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Hockey in Europe

Every European hockey league is governed by its respective national federation. The clubs within these leagues are structured slightly different than their North American counterparts. Most senior clubs have associated junior and youth teams, allowing young players to develop their skills and remain with the same organization throughout their career.

Unlike North American junior leagues, there are no regulations restricting European junior players from being recalled and assigned to teams at the various levels within a senior club's developmental system. Therefore, it is common for a talented junior to play with the club's junior, Division II and senior teams in a single season.

The natural progression in European hockey would see a player move from youth hockey to the junior level, then to Division II and then graduating to the senior Elite team. Russia is the only major European hockey nation without a separate junior league. Most Russian juniors play with their clubs's second team. These second teams compete in the Russian third division.

It should be noted that some Division II and junior teams operate independently and without association with a senior club.


Europeans in the NHL Entry Draft

The National Hockey League has seen a dramatic increase of European-trained players over the past two decades. Of the 126 prospects selected in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, only six were Europeans (4.8%). In 1989, that number grew to 38 of 252 selections (15.1%). The 2000 NHL Entry Draft featured the largest European contingent in the history of the event as 123 players of the 293 drafted were European-born, representing 42% of the Draft.

Following is a listing of the highest-drafted European-trained players:


Highest drafted European players
Pick Player Country Drafted By Year
1st Roman Hamrlik (Cze) Tampa Bay 1992
1st Mats Sundin (Swe) Quebec 1989
1st Patrik Stefan** (Cze) Atlanta 1999
1st Ilya Kovalchuk (Rus) Atlanta 2001
1st Alexander Ovechkin (Rus) Washington 2004
2nd Petr Nedved* (Cze) Vancouver 1990
2nd Alexei Yashin (Rus) Ottawa 1992
2nd Oleg Tverdovsky (Rus) Anaheim 1994
2nd Andrei Zyuzin (Rus) San Jose 1996
2nd Daniel Sedin (Swe) Vancouver 1999
2nd Kari Lehtonen (Fin) Atlanta 2002
3rd Evgeni Malkin (Rus) Pittsburgh 2004
3rd Radek Bonk** (Cze) Ottawa 1994
3rd Aki Berg (Fin) Los Angeles 1995
3rd Olli Jokinen (Fin) Los Angeles 1997
3rd Henrik Sedin (Swe) Vancouver 1999
3rd Marian Gaborik (Slo) Minnesota 2000
3rd Alexander Svitov (Rus) Tampa Bay 2001
4th A. Volchkov** (Rus) Washington 1996
4th Pavel Brendl** (Cze) NY Rangers 1999
4th Rostislav Klesla** (Cze) Columbus 2000
4th Joni Pitkanen (Fin) Philadelphia 2002
4th Nikolai Zherdev (Rus) Columbus 2003
5th Bjorn Johansson (Swe) California 1976
5th Petr Svoboda (Cze) Montreal 1984
5th Jaromir Jagr (Cze) Pittsburgh 1990
5th Darius Kasparaitis (Rus) NY Islanders 1992
5th Stanislav Chistov (Rus) Anaheim 2001
* European-trained Canadian citizen drafted from a North American club
** Drafted from a North American club


Breaking New Ground - European Firsts

1969 - First European Draft Pick
The first European-trained player to be selected in the NHL Entry Draft was Finnish-born left winger Tommi Salmelainen, 66th overall, by the St. Louis Blues.

1974 - First Swedish Selection
Swedish-born center Per Alexandersson was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs, 49th overall, becoming the first Swedish player to be drafted into the NHL. There were five Swedish-born players selected in 1974, including defenseman Stefan Persson (214th overall, NY Islanders). Persson became the first European player to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup (four times, 1980-83).

1975 - First Russian Draft Pick
The Philadelphia Flyers became the first NHL club to select a Russian player, picking center Viktor Khatulev, 160th overall.

1976 - First European Taken in the First Round
The 1976 Draft saw the first European selected in the first round when the California Seals made Swedish defenseman Bjorn Johansson their first pick, fifth overall. Although he only played 15 games in the NHL, Johansson remained the highest European draft pick until 1989 (Mats Sundin, first overall).

1976 - First Swiss Player Selected
Although Switzerland is just beginning to have an impact in international hockey, the country made its first inroads to the NHL in 1976 when the St. Louis Blues selected Swiss center Jacques Soguel, 121st overall.

1978 - First Czechoslovak in the Entry Draft
The Detroit Red Wings made the first selection from former Czechoslovakia, drafting left wing Ladislav Svozil, 194th overall.

1978 - First German Pick
The first German players were also drafted into the NHL in 1978, with the Atlanta Flames' selection of goaltender Bernard Englbrecht, 196th overall, and St. Louis' choice of forward Gerd Truntschka, 200th overall.

Other European Draft Notes:

  • Sergei Priakin, the first Russian to play with permission in the NHL, was the last player drafted-252nd overall-by Calgary in 1988.
  • Viacheslav Fetisov was first selected by the Montreal Canadiens, 201st overall, in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft. Five years later, Fetisov was drafted again, this time by the New Jersey Devils (150th overall in 1983). He didn't play his first NHL season until 1989-90.
  • Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, renowned for his performance in the 1972 Summit Series and the 1981 Canada Cup, was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1983 (138th overall). Tretiak never appeared in an NHL game. He became the first Russian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
  • Czech-born center Petr Nedved defected to Canada as a 16-year-old while playing in a Calgary midget tournament in 1988. He played one season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL prior to being selected second overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. Nedved became the first European player to be drafted from Canadian major junior hockey.
  • Anton Stastny was the only Stastny brother to be selected in an NHL Draft, first in 1978 by Philadelphia (198th overall) and again in 1979 by Quebec (83rd overall). Stastny entered the NHL for the 1980-81 season with brother Peter and was later joined by brother Marian in 1981-82.
  • The 2001 Etnry Draft saw forward Ilya Kovalchuk become the first Russian-born player to be selected first overall. He was the first of 13 Europeans to be picked in the first round, including five top-10 selections.
  • Finland's Kari Lehtonen was selected 2nd overall in 2002, the highest selection for a European goaltender.


Year Int'l Drafted Total Drafted Int'l%
1969 1 84 1.2
1970 0 115 0.0
1971 0 117 0.0
1972 0 152 0.0
1973 0 168 0.0
1974 6 247 2.4
1975 6 217 2.8
1976 8 135 5.9
1977 5 185 2.7
1978 16 234 6.8
1979 6 126 4.8
1980 13 210 6.2
1981 32 211 15.2
1982 35 252 13.9
1983 34 242 14.0
1984 40 250 17.6
1985 31 252 12.3
1986 28 252 11.1
1987 38 252 15.1
1988 39 252 15.5
1989 38 252 15.1
1990 53 250 21.2
1991 55 264 20.8
1992 84 264 31.4
1993 78 286 27.3
1994 80 286 27.9
1995 69 234 29.5
1996 58 241 24.0
1997 63 246 25.6
1998 75 258 29.0
1999 94 272 34.5
2000 123 293 42.0
2001 119 289 41.1
2002 110 290 37.9
2003 93 292 31.8
2004 88 291 30.2
Total 1618 8261 19.6


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