Withdrawing from Eastern Europe: A Shift in Which Leagues are Producing NHL Draft Picks

Derek Zona
October 15 2012 03:51PM

NHL Draft Floor
Photo by Bri Weldon, via Wikimedia Commons

Lockout talk dominates every level of the hockey world, so we're doing our best to avoid it at all costs.  My focus this week is on the NHL draft, specifically the last 10 years.  I'll poke and prod the data in search of interesting conclusions and trends.  After the break, I'll lay out the raw data.

  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Total
Belarus 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
CHS 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
Czech 9 14 10 9 2 2 2 0 3 3 54
Denmark 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 3
Finland 7 10 8 13 4 6 8 7 10 9 82
Germany 3 1 1 2 4 1 1 3 0 0 16
Junior A 14 12 12 10 15 17 14 10 7 14 125
Junior B 5 6 6 3 6 3 4 2 0 2 37
Latvia 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2
NCAA 20 20 13 18 7 9 7 9 11 10 124
Norway 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 2
OHL 37 37 43 29 35 46 45 42 46 48 408
Poland 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
QMJHL 30 20 23 25 25 27 23 22 22 19 236
Russia 25 19 11 15 7 9 6 4 6 6 108
Slovakia 7 8 4 2 2 0 1 1 2 0 27
Sweden 16 14 15 18 16 19 23 21 25 22 189
Swiss 4 3 0 3 1 1 0 1 1 1 15
USHL 11 12 22 22 34 18 26 20 26 24 215
USHS 6 12 17 19 16 15 19 23 17 19 163
WHL 33 36 43 24 37 37 31 43 33 32 349

  • The most obvious takeaway from the data is the slump from Eastern European leagues.  In 2003 and 2004, leagues in Belarus, The Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Slovakia accounted for 19% of all picks.  In 2011 and 2012 those same leagues accounted for just 5% and 4% of all picks.  In fact, since 2007, those leagues haven't combined for more than 5% of all selections.
  • Much of that post-2007 slack has been taken up by the CHL.  Prior to 2007, the CHL averaged 42% of all selections per year, but since then, the three leagues have averaged 49% per year, and the OHL has been responsible for the majority of that increase.
  • At first glance, the NCAA seems to have taken a major hit, falling from 9% to 5%, but the NCAA's feeder system, the USHL, has more than doubled it's hold on the draft, from 5% to 11%.
  • The biggest percentage gainer, however, has been U.S. high school hockey.  NHL teams have tripled their selections from U.S. high school picks - bringing U.S. schools nearly on par with the QMJHL.
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#1 PRC
October 15 2012, 04:09PM
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I vaguely remember discussing this with Mirtle a couple of years ago - maybe even a post on FTN.

The big question for me was the decline of Czech players. You would have thought that winning gold in 1998 would show some results in the development of youth hockey.

Did that ever happen? There was a suggestion that Czech youth were instead focusing on soccer. Personally, I wonder about funding/infrastructure in the post-Soviet era.

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Wow, seeing the drafting numbers spread out like that is quite impressive. Good that the CHL and university numbers seem to stay pretty even.

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#4 Pinch
October 15 2012, 06:05PM
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To me at least it seems there has been a growing separation between the top four countries and everyone else as far as World Junior results and young players breaking into the NHL. One theory I've heard is that other countries just can't match the amount of funding that Canada, USA, Russia, and Sweden all put into their development programs and the results are starting to show.

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#5 Matt Pfeffer
October 15 2012, 06:18PM
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"The big question for me was the decline of Czech players. You would have thought that winning gold in 1998 would show some results in the development of youth hockey."

I think the biggest reason for the decline isn't the quality, it's the amount of Czech and Slovak kids playing their hockey in the CHL leagues.

I think draft data by nationality would be a little more constant.

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#6 Shaun
October 15 2012, 06:20PM
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@PRC

I would venture to guess that the strengthening of national leagues and the emergence of the KHL as a viable organization are major contributing factors. The NHL might not be quite as large of a draw as it once was for European players.

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