Finns in the NHL in record numbers
by Andrew Podnieks|21 JUL 2021
Finnish forward Miro Heiskanen recently signed a eight-year, $67.6 million contract extension with the Dallas Stars after the expiration of his entry-level contract.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 2020/21 NHL season saw 1,011 players appear in at least one game, the second-highest number ever behind only 2003/04 when 1,028 skated in the league. Of last year’s 1,011, the North Americans were the dominant nations, of course, Canada leading the way with 433 (42.8%) and the U.S. with 282 (27.9%). 

Europe contributed impressively, some 296 players in the NHL coming from across the ocean (29.3%). That total is down slightly from last year’s all-time record of 305, but the 296 figure is third-highest all-time behind only last year and 2003/04 when there were 300. That percentage of 29.3 is also third highest, after last year (31.3%) and 2001/02 (29.9%). 

Most impressive among the European representation is Finland. They had 60 players in the league this past season, an all-time record by a long shot. In 2019/20 they had a record 50, and now they have improved on that by another 20 per cent. That nearly 6 per cent of all NHL players in 2020/21 come from a country of just 5.5 million people is incredible. 

Russia also had an improved presence with 52 players in the league, its highest number since 2003/04. It hasn’t yet caught up to its heyday back in the late 1990s when it reached a peak of 71 in 1999/2000, but it signals a return of a greater Russian presence in the NHL. 

Sweden is still the top contributor, for the 12th straight year. Last year they provided an all-time record of 113, and although they are down slightly to 98, it still means about one in ten NHL players and one-third of all Europeans in the NHL come from the land of Tre Kronor.

The Czechs rank fourth among European nations. They had 34 players, a little below their average of the last few years but well below their peak of 80 in 2002/03. 

Disappointingly, the Slovaks took another dip and had only ten players in the league, their lowest total since 1996/97. Impressively, the Swiss have 12 players, their 8th year running with double-digit representation. 

Germany had nine players, Denmark eight, and Latvia four. Rounding out the numbers were France (three), Belarus (two), and Australia, Austria, Norway, and Slovenia (one each).

The report from the rookies is equally impressive for Europe. There were a total of 121 players who made their first NHL appearance in 2020/21, and 39 were European (32.2%). Although that number is well down from last year’s record 47.5% when 56 of 118 were from Europe, it marks the fifth time in the last seven years that Europe has accounted for more than 30% of newcomers. 

More impressively, Russia led the way with 12, and Finland was second with nine, numbers made more significant by their aforementioned overall total. Sweden and the Czechs had five each, while Belarus, Germany, Slovakia, and Switzerland had two each. Canada led the way with 48 and the U.S. had 34. 

This marked the first time since 2002/03 that Russia had the most rookies among the European nations, and Sweden’s total of only five was its smallest since way back in 1994/95. It might seem marginal, but Belarus has never had two rookies in one year, so even that small number is still something to laud for the small, hockey-loving nation. And Slovakia’s two rookies equals its best contribution in eight years. 

All in all, Europe continues to be a major supplier of talent to the NHL, second only to Canada with about three of ten players coming from across the Atlantic. The expansion into Seattle this week will increase the numbers for 2021/22, and the first glimpse of what those numbers might look like will come at the NHL Entry Draft this coming weekend via video conference.