A recent article from IIHF.com reports that the 2011-12 NHL season saw the fewest number of European participants in nearly a decade. The article states that the number of European rookies in the NHL in 2011-12 was its lowest in nearly 25 years.
Nearly every European country had a drop in NHL participants this season aside from Sweden, which actually saw a rise in participants competing in the NHL. Russia had the steepest decline with just 31 Russian skaters in 2011-12 and three rookies. Will Vladimir Tarasneko, arguably the best prospect in 2012, bring a resurgance of Russian blood into the league or will he continue the growing trend of Russian talent staying put in the KHL?
It should come as no surprise that Russia saw a sharp drop in NHL participants in 2011-12. As the KHL continues to rise and bring in additional revenue, Russian hockey players have decided to stay at home and play in the KHL where they can play in familiar surrounding for a generous salary. Not long ago the NHL was a clear step forward for a Russian player looking to not only play in a prestigious league but also make a healthy living. As the KHL grows, more and more players are choosing to remain in Russia.
Sweden has bucked the trend entirely. Where other European nations are sending fewer and fewer players over to the NHL, Sweden has been sending more and more. The IIHF article reports that in 1991-92 there were only 16 Swedish players skating in the NHL. Skip forward to 2011-12 and you'll find 68 - the most of any European country. This rise also translates to rookies as Sweden had the most European rookies in the NHL this past season with 12 of the 21 European rookies.
A handy chart follows below to help you digest all this information.
2011-12 NHL Players
Canada - 526
USA - 236
Europe - 221
As you can see, the majority of players in the NHL originate from Canada with the United States trailing a considerable distance behind. The Europeans, as a whole, had 15 fewer players in the NHL than the United States. More info on that below.
Sweden - 68
Czech Republic - 43
Russia - 31
Finland - 30
Slovakia - 11
Switzerland - 8
Germany - 7
Denmark - 6
Austria - 3
Belarus - 3
Latvia - 3
Slovenia - 2
Ukraine - 2
France - 1
Kazakhstan - 1
Lithuania - 1
Norway - 1
Sweden holds a distinct edge with the Czech Republic ranking second. Russia sits in third currently, but could be passed by Finland depending on if the trend of Russian players remaining to play in the KHL continues.
As mentioned above, there were just three Russian rookies in 2011-12. This makes an already cloudy situation around top NHL prospect Vladimir Tarasenko a bit murkier. The St. Louis prospect remained in the KHL in 2011-12 and has yet to decide whether or not his future will be in the NHL or at home in the KHL. Tarasenko played in the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg, a wealthy club that is expected to offer Tarasenko a large contract if he is willing to stay - one that might be too large for the St. Louis Blues to match.
If Tarasenko decides to remain in the KHL, it will send a clear message to the NHL. Sure, it will only be one player opting to play in the KHL over the NHL, but in Tarasenko it represents something much larger. Hockey's Future labeled Tarasenko as their "Prospect of the Year" for 2012. Big, big things are expected of Tarasenko and ultimately he may not even take the ice in an NHL uniform. Tarasenko's decision may have a huge impact on how teams handle drafting players moving forward. There already is a concern about drafting Russian players and a decision by Tarasenko to remain in the KHL would only make matters worse. Teams would be even more wary to draft a Russian star in the fear they might remain at home and ultimately be a waste of a draft pick.
Keep an eye on this situation and pay attention to what happens at the 2012 NHL Draft. We've learned that Sweden has a hold on European players in the NHL but will that be the case in the next few years? This year's NHL draft could have all the answers.
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