There are few sports that provide as rich and diverse a development pool as hockey does. As a global sport, there are so many routes for players to take on their way to the NHL. There’s no real “right way” to get to there. If a player is good enough, it’s almost impossible for him to slip through the cracks, and if someone is not found in his draft year, there’s always free agency for the late bloomers. One way or another, the best players get there.
But what are the most-traveled routes? Which leagues and teams produce the top prospects? We looked at 15 years of data to find the most common prospect tracks for NHL talent. To get a pool of players to look at, we first eliminated anyone draft-eligible before 2005. Then we set the following criteria for inclusion:
A forward who registered at least 0.5 points per game in his career (minimum 82 games)
A defenseman who averaged 19 or more minutes (minimum 82 games)
A goaltender who made a minimum of 62 career appearances
That provided a list of 286 players — from Sidney Crosby to Rasmus Dahlin — with only a few who I’d subjectively term as outliers. The goal was to provide a snapshot of players you could easily say provided a measurable impact to their team, as a relatively consistent offensive producer, top-four defenseman or starting goalie. Let’s look at where those top NHL talents came from.
Note: As a caveat to all of this, players move around after their draft, so there is room for debate for which teams get to lay claim for actually developing the talent. Statistics come directly from the NHL’s website, and the teams and leagues utilized in this report are those provided by the NHL’s draft records database.
Top countries and leagues
It’s not shocking that 148 players, or nearly 52% of 286 players who meet the criteria, were first-round draft picks. Nearly 41% of the players (117) were selected in Rounds 2-7, and 7% (21) were never drafted. It’s perhaps less shocking that 121 of the 286 players are Canadian, leading the way in nationalities.