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Vancouver Canucks Buck the Trend with Less Europeans



Vancouver Canucks, Elias Pettersson
Vancouver Canucks centre Elias Pettersson hails from Sundsvall, Sweden.

Don’t tell the Vancouver Canucks. The Swedes are the fastest growing European contingent in the National Hockey League while the Americans actually experienced the highest overall growth rate compared to last season. Based on opening night rosters, there were 22 countries represented by players in the NHL.

The top five were Canada with 310 (42.9% of NHL) players, the USA with 190 (26.3%), Sweden with 71 (9.8%), Finland next with 40, and then Russia with 37.

The US added 26 more players to opening night rosters compared to last season.

The next eight European countries were the Czech Republic at 26 players, Switzerland with ten, Slovakia at eight, Germany with six, Denmark 5, Latvia 4, France 3, and Austria 2.

The following countries had one player playing in the NHL: Bulgaria, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, United Kingdom, and of course Uzbekistan, which is actually in Asia. Keep in mind, the player, Arthur Kaliyev of the Los Angeles Kings, moved to New York City (Staten Island) when he was two-years-old, played his teenage hockey in Michigan, and then played in the Ontario Hockey League.

Obviously, Kazakhstan and a large hunk of Russia also sit geographically in Asia, but for hockey’s purposes, we’re including Eurasians as Europeans, as the dozen or so players born east of the Ural Mountains won’t spoil the idea.

In total, “Europe” represents 30.5% of the National Hockey League participants, a ratio that has generally been pretty consistent over the past decade.

The Vancouver Canucks follow the overall NHL trend pretty closely, skewing a bit towards North America. That’s based on 14 forwards, the guys that have been on the roster plus Brock Boeser, eight defencemen and two goalies. The Canucks have eleven Canadians (45.8%), seven Americans (29%), three Swedes (12.5%), one Finn, one Russian, and a Slovak.

Overall, the the current Vancouver Canucks team is exactly 25-percent European.

The most diverse NHL team was the Columbus Blue Jackets with a whopping ten countries represented: six Americans, 4 Canadians, 3 Swedes, 2 Finns, 2 Swiss, 2 Russians, and one each from Denmark, France, Czech, and Latvia.

The 32 NHL teams share the cost of transfer fees equally, sent to European hockey federations and then distributed as they see fit to the clubs that lose players. They also keep a portion of the sum, which varies from nation to nation. (This system raises many other questions regarding player development that Hockey Wanderlüst has addressed and will continue to discuss.) The NHL and the Swedish federation play a large part in determining fees, a job handled until about a decade ago by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). There is no NHL agreement with Russia, and until 2020, there also wasn’t one with the Swiss.

In a season like 2018-’19, after Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin was chosen first overall in the NHL Draft, the league spent close to $36-million in transfer fees.

There is no limit to the number of European players allowed into the NHL, unlike European leagues, which limit the number of imports.

That said, here’s some of the “foreign” influence in European hockey.

In the Russian KHL, three of the top ten scorers are Canadian and two are from Finland. There are 54 Finns playing in the league, the most of any foreign country, followed by 50 from Belarus, a former Soviet-bloc country. There are 47 Canadians. KHL teams are supposed to be limited to five imports.

In the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), you’ll find two Finns, two Canadians, an American and a player from the Czech Republic in the list of top-ten scorers.

Liiga (Finland) has two Czechs and two Americans in its top-10. The German-DEL has two Canadians and two Americans among its top five-scorers. One of them with a Latino heritage, in Austin Ortega. He is actually a mix of Mexican and Filipino descent.

This reminds us that Auston Matthews, the NHL’s leading goal scorer last season, is also of 1/2 Mexican descent. The hockey world grows, even from places where you’d have a hard time finding a rink.

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