Professional hockey players come from all over the world. About 43.1 percent of players on NHL opening night rosters for the 2020-21 season were Canadian. Another 27 percent hail from the United States of America. The rest are made up of players from Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark, and Germany. In the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, a player from Great Britain was drafted into the league. The KHL currently is home to several Chinese ice hockey players. And there is one active Norwegian player in the league.
The consensus for the past hundred years was that ice hockey is a Canadian sport. While that might have been true just 30 something years ago, it is a multinational, multicultural sport in 2021.
Canadian native Wayne Gretzky is the greatest to ever play the game, according to many sports writers. In 1,487 games played, the star center tallied 894 goals and 1,963 assists, for a point total of 2,857 points. No one has come close to breaking records he set in the 90s.
American right winger Patrick Kane was the 1st overall pick in 2007. In his time in the league, Kane is a Calder Memorial Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe trophy winner, an Art Ross trophy winner, a Hart Memorial Trophy winner, a Ted Lindsay award winner, and a three-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Chicago Blackhawks. He sits at 992 games, 397 goals, 651 assists, and 1,048 points.
Russian Alexander Ovechkin has put up 1,293 points in a still unfinished career. One of the purest goal scorers to ever enter the NHL, Washington Capital Ovechkin is a nine-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner, a three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe, and Art Ross trophy winner, and a Stanley Cup Champion.
Representing Sweden, Nicklas Lidström is one of the greats. In 1,564 games played, the Swedish star totaled 1,142 points. A seven-time Norris Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe trophy winner, a four-time Stanley Cup Champion, and a Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee, Lidström was one of the best defensemen in history.
Czech David Pastrnák, Finn Patrik Laine, Slovak Zdeno Chára, German Leon Draisaitl all represent different countries and the talent that can come out of them. But what country truly produces the best hockey players? Do we measure hockey talent by the name recognition, the trophies received, the points tallied, draft number, or something else entirely? And can the best hockey players be measured through NHL play alone? The quantifying of the best hockey players must be a combination of all of this.
Clearly, the country that produces the most hockey players is Canada. Since the first organized game was played in Montreal in 1875, the Great White North has pumped out generations of talent. Mario Lemieux, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Bobby Orr, Steve Yzerman, Ray Borque, Gordie Howe, the list of Canadian greats is long.
As for international play, Canada also holds the title for that. 27 IIHF World Championship gold medals, six Canada Cup wins, and nine Olympic gold medals, and with 18 World Junior Championship titles, Canada has also proven its development of young talent is top tier. Not to mention the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team has won four out of six Olympic gold medals for the country.
The only nation that comes close to both the amount and quality of NHL and international play, is the United States of America. They come second in almost every category used to measure the country that produces the best players. The second highest number of players in the league, the second 1st overall picks, and stellar international play, the United States of America has evolved into a powerhouse of hockey, in a relatively short amount of time. Auston Matthews, John Carlson, Neal Broten, Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Pat Lafontaine, the American list of greats is long, as well. It just doesn’t compare to Canada’s, for now. The growing support for the sport in the States, as well as the continued development of young players, will be the key to outdistancing Canada in talent.
While ice hockey may no longer be just a Canadian sport, it will be a long time until the best players come from anywhere else. Out of 55 first overall picks, 40 of them have been Canadian. 64 of the 90 players to reach 1,000 points in the NHL are Canadian. More NHL trophies have been received by Canadians than by players from any other country. Despite, the country’s 26-year cup drought, the statistics speak for themselves. Canada produces the best players. The world will have to watch and see if that will change in the coming years.