ZURICH – The number of Europeans in the NHL in 2010-11 continued the steady decline and is now the lowest in eleven years. The only country which goes against the trend is Sweden. There were a whopping 63 Swedes in the NHL this season, the highest number ever for the blue and yellow.
In all, there were 978 players who played at least one game in the National Hockey League during the 2010-2011 regular season. Of that number, 223 were Europeans, a 22.8 percentage share.
As well, there were only 36 of 139 players in the league this year from Europe who played their first NHL games (25.9 per cent). Most disturbing is that some of hockey’s traditional centres were so poorly represented. For instance, of the 139 first-game players only two were from the Czech Republic and Finland, and only one from Slovakia. There were just six Russians, and again Sweden led the way with 16 newcomers to the NHL, almost triple second place Russia.
The numbers confirm the continuous decline of NHL Europeans, a trend which has been evident since the 2004-2005 lockout season. The season prior to the lockout saw a record 300 Europeans (almost 30 percent of all NHLers) play in the league.
The numbers since then have been steadily decreasing: 263-259-242-242-228 to 224 this season. There are three primary reasons behind the decline:
- The dramatic drop of players with NHL potential in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
- The reluctance of NHL teams to draft players from Russia.
- The Russian KHL, where many Russians, Czechs, and Slovaks opt to play.
The number of Czechs and Slovaks in the NHL has virtually been cut in half in less than a decade. The Czech Republic had an amazing 80 players in the league in 2002-2003 compared to the 42 this past season. The Slovak peak was 2003-2004 (35 players) while only 15 players from the 2011 World Championship hosting nation could call themselves NHL players this year.
Russians and Finns have also shown dramatic drops. There were 33 Russians in the NHL this season, compared to 71 just ten years ago. Finland’s total of 30 NHL players is also the lowest in ten years.
The only European country that seems to have an abundance of players of NHL calibre is Sweden. The Swedish contingent has grown every year since the 2004-2005 lockout: 47-50-53-54-54 to the current 63. This is a remarkable number and shows surprising growth for a country of nine million people.
Another Scandinavian country that shows a significant, albeit minor, increase is Denmark which had no players in the NHL five years ago, but six of them last season (although no first-year players). Among the nations below the traditional Europeans top-five, Germany listed nine players (three rookies) while Switzerland (two first-year players) tied Denmark with six. The top-five countries account for nearly 82 percent of all Europeans in the NHL.
Europeans in the NHL
Czech Republic 42
First Year Players
Czech Republic 2
ANDREW PODNIEKS/SZYMON SZEMBERG