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2018 NHL Draft: Changing Of The Canadian Guard?

2018 NHL Draft: Changing Of The Canadian Guard?

2018 NHL Draft Continues Canadian Decline

Decades Of Canadian Draft Dominance

Despite the NHL including big market American teams as part of the original six and the initial expansion, only Canadian players were selected with the first overall pick for two decades. In 1983, Minnesota broke the trend by choosing American Brian Lawton with their first selection. That was a great year for United States prospects, with three U.S. players selected in the top ten, including Tom Barrasso and hall-of-famer Pat LaFontaine.

Six years later, the first number one overall pick outside of North America was Mats Sundin, selected by the Quebec Nordiques. Sundin would become the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs for 11 years, despite ownership refusing to give the hall-of-fame Swede enough support to challenge for a Stanley Cup. Mats selection as first pick was more remarkable given the talent of the deep 1989 draft, which included names like Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure and Adam Foote.

During the history of the draft, the number one overall pick was Canadian in 39 of 53 occasions. The latest first overall choice from Canada was Connor McDavid, who’s quickly become the best player in the NHL. His main competitor during his career will probably be an American: Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. McDavid’s roared out of the gate with the Oilers, earning a 100-point campaign in his first full season, while Matthews has become the NHL’s most lethal producer at even strength in his second season.

2018 will likely mark the third consecutive year a Canadian won’t be selected first in the draft. Unlike the draft between 1999-2001, - which featured three straight non-Canadian first overall picks - Matthews, Nico Hischier and Rasmus Dahlin will have more staying power than Patrik Stefan, Rick DiPietro and Ilya Kovalchuk. International draftees have grown both more numerous and higher in quality.

Top NHL Prospects No Longer Canadian?

Individual rankings may vary, but the 2018 draft rankings project only three Canadians in the top ten, with Noah Dobson the top ranked Canuck at seventh, as per Sportsnet. A pair of Swedes, Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist, rank top five, while Americans Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom rank fourth and sixth, respectively. Nicklas Lidstrom greatly influenced Swedish hockey, as Dahlin and Boqvist both excel as defenseman.

The 2015 entry draft featured an equal number of Canadians and Americans in the top ten, while the 2016 draft was dominated by Finnish and American prospects, with each country counting three draftees in the first ten picks. Canada’s prospects dominated the top ten of the 2017 draft, but the 2018 draft will likely veer away from Canadian influence once again. If the KHL didn’t exist, there’s a chance that more Russians would’ve been drafted over the past few years, further reducing Canada’s draft position.

During the 1956-57 season, 98.6% of all NHL players hailed from Canada. This number dropped over the decades, including steep declines in the mid-1980s and 1990s. At the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, the NHL consisted of 48.6% Canadian players, as per Quant Hockey, marking the first time the league hasn’t consisted of at least 50% Canucks. 

Stats show that Canada’s losses ended up as gains for the United States. More than a quarter of all NHL players now hail from the U.S., inspired by events like the Miracle On Ice, Wayne Gretzky’s move to Tinseltown, and dominant stars like Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Pat Lafontaine, Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Kane.

Sweden’s the second biggest influence on the NHL, making up nearly ten percent of the league. Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic round out the top five, creating nearly 12% of all NHL hockey. There’s no doubt Canada will continue to represent most of the league for a while, but the NHL draft hints at a potential changing of the guard for Canadian hockey talent over the next decade.

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