More Europeans than ever in the NHL
by Andrew Podnieks|01 DEC 2020
Sweden has been Europe’s top talent contributor to the NHL. Pictured are Anton Stralman, Victor Hedman and Joakim Nordstrom.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The fractured and lengthy two-part NHL season of 2019/2020 was a record-setting one for European participation in the NHL. A season that began on 2 October 2019, stopped on 11 March 2020 because of Covid-19, and resumed with a new playoff format on 1 August, finally ended with the presentation of the Stanley Cup, to the Tampa Bay Lightning, on 28 September 2020, four days shy of one full year.

In that time, some 976 players skated in at least one game, and a record 305 were European-born and trained. The previous record of 300 was set in 2003/2004 when there were 1,028 players. As a result, this past season saw a record 31.3 per cent of NHLers coming from Europe, another significant milestone. 

In 2001/2002, 29.87 per cent of players were European, and a year later 29.27 and then 29.18. This was as close as Europe ever got to the magic 30 per cent threshold – until this year.

By comparison, there were 253 U.S.-born players in the NHL or 25.9 per cent in 2019/2020, which means that in just one year Europe has become the second biggest provider of NHL talent after Canada. (In 2018/2019, there were 286 Americans compared to 278 Europeans.)

As might be expected, Sweden led the way in 2019/2020, but it did so by sending 113 players to North America. Not only is this a record for one European country, a country, by the way, of just 10 million people, but that means that 11.6 per cent of all NHL players were Swedish, an incredible milestone in European hockey history.

Indeed, Sweden has long been the most important European country to the NHL. From Ulf Sterner, the first European in the NHL in 1965, to Borje Salming, the first NHL-career Hall of Famer from Europe, to Lars-Erik Sjoberg, the first European captain of an NHL team (Winnipeg) in 1979/80, to Anders Kallur and Stefan Persson, the first Europeans to win the Stanley Cup (with the Islanders, in 79-80), it has always been Sweden that has led the way when it comes to firsts. And now this country alone accounts for more than one in ten NHL players!

But the records don’t stop there. There were 50 Finns in the league in 2019/2020, the most ever from that country as well (as were the 49 the previous year). Coming from a population of less than six million, Finland is also producing more NHLers than its population might suggest. 

There were also 50 Russians, not an all-time record for that country but the most since 2005/2006 when there were 51. There were also 34 Czechs and 12 Slovaks.

The once more powerful Slovaks have been overtaken by Switzerland, which tied its all-time record by sending 15 players to the NHL in 2019/2020. That matched a total reached only in 2016/17 and 17/18.

Among the smaller nations, the nine players from Denmark also matched its record from 2016/17, and nine Germans was one off its greatest total of ten from 2014/15. 

Smaller contributions came from Latvia (five), France (three), Austria (two), Norway and Slovenia (one each). Outside of North America and Europe, one player came from Australia.