NHL has record players in 21/22
by Andrew Podnieks|24 JUN 2022
Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche enters the stage.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Buoyed by a new franchise (Seattle) and an ever-healthier league as the season moved out of the pandemic to full arenas, the NHL had a grand total of 1,123 players this past season, shattering the one-year mark of 1,011 set in 2020/21. Canada led the way with 484 or 43.1 per cent of all players, but Europe had a total of 321 or 28.6 per cent. The U.S. had 318 or 28.3 per cent.

Europe’s 321 players is an all-time record. Only twice before has Europe contributed 300 or more. In 2003/04 they had exactly that number, and three years ago they had 305. And since 1995/96, Europe has more players than the United States 21 out of 26 years, showing a consistent and vital presence in the NHL year after year.

As has been the case for the last two decades, Sweden was once again the top European supplier of players. Some 106 played at least a game this past season (9.4 per cent), second-most ever after 113 in 2019/20. In second was Finland, with a record 63 NHLers. They had 60 last year and only a decade ago had 30, and this resurgence is mirrored in their extraordinary international play. The Finns are in their golden age right now, having won three of the last four major events (2019, 2022 World Championship, 2022 Olympics) and finishing second in the other (2021 Worlds). These two Nordic countries have a cumulative population of just 16 million but now supply the world’s top league with 15 per cent of its players. Incredible.

There were also 57 Russians in the league, its most since 2003/04 when there were 64. Czechia came in reasonably strong with 39 players, about average over the last decade but certainly well down from its high of 80 in 2002/03. And for the seventh straight year, the Swiss had more players than Slovakia (13-11) an impossible notion two decades ago when there were 58 Slovaks and just two Swiss. 

Ten other countries also had representation of a consistent nature over the last decade or more: Germany (eight), Denmark (seven), Latvia (five), Belarus and France (three each), Austria (two), and one each from Australia, Netherlands, Norway and Slovenia.

Of that 1,123 total, the NHL welcomed 157 new players to its register this past season, and Europe fared remarkably well, contributing some 62 of that tally (39.5 per cent). That number is second-most ever after the 65 European newcomers in the 2000/01 season. But to compare that season and this reveals some very pointed differences. Two decades ago, 18 of those 65 rookies came from Czechia and 13 from Slovakia, in all nearly half from those two hockey hotbeds. In 21/22, however, Czechia contributed a mere five and Slovakia only one. By comparison, in 2000/01, Sweden had only nine, but this year they had 21, the most ever for their country and second-most all-time for one European country in one season after Russia’s 22 in 1992/93 in the first post-Perestroika season.

That 39.5 per cent is another impressive figure. Only twice before in NHL history has it been greater. In that 2000/01 season, those 65 players represented 43.9 per cent, and in 2019/20, 56 of 116 rookies were European, a whopping 48.3 per cent. After Sweden’s historic 21 rookies comes Russia with 13, the same number as in 2019/20 and the most in nearly a quarter century. Finland was third with nine, the same as last year, and eight other countries contributed at least one player to the rookie pool – Germany (three, tied with 2010/11 and 2014/15 for most ever); Belarus, Denmark, Switzerland (all with two); Austria, France, Latvia, Slovakia (one).

In North America, Canada led the way with 60 rookies or 38.2 per cent of the total, and the United States had 35 or 22.2 per cent.