Over the years, Canada has produced the largest number of quality players in Hockey. But what percentage of the NHL players are Canadian?
Even to date, Hockey is still considered Canada’s game. Nonetheless, many other countries are catching up and the NHL is becoming a combination of players from different races.
Back in the 70s, almost 100% of the NHL players were Canadian. However, these statistics have started dwindling as the game continues to increase in popularity.
What percentage of NHL players are Canadian?
In the 2019-20 season, 42.7% of the NHL players were born in Canadian. That amounts to a total number of 271 NHL players in that season.
From the above statistics, we could tell that Canadians are still the largest group of hockey players by nationality in the NHL. However, their number is decreasing at an incredible rate as other countries are beginning to catch up in numbers and talent.
Perhaps you may be thinking that the number of Canadian players is still encouraging. But if we take you down memory lane, you will get to understand how the numbers have changed so much.
Now, let’s analyse the number of Canadian players in the NHL over the last six decades, and see where they are today, and how they got here.
Percentage of Canadian Players in the NHL over the Decades:
The table below shows the percentage of Canadian born players in the NHL over the last six decades.
|Percentage of Canadian players
You are probably wondering why the NHL had such a high percentage of Canadians in the past and what might have caused its sudden decline in recent times.
The truth of the matter is that Ice Hockey was a game that was invented in Canada. By default, a game created in the Halifax and Montreal regions will definitely be loved by the people of that region.
Hence, it will automatically record many players venturing into the game from its place of origin. This is the reason why Canadians have dominated the NHL since it was founded in 1917.
Of course, Hockey gained relevance in Canada and began expanding to the Northeast USA and many other regions. However, most of the athletes in different American teams are still predominantly Canadian born players.
Even after so many decades, the NHL remained dominated by Canadian born players. In 1970, 96.1% of the NHL players had Canadian heritage. This makes sense because most of the development leagues which were the main route to the NHL were Canadian.
As the 1970s progressed, other countries began developing a higher level of players. This was proven in the following scenarios;
1. Rise of the Soviet Union Hockey Program:
In 1964, the Soviet Union won Gold Medal in the Olympics and world champions. Interestingly, they prove themselves as a formidable team with talented players after almost upsetting the founding fathers (Canada) in an 8 game matchup in 1972.
2. Borje Salming:
He became the first European and Swedish all-star to make an impact in the NHL, thereby paving a way for future generations. This showed the NHL that talent could be developed in other countries aside from Canada.
3. The Rise of USA hockey:
Remember the Miracle on the Ice that took place in 1980? It was only possible, thanks to the players who developed in the 70s to the point that they could beat the Russians in 1980. The game did inspire a new generation of American hockey players (like Modano, Roenick, and Tkachuk) who later became stars in the NHL.
The Period Of Consistent Decline in Canadian Players:
In the 1980s, the number of Canadian players in the NHL was clearly declining. By the end of the decade, only 75% of players were from Canada. Although their number was still a lot, it revealed a 25% fall from almost 100% in just two decades.
The Russians ultimately joined the league in the 1990s. Not only were there more non-Canadian players in the league, but the level of talent was extremely high.
One of the clearest examples of this was at the NHL draft entry, where the first overall picks were no longer limited to Canadians, but included players from all around the world.
Only one previous pick had been a non-Canadian before American Mike Modano was selected first overall in 1988. Following Modano’s first-round selection, only around half of the first-round picks have been Canadians.
The spread of hockey into the United States in the 1990s and 2000s, which was sparked by Wayne Gretzky’s entry in 1988, resulted in a massive increase in the number of players and their development.
The U.S. went from having 2.3% of NHL players in the 1970s to 28.6% of NHL players by 2019.
Why is the Percentage of Canadians in the NHL Lesser in the 2020s?
It is crucial to note that the calibre of players produced in Canada has not deteriorated. Also, the level of talented players that Canada produces is still superb.
Without a doubt, Canada still has the ability to produce really exceptional players. However, many other countries are also working so hard to catch up with them.
Countries, like the United States, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries, have greatly enhanced their development plans during the last three to four decades.
They studied the Canadian development system and utilized it as a model for developing their own. They have, however, grown so good at what they do that the Canadian system has begun to learn from them as well.
In addition, Canada is not a particularly large country in terms of population. It has a total population of 35 million people, which is the same as California.
The United States now has nearly the same number of youth hockey players as Canada. They simply have a far larger pool of possible participants.
Hence, the game cannot grow as quickly in Canada as it can in the United States, and when it does, more NHL players will naturally emerge.
With the correct development programs in European countries, there is a lot of potential for growth in the game. Therefore, a lot of kids can potentially make it to the NHL in North, Central, and Eastern Europe.
What are other Countries doing to catch up to Canada?
The plain fact is that other countries have substantially increased their number of hockey players as well as the quality of their development programs.
In terms of development, the USA has done a fantastic job. They kept producing young superstars who are second to none. Auston Matthews, who grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one example.
European leagues have also become development centres. Meanwhile, Finland is known for its outstanding goalkeepers, while Sweden is famed for their defensemen.
With players like Leon Draisaitl and Tim Stutzle, Germany is now producing high-end talent. These European and American countries have greatly boosted the number of development leagues for younger players, as well as established experienced coaches.
What will be the percentage of Canadian players in the future?
To be honest, we might continue to see a decline in the number of Canadian players in the NHL. As the game continues to attract many countries, the quest for gaining relevance will increase.
Hence, we will see these countries produce top-notch players at a fast pace. Again, it’s not that Canada isn’t working on producing quality players. But it’s simply because other countries are also producing high-quality players at a similar pace as Canada.
Of course, the U.S. will continue to pump out players, and their numbers will continue to grow. Even Europe still has a lot of room to grow more quality players.
Hence, we may likely be witnessing an era in which non-Canadian countries will compete to dominate the NHL.