NHL Draft: Sweden and Finland reap what they sow

In 2002, Swedish FA officials, embarrassed by the performance of their young national teams in major international tournaments, took part in a major reflection with stakeholders from all regions of the country.

After this practice, Swedish ice hockey produced a major reform focused on children’s enjoyment and individual skill development.

Since this course change, the results have been absolutely spectacular.

In 2000-2001, 36 skaters and 1 Swedish goaltender were among the starting players in the NHL. Between 2001 and 2005, an average of 16.8 Swedish prospects were selected by league teams.

There were 65 skaters and 4 starting goalkeepers in the NHL this season. This is a whopping 86.5% increase compared to the situation before Swedish ice hockey was overhauled. Additionally, the average number of Swedish players drafted from 2016 to 2020 was 27.6, a 64.28% increase!

This strong trend was noticed from a different angle by the creators of Pass Hockey, Ugo Bélanger and Jonathan Deschenes.

Ugo Belanger and Jonathan Deschenes

Photo: Martin Leclerc

In a recent study, Bélanger and Deschenes sought to determine which country was most effective at developing elite players relative to the pool of players available.

Their conclusions were that Sweden and Finland are very ahead of other countries in the development of goalkeepers. that Sweden is very in developing defenders ahead of other countries and in developing forwards ahead of Canada.

Over the years, this development of Swedish ice hockey has become quite natural. From 2001-2005 to 2006-2010, the number of Swedish prospects claimed by NHL clubs increased from 16.8 to 19.2. It then increased to 23.8 in 2011-2015 and 27.6 in 2016-2020.


Before we proceed, a clarification is in order here.

The goal of a sports federation is to create the most stimulating environment possible for as many athletes as possible to develop and maximize their potential in the practice of their sport. Because fun mostly comes from the progress that athletes make. A federation’s priority is therefore not to train NHL players. Absolutely not.

On the other hand, it is interesting to use the organizations’ recruitment statistics because they are the most sophisticated tool available to simultaneously measure the skill of ice hockey players from all countries. Collectively, NHL teams invest hundreds of millions each year to uncover the world’s best talent without discrimination. The data from the repechage are therefore extremely valid. end of precision.

ROC's Andrei Chibisov and Nikita Nesterov face Finland's Saku Maenalanen and Hannes Bjorminen trying to get the puck.

Finland won gold in men’s ice hockey at the last Winter Olympics.

Photo: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

This reflection also takes us to Finland, another country that has fundamentally overhauled its hockey system. However, the reorganization of the Finns occurred in the early 2010s, 10 years after that of the Swedes.

It’s relatively new.

Between 2001 and 2010, the Finns saw their candidates selected by NHL teams drop by more than 50%. It had gone up from 16.8 to 8.2. In order to revitalize their ice hockey system, the leaders of the Finnish federation have decided to focus on hiring permanent regional coaches, better mentoring of volunteer coaches and developing skills at an early age. This method has also produced excellent results.

In 2000-2001, 24 Finnish skaters and 1 goalie played in the NHL.

That year, 31 skaters and 7 starting goalies were members of the league.

This is an increase of 52% compared to the beginning of the millennium. In terms of recruitment, Finns recruited an average of 18 of their prospects from NHL teams between 2016 and 2020.

Young Tristan Luneau, who should hear his name in the next draft, met at the Finnish Sports Institute in Vierumäki in 2019 and talked about Finnish ice hockey players.


All of this brings us to the killer question.

If Sweden and Finland have managed to gain so much ground over the past 20 years, there are bound to be other countries that have fallen behind. Who are you?

In the study provided to me by the founders of Pass Hockey, the authors found that the number of games played by Canadian goaltenders has decreased by 20% over the past 20 years. There was also a 5% decrease in games played by Canadian defenders and a 10% decrease in games played by Canadian-born forwards.

When you look at the NHL draft stats, the numbers are even more ominous.

  • In 2000-2001, 301 Canadian skaters and 31 goaltenders played regularly in the NHL. And during the period 2001-2005, an average of 115.6 Canadian prospects were selected at the amateur auction each year.
  • That season, 254 skaters and 19 goalies played in the NHL, down nearly 18% since the early 2000s. Additionally, between 2016 and 2020, an average of 74 Canadian draft candidates were selected. That 36% drop is anything but trivial.

Among the major countries in the hockey world, Canada is the only one to have seen such a step backwards in NHL decision-making. Remember again, this judgment on the industry is unemotionally made by companies motivated only by finding the best talent available.

It certainly deserves a good reflection. It may not just be Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations that the federation needs to dust off.

And perhaps it’s because Hockey Quebec’s new leaders are more proactive than their provincial counterparts that we’re headed for a similar reorganization as Sweden and Finland.

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