The nationality make-up of the NHL is changing, and it’s changing fast. Just four years ago, half of the NHL was Canadian, according to US News. Now, the numbers are closer to 40 percent. With the decline of Canadian-born players, the league has seen a rise of European and American-born players. In total, 17 countries were represented by their best in the NHL over the 2019-20 season.
The diversity of these league-wide country-origins are represented on the roster of the San Jose Sharks. At any given game, San Jose fans can watch players from eight different countries wear teal.
Of the 26 rostered players on the Sharks’ final roster, 12 are Canadian (46%), five are Sweedish (19%), three are American (11%), two are Czech (7%), and one player from Germany (4%), Denmark (4%), Finland (4%), and Switzerland (4%). Although there are only spots for 23 players on an active NHL roster, the numbers here come to 26 because Erik Karlsson, Dalton Prout, and Tomas Hertl were all on injured reserve.
Canada: Logan Couture, Noah Gregor, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Brandon Davidson, Mario Ferraro, Jacob Middleton, Dalton Prout, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Aaron Dell, and Martin Jones
Sweden: Melker Karlsson, Joel Kellman, Marcus Sorensen, Tim Heed, and Erik Karlsson
United States: Dylan Gambrell, Kevin Labanc, and Stefan Noesen
Czech Republic: Tomas Hertl and Radim Simek
Germany: Lean Bergmann
Finland: Antti Suomela
Denmark: Alexander True
Switzerland: Timo Meier
Country-Diversity Compared to League Numbers
By comparison to the league, the Sharks are notably less American and more European than the league averages. The NHL, according to QuantHockey, was 26 percent American in the 2019-20 season, more than double the numbers represented by the Sharks.
Likewise, the Sharks’ representation from Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland is nearly double the league’s numbers. Their Canadian average of 46 percent isn’t too far from the league’s average of 42 percent, although a high proportion of their free agents come from Canada (Joe Thornton, Aaron Dell, Dalton Prout, Jacob Middleton, and Brandon Davidson).
The Lone Nationalities
Four players – Alexander True, Timo Meier, Antti Suomela, and Lean Bergmann – are the sole representatives from their nations on the Sharks.
The up-and-coming True was one of just nine Danish skaters to play in the league this year, and arguably, he can be considered the most prominent Danish-trained player in the world, having played in his native country until he left for the WHL at 17.
One of the other nine Danes, Joachim Blichfeld, also plays within the San Jose organization and dressed in three games this season, though he wasn’t counted here because he ended the season with the San Jose Barracuda.
Moving our attention south of Denmark, there’s a good argument that Timo Meier is the best Swiss forward in the world, and, as one of 15 Swiss players to dress in a game during 2019-20, he’s the only player from Switzerland in San Jose. In 263 games, he has 76 goals and 81 assists for 157 points. The only active Swiss players ahead of him in points are Roman Josi, the undisputedly best Switzerland-born defenseman to play the game, Nino Niederreiter, who has played almost 500 more games, and Kevin Fiala.
After a rough few weeks for both Meier and the Sharks in their awful December (2-11-2), Meier recorded his first career hat trick on Dec. 28 against the Philadelphia Flyers after being benched most of the two previous games. With that kind of explosive willpower, Meier has a bright future in San Jose, and with Switzerland in international play.
Espoo, Finland native Antti Suomela played in his home country until the 2018-19 season, when he was signed to an entry-level contract after leading the top-Finish league, SM-liiga, in points the season prior.
A free agent this fall, he may have earned himself a permanent spot in the NHL after scoring seven points in 20 games. In an 82-game season, he would have paced just short of 30 points, which would make for a dangerous fourth-liner. Even more promising, in his last 11 games, with a diluted depth to play alongside, he managed to record six points.
The lone German, Bergmann, likewise was one of nine players to represent his country in the NHL this season. Although, like most non-Swedish or Russian Europeans in the league, he left his home country to train in Sweden at a young age.
What Countries are Missing?
The only “big-five” country not represented in San Jose is Russia, who produced 50 players on NHL rosters this season (five percent of the league). The Sharks were still represented by Russians this season – 23-year-old former Lokomotiv Yaroslavl forward Danil Yurtaykin played four games with the team in October this season before being sent back down to the Barracuda. It would be a surprise to see him make the roster in 2020-21 without any serious improvement.
Their lack of Russians could be quickly fixed if goalie Alexei Melnichuk, whom the Sharks signed this free-agency, makes the roster out of training camp. If he ends up making the team, perhaps as a back-up, the Sharks could then be represented by nine different countries.
A Changing League
The league is changing. While Canada remains a powerhouse, players everywhere from Espoo, Finland to Plano, Texas can fight for a spot in the modern NHL. The league’s Europeans are no longer limited to the power-five countries because of the growth of hockey in places like Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. And even without a Russian in the regular line-up, the roster in San Jose reflects the changing NHL.
It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in 20 years in which players from South America or East Asia will play for the team in teal.
A graduate of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI, Joshua studied strategic communication and religion before moving to Boston, MA to attend Boston University for graduate school. The highlight of his hockey career was learning the game from André Lacroix, the all-time WHA point scorer.