Sharangovich.

In terms of birth country though, Bulgaria (Alexandar Georgiev), Great Britain (Nathan Walker), and Uzbekistan (Arthur Kaliyev) join the list.

The global sport of hockey

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. The World Cup of Hockey is slated to take place in 2025, and it will be a tightly contested tournament. Hockey is for everyone, and slowly but surely we’re seeing that translate worldwide.

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