ZURICH – The number of European players signing with NHL teams has remained constant in the last three years. 55 Europeans signed contracts with organizations from the National Hockey League until mid-August (the date for our year-to-year comparison) and several more prior to the start of the season.
for a list of Europeans who signed with NHL teams.
The number of Europeans transferring to the NHL peaked after the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 with 61 Europeans signing with NHL teams for the first time in addition to seven European returnees. The number fell to 53 the year after and remained in this area with 54 transfers in 2012 and 55 transfers in 2013.
For the seventh consecutive year, Sweden is Europe’s biggest producer of NHL talent with 18 players who signed an NHL contract for 2013-14. Among the top European nations this was actually the biggest decrease though, as 25 Swedes had signed the year before.
Finland follows in second place for the third straight year with 12 players going to the NHL, three more than last year. That’s their highest number since 2006.
Russia went up from six to eight players going west and remains third among European talent producers. The number of moving Russians has gone down in the last two years with the emergence of the Kontinental Hockey League, but the NHL remains a dream for young players despite new opportunities on home soil.
Seven players from the Czech Republic signed with NHL teams – the highest number since 2007. The Czechs contributed with most rookie players in 2005 (13) from Europe but the number has gone down dramatically since then.
The reason is that many Czechs leave their home country earlier (as 16 or 17-year olds) to try their luck in Canadian junior hockey where only few players succeed to go all the way to the NHL. This in comparison to players like Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, Tomas Plekanec or Tomas Kaberle who first became professional in their native country in the old days.
Of the seven Czech players, four made their way via Canadian teams and one via U.S. college hockey while two join directly from the Czech Extraliga.
Similar effects can be observed for neighbour Slovakia. Presov native Martin Gertan, via the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, is the only new Slovak player signing with an NHL team this year.
New, in fifth place as player exporter, is Switzerland, which hit the headlines for winning the silver medals at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. This time three Swiss rookies signed with an NHL team by mid-August and three additional players in the weeks leading up to the start of the new season. Switzerland will have a record number of players in the NHL this year.
Same as last year, two new players from Latvia signed NHL contracts. One player each comes from Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Slovakia..
Michael Raffl, who most recently played in Sweden for Leksand, is the first Austrian player since Andreas Nödl in 2008 to go to the NHL. As Nödl did five years ago, Raffl signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
French players have not been sought after either. Ottawa’s Stéphane Da Costa and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel were the only ones since Philippe Bozon and Cristobal Huet when he transferred two years ago. But now Tim Bozon, Philippe’s son who debuted with the French national team at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, wants to try his luck after many years with Swiss junior teams and two years in the WHL. He was signed by the Montreal Canadiens.
Even less frequent are signings of Italian players. Thomas Larkin could become the first Italian-trained NHL player ever. Larkin started to play in Varese in northern Italy before he left for the U.S. as a 14-year-old where he played in high schools and the last four years for the Colgate University.