Where rookies come from
There's been an awful lot of talk lately about the NHL's lack of a transfer agreement with Russia, and with the threat of a new league on the horizon, many feel European players are soon to be found in fewer numbers in North American leagues.
(They already are, in fact.)
We now know that there have been fewer new Russians in the NHL over the past several years, but what about other European players? And if they are indeed on the decline, where are the newcomers coming from?
Last week, before my vacation hit, I put together a small study of NHL rookies in the 30-team era (since 2000-01) and where they have come from. For sake of ease, I used 30 games played as the cutoff point, meaning that every player that was in his first, Calder-eligible season that hit that mark counted.
Here's a look at that data, by country of birth (players from this season must be on pace to play 30 games):
Have a look at the size of that double cohort there in 2005-06 coming out of the lockout.
Where are new players coming from? Canada, as always, but look at the decline in Russian-born newbies and the rise in Americans, and there's definitely a trend. The past two seasons have seen relatively few European rookies in general.
Let's group the countries by the three main chunks we've got here:
I've said it several times before, but what's evident even moreso than the decline in the Euro player is the fact American borns are, more and more, becoming a major part of the NHL.
A quick look through the list of rookies who have played 10+ games this season reveals quite a group of budding potential Team U.S.A. stars that have, for the most part, come through the NCAA system: Patrick Kane, Peter Mueller, Matt Niskanen, Tom Gilbert, Erik Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky, Steve Wagner, Jack Johnson, Chris Conner, Mike Lundin, Drew Miller, Andy Greene, Bobby Ryan, Jared boll, Brett Sterling, T.J. Hensick, etc.
Outside of Nicklas Backstrom, Toby Enstrom and Alex Edler, a trio of Swedes, what Europeans have made a similar impact this season as freshmen?
We haven't seen all that much written about this, but there's a real changing of the guard taking place, and if it continues, the NHL will really be a North American dominated league going forward, with the large majority of the new breed being made up by the growing pipeline from the U.S.
Sound farfetched? How else to explain this info, a look at the percentage of the league's rookies coming from each region over the past seven seasons:
If that's not a trend, I don't know what is.
It's seemed to me over the past year or so that late-round and undrafted U.S. college players are really starting to standout more than ever in the NHL, something that you could call the Tom Gilbert Factor (after the Oilers new standout defender). Just look at the Devils' recent success picking unheralded NCAA skaters — Brian Gionta, David Hale, Paul Martin, Aaron Voros, Zach Parise — a list that doesn't even include the undrafted Andy Greene or Rangers seventh rounder Mike Mottau.
U.S.A. Hockey is on the rise, and we're already seeing it at the sport's premier level. It's only a matter of time before American clubs become more of a force on the international level, and that's when we'll really start to take notice of just how much more American-bred the NHL has become.
Canada's still No. 1 when it comes to producing NHL-calibre talent, but we've now got a definitive No. 2.