Is the NHL the most internationally diverse league in the world?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Anze Kopitar /

Hockey’s reach and popularity around the world is truly remarkable, some might say surprising. When it comes to international players making it to the NHL, the numbers are quite astounding.

There is no denying that soccer is the most popular sport in the world. However, there is no definitive #1 league that soccer/football players around the world strive to reach. Hockey is different because it has the NHL.

The National Hockey League has always supported and celebrated its outreach across the globe. Scouts are often in far-flung corners of the world searching for emerging or untapped talent. To date, 29 different countries have had players from their nation lace up skates and step onto the ice in an NHL arena.

According to, 82.9 percent of NHL players come from either Canada or the USA. After that, the biggest exporters of NHL talent are Sweden, Russian, Czech Republic and Finland. Nathan Walker of the Washington Capitals will try to become the first Australian to play in the league (though not the first to have his name on the Stanley Cup).

A perusal of the list offers up a few surprising countries that aren’t normally thought of as hockey breeding grounds. For example, there’s Italy, Lebanon, Ireland, Japan and even Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica’s own Graeme Townshend played for the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators from 1989 to 1994, notching 3 goals and 7 assists over a 45 game career.  Townshend just edged out Beirut’s Ed Hatoum in the Jamaica v. Lebanon scoring battle. Hatoum, playing for the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks potted 3 goals and 6 assist over 47 games.

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When it comes to countries with just a single representative who had a significant, impactful NHL career, the clear winner is Lithuania. Dainius Zubrus who is still active, playing 50 games with the San Jose Sharks last year, is the lone representative from the tiny European nation. Zubrus was drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1996 as the 15th overall pick. Over an impressive 21 year career, Zubrus has played 1293 games with a stat line of 228-363-591. Zubrus made it to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, with the Flyers and New Jersey Devils but came up short both times.

This pre-season the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will travel to China for a couple of exhibition contests. Will China be the next breeding ground for NHL caliber players? The answer is TBD.

The Los Angeles Kings Alumni Association’s Facebook page recently compiled a list of Kings players and their home countries. With over 20 countries on their list, the Kings rank in the top 10 for international diversity.

#TBT — 631 men have played for the Kings. Here is a Heritage "fun fact" pertaining to these gentlemen over our 50-plus year history.

Posted by Los Angeles Kings Alumni Association on Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can you name the nine players from the countries where just one Kings player has come from? You can find the answer, and more, here! Want a hint about one? The Slovenian still wears #11…and a “C”.

Next: Every Team's Mount Rushmore

Next, we will take a look at which states are most efficient at creating NHL players.