Which nations are on the rise in the NHL? Is Canada's status as a great hockey power in jeopardy?
To answer these questions, we examined data from the NHL 1999 to present; specifically zeroing in on the first round to provide the best barometer of a nation's ability to produce high quality athletes for entry into the best hockey league in the world.
Here is what we found:
Recent history shows Canada as the development world power, always having the most players taken in the first round of the NHL draft of any nation since 1999. However the U.S.A. matched Canada's 1st round output in 2016 with 12 selections; the 2 nations accounting for 80% of the players selected in the first round that year.
Interactive Chart (Click Nat. for more details)
Since 1999, an average of just over 13 Canadians were selected in the first round. Six times in eight years (between 1999 and 2006), there were 12 or less Canadian players taken in round one. The strongest years were between 2007 and 2014, when 14 or more players were selected. Most recently, Canada has seen 3 consecutive years of below average numbers, 12 players in 2015 & 2016, and 11 players on 2017.
For U.S.-born players, the average number selected in the first round is just under 7; about 50% of the number for Canada. However, the best year in recent history for American hockey players was in 2016 when 12 players heard their names called in round one.
Sweden. Aside from a complete absence in 2010, Swedish players are on the rise in quality and quality.
Finish players are surging with 2 strong years back-to-back in 2016 (3) and 2017 (6).
Although there were a few Czech players chosen in the first round recently, the numbers are not a strong as they were in the early 2000s.
Next, let's look at quantity. By looking at the complete numbers in the draft, one can more easily see the general trends for each hockey nation.
For Canada, there is a clear trend downward. It looks like Don Cherry's "pluggers" on the 4th line are becoming extinct. But the good news is the quality is still steady for Canada (as indicated by the chart 1 above). It's interesting to note that overall hockey registration in Canada is down from a high period of over 700,000 in 2014/2015*. The registration number for US players is steadily increasing up to a hight of over 550,000 in 2017**.
The trending-up nations are Sweden (steady upward) and Finland (like a small volcanic eruption). The Czechs are rebounding, but have still well short of the levels in the early 2000s.
More draft analysis to come closer to the NHL draft in June.
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statistics source: hockey-reference.com