European National Hockey League (NHL) players have been a large part of the international development of the NHL over the last decades. Finland, Russia and Sweden have produced numerous talents over the years, but hockey has started to grow in smaller countries with their success at the world stage.
According to QuantHockey, there were 303 European out of 970 total players last season in the NHL. This number has been on the rise in the past few years, as there were only 12 players during the 2008-2009 campaign.
Let’s take a look at the growing popularity of hockey in European countries.
Six Slovakian players were selected at the 2022 NHL Draft, three of them in the first round – including first overall pick Juraj Slafkovský, and second overall pick Simon Nemec.
With the 26th overall selection and after taking Slafkovský with the first pick, the Montreal Canadiens opt for another fellow Slovakian in Filip Mešár.
We had to wait until the end of the second round to see Adam Sýkora being the choice of the New York Rangers with the 63rd pick. Two other Slovakian-born were selected in the late rounds, Servác Petrovský by the Minnesota Wild, and Adam Zlnka with the Arizona Coyotes.
This draft class was historic for the country of Slovakia with his success in the first round.It was also the country’s best result in an NHL draft in 17 years.
The 2022 class was the first draft where more than six Slovakian players were selected, the last time was in 2005. In comparison, in 2019 and 2021, only two players from Slovakia were drafted, both between the 85-130th range.
In 2020 there were two, which means that in a single draft they were able to surpass the total of three. What’s greater is that they did even better in this year’s draft, as eight players were picked, five of them in the first and second round.
With Slovakia’s bronze medal win at the 2022 Olympics games, it can only be a positive sign for the growth of hockey in the country - and the recent youth movements definitely helps generate interest.
The biggest challenge is now to keep the same track, as talent often comes in waves.
Germany had a really good draft in 2020, with Tim Stützle and the promising JJ Peterka. Since then, no players have been selected in the first two rounds. Despite those stats, the country still manage to made a good impression at the world’s stage.
They won the silver medal at the latest World Ice Hockey Championships – all this without their best players in Leon Draisaitl and 21-year-old Stützle, while Latvia captured the bronze with a win over the United States. Talking about historic wins, this one was a particular one as it was Latvia first ever medal at the hockey world’s.
The cost of Ice Hockey being so high doesn’t help to see more people practicing the game but, despite that it was the most popular indoor sport in 2018 in the United Kingdom. Their efforts of growing the game have paid off, as they gained a promotion to the top division at the latest World Championships.
The success of other Scandinavian countries have inspired Italy, who also gained a promotion to the top division at the WC.
And a couple weeks ago, Damian Clara became the first ever Italian-born goaltender to be selected in an NHL Draft. The 18-year-old goalie spent the last season in Sweden, but has represented his country in many international events.
The Anaheim Ducks took him with the 60th overall pick, making Clara the first player from Italy to be selected in seven years.
With more of Europe’s most populated countries performing at the world stage, it is safe to say that the popularity of Ice Hockey is only going to rise, which is good for the representation and the future of the game.