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American hockey players are filling the void made as NHL teams shy away from drafting Europeans

Aug 12, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT

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evgenykuz.jpgWe’ve discussed the fact that some think NHL defector Alex Radulov created “The Russian Factor” when he left the Nashville Predators for the KHL, but it seems the real “Russian Factor” is a lot simpler: it’s the lack of a stable transfer agreement between the NHL and most international leagues.

That’s the subject of a great number crunching post today by Habs Watch: the writer broke down how NHL teams have shied away dramatically from drafting European players since 2005, and what kind of players are often filling the gap.

Let me spotlight some of the article’s most interesting findings, although I highly recommend that you read the full piece.

The author found that Sweden is the only European country to see an increase in draft picks when you compare the 2000-04 drafts with the 2005-10 drafts, with a 21 percent increase. Other countries saw a dramatic decrease (Finland is down 45 percent while Slovakia saw a 70 percent and the Czech Republic dipped 65), but this paragraph about Russia’s lack of NHL exports is especially stunning:

NHL teams drafted 39 players from Russia in 2000 but just 4 in 2010, a decline of 90% within a decade. That decline accelerated when Russia backed out of the transfer agreement in 2005 and it appears it’s only a matter of time now before we see an NHL draft where no players are selected from the Russian leagues. The last time that happened was 1981, when Russia was mired in Afghanistan and Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

It’s almost as if there’s an Ice Cold War going on.

After the jump, I’ll discuss where the new picks are coming from … it might make some of you want to wave a flag or two.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bennettandetem.jpgAmerica is filling the void

Although the author points out that the number of players drafted from the NCAA dropped dramatically, he points to a whole other shift: most draftees are now entering college after already being drafted.

The most important thing to understand is the number of players being drafted in the US before they even reach college has gone supernova, doubling almost overnight in 2005, the very first draft after the lockout. The days of US kids going to the NCAA, being drafted as a college player and turning pro with a degree are long gone and have been for some time.

Regarding the primary focus of this article, players who’ve just been drafted, all the charts I’ve provided show there’s no exodus of players to either the US or Canada. Any increases appear to be matched coming the other way and one fact can’t be ignored:

United States minor league programs now produce more NHL draft picks than any single Canadian league.

It appears that high schools and the US National Team Development Program have seen the biggest jumps since the lockout. According to the article, the number of picks coming from high school tripled since the lockout while USHL produced 25 percent more.

More from Canada, too

Here is a quick snippet about some of the Canadian leagues that are seeing growth (read the article to get more in-depth numbers about each league).

Within Canada, the OHL grew by 15% while the WHL appeared to be stable or on the verge of stagnation. The QMJHL also saw a 15% increase which actually hides the fact most of that improvement came from import players from the rest of Canada and Europe. The number of Quebec-born draft picks has actually stagnated while the quality of those picks in the NHL has diminished over the years.

What this means

On the bright side, this means that more American hockey players will have a chance to hit the big leagues. It also is a boon for North American hockey in general.

The bad news is that the league and its fans will miss out more and more on talent from European countries, especially Russia. One of the best things about the NHL is that it is truly a worldly league; most successful teams blend the skill and shiftiness often associated with European players with the rugged, tough-in-the-corners style often thought to be North American traits. If this trend continues, the league itself suffers.

Hopefully, someday – maybe the next CBA in 2012 – the NHL will stop the bleeding on imports and open that pipeline of talent once again.

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