Where do NHL players come from

NHL Players Nationalities: Where Are They From?

Up until the 1970s, the presence of foreign countries in the NHL was next to none. At that time the majority of the players in the National Hockey Association were from Canada, the birthplace of the NHL. For years in the NHL; during the era of the original six (read more about the original six NHL teams here) and decades after that, Canadian players ruled the ice hockey rink. 

Well, that was the past, now the NHL is more than just a Canadian or North American league. If you fast forward to the present NHL with 945 professional ice hockey players distributed among 32 franchises, you’ll notice that there are international presences are becoming more dominant.

Names like Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are not Canadian-like names because they are the names of two Russian players in the NHL. This shows the national diversity currently in the NHL.

As you know, the foundation of this article will be looking into the classification of NHL players nationalities, by country of origin and percentage of international players in different years. Along the way, we will cover other relevant information on the distribution of NHL players by country.

What Country Has Most NHL Players 

Canada is the country with the largest concentration of NHL players. This does not come as a surprise when we are talking about a country that has enormous ice hockey heritage. 

However, the number of NHL players that originate from Canada is on a steady decline. With the NHL gaining popularity among nations around the world, more international presence is being felt within the league – as a result of increasing NHL players nationalities

During the era of the original six, to the expansion era and 1970s, the number of Canadians in the game was about 90% of total NHL players nationalities. Since that time up until today, there has been a gradual but consistent decrease in the domination of Canadians in the NHL.

The current 2022-2023 percentage of Canadian players is the lowest the league has seen (42.86%) and there remains a possibility of an even lower percentage next season. Despite the drop, the Canadians are always going to have an unrivalled presence, when conversing NHL players nationalities.

Percentage of NHL Players That Are Americans 

Do you know that in the 1970s about 2% of NHL players were Americans? This was during the expansion era of the NHL when the NHL went from six to twelve teams. Slowing making themselves known behind Canada are the players from the United States.

As early as the first season in 1917-1918, the first United States player was already a part of the NHL. Since then the national presence of players from the United States has only increased, with their percentage currently making up 27.20% of all NHL players for the 2022-23 season.

The growth of the sport in the U.S. is evident in their international matches and representations, such as in the Olympics. Boasting two Silver Olympic medals for the men’s team and a gold medal in the 2018 Olympics for the women’s team, the U.S. teams also have five consecutive International Ice Hockey Federation world titles.

Although most of the American players originate from states that have harsh winter climates some players originated from warm climate states (Auston Matthews was born in California but grew up in Arizona where he became a fan of the Coyotes, and at one point, one of the highest paid NHL players).

The spike in the popularity of ice hockey in the United States is mostly due to Wayne Gretzky. The NHL’s greatest of all time made the sport popular in the United States, after his move to Los Angeles Kings with his matches making headlines, and tickets being sold out. His presence led to the development of the game in warmer cities in the U.S. and facilitated the creation of some of the American franchises we have in the NHL.

List of NHL Players By Country 

Ranking CountriesNo. of NHL Players (2022-23)Percentage (2022-23)Percentage (2017-18)Percentage (2013-14)Percentage (1998-1999)
2United States25727.20%27.31%24.31%16.24%
5Finland 495.19%4.26%3.26%1.90%
6Czech Republic373.92%3.76%3.76%5.78%
7Switzerland 121.27%1.52%1.12%0.11%
8Germany 80.85%0.71%0.61%0.67%
9Slovakia 80.85%1.32%1.42%1.45%
13Norway 10.1%0.20%0.10%
14Slovenia 10.1%0.10%0.10%
15Netherlands 10.1%0.10%0.22%
17Australia 10.1%0.10%
21Lithuania 0.11%
22Poland 0.22%
23Ukraine 0.11%
Statistics from quanthockey.com

List OF Countries And Their First NHL Players 

The global attention and outreach the NHL is moving towards have led to the acceptance of players from outside the North American continent. From North American to Europeans, part Asian, African and even Australian players have all been a  part of the NHL at one point.

The players that will be listed below are players that are citizens by birth (native-born). This means there might have been some players who had parents native to such countries but were not given birth there. These categories of players do not fit into this classification.

United States 

Gerry Geran is the first American-born player to play in the NHL. He began his NHL career with the Montreal Wanderers during the first NHL season (1917-18 season). However, after a year, he left the NHL for a french team after the collapse of the Montreal Wanderers’ NHL team

Gerry would eventually come back to the NHL during the 1925-26 season to play for the Boston Bruins before finally leaving for the American Hockey Association.


Nathan Walker is a Welsh-born Australian ice hockey who still plays in the NHL. The hockey centre was born in Wales and began playing the sport locally in his hometown. Later on, he moved to the Czech Republic to get professional training.

Nathan was selected by the Washington Capitals during the third round of the 2014 NHL draft. Even though he was the third pick at the NHL entry draft, he played in the AHL until 2017 when he began his NHL career. (Learn about the NHL Entry Draft and how it works)

Czech Republic 

Jaroslav Jiřík is the first Czech Republic to play in the NHL. His day view in the NHL was when he appeared in three games in the 1969-70 NHL season. He played the position of a left winger with the St. Louis Blues. 


David Schriner was born in Saratov in the Russian Empire but moved with his parent to Calgary, Alberta Canada when he was a month old. 

Sweeney (as he preferred to be called) started in an affiliate league of the New York Americans NHL team in 1933. He would go on to score 18 goals and 11 assists in that 1933-34 season and this would lead him to be called up to the NHL. 

During his career he played 11 seasons, winning 2 Stanley cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs after he was traded in 1939

Other countries include: 

CountriesFirst NHL PlayersDebut Season
FranceAndre Peloffy1974-75
GermanyWalt Tkaczuk1967-68
FinlandAlbert Pudas1926-27
NetherlandsEd Kea1973-74
South AfricaOlaf Kolzih1989-90
LatviaCharlie Cotch1924-25
South KoreaJim Paek1990-91
PolandJoe Jerwa1930-31
NigeriaRumun Ndur1996-97
SwitzerlandMark Hardy1979-80
TanzaniaChris Nielsen2000-01
Data from Wikipedia


The integration of international players from around the world into the NHL is part of the factors facilitating its spread to several countries. Although the NHL started in Canada, the United States and other nations are gradually making themselves known within the league. Henceforth, why NHL players nationalities will continue to gradually expand over time.

In the coming years, it is possible for a country like the US, which is a close second to Canada in player dominance, to eventually have the highest percentage of players in the league. Well, only time can tell. 

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