ZURICH – Before tonight’s start of the NHL season many teams found new talent overseas – more than ever as 82 European players either signed with NHL teams or transferred to the system of an NHL franchise – up from 60 last season.
However, as every season not all of these prospects actually make the NHL team and it has become more common to sign players and loan them to a professional team in Europe – one possible reason for the increase. 20 players have been loaned to senior teams in Europe while the others either made the NHL team or will battle for NHL spotlight with their minor-league affiliates.
Another reason for the increased demand of players for the NHL is the league’s expansion to 31 teams with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights with six European players on the opening-day roster and several more in the system.
For the 11th consecutive year Sweden is leading the way with NHL talent from Europe with a record number of 30 players involved. After a period of decreasing numbers in transfers to the NHL, the Russians and the Czechs are back to claim the next two spots with 18 and 13 players respectively. Finland dropped from second to fourth spot with 11 players. Other countries include Latvia (3), Switzerland (3), Germany (2), Belarus (1) and Slovakia (1).
A noticeable effect is that while the numbers were generally increasing this year, this increase was created through six countries with higher numbers and only eight countries had players signing with or transferring to an NHL franchise. Countries that had at least one new player during the last two years but not this season include Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Lithuania and Norway.
Of the 82 European players involved 64 came directly from European clubs – also a new record. 12 European players came to their NHL team via at least one season at a North American junior team from four leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL in Canada; USHL in the United States), five from U.S.-based college teams and one from a minor league (ECHL). 25 players played for Swedish clubs last season followed by 21 players from Russian club teams. Click here for the list of players.