I’ve long contended that Seattle is an attractive market for the NHL because of the opportunity to grow the fan base. But there is also an opportunity to grow the player pool. We do have 5 WHL teams in the region. However, as much as a lot of us love Major Junior Hockey, it just doesn’t have nearly the amount of reach and impact that an NHL club could to grow the player pool.
It’s generally accepted that a new NHL team to an area will drive an increase in participation in youth and adult recreational hockey in the region. In time, that will ultimately add to the NHL player pool. As the chart below indicates, the percentage of US NHLers has been climbing over the years as the NHL has expanded and relocated into new markets.
Going even another level down, we are starting to see some high caliber NHLers coming out of these so called “non-traditional” hockey markets. Shane Gostisbehere (Florida), Auston Mathews (born in California, but raised in Arizona), Sean Couturier (Arizona), and Seth Jones (Texas) are all NHL superstars. Opportunities for talented hockey players to break out of those markets are extremely challenging without the broad support and inspiration from an NHL Club in the market. Those big bets by the NHL to go into markets such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and two teams in California over the past 20 years have helped grow the exposure and fan base of the sport, but they have also helped grow the talent pool. This year, there were 34 NHLers that were born in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and California compared to 6 players just 20 years ago when the league started to expand to those markets.
The broader diverse growth of American NHLers is illustrated in the visual below.
In the 1980-81 season, there were 14 states that produced an NHL player. This season there were 31 states represented in the NHL player pool. Now to be fair, I don’t anticipate Washington State to start producing huge volumes of NHLers, but it is inevitable that we will eventually see more NHLers coming from Washington State. This year, Washington State had the highest number of NHLers they have ever had. Everyone knows Tyler Johnson and TJ Oshie. A lot of you know Spokane’s Derek Ryan. We had two other debuts from Washington State natives: Bonney Lake’s Dylan Gambrell made his NHL debut at the very end of the Sharks season, while Spokane’s Kailer Yamamoto spent part of his fall with the Oilers.
At a state level, Minnesota is in a world of their own (well, excluding Canada) with an all-time high this season of 50 NHLers born in the State of Minnesota.
Here is a look at the performance of the top 7 represented states:
Note California’s contribution as a “non-traditional” market.
For bonus content, here is a table of the number of NHLers born by state over 1980-81, 1995-96 and 2017-18 seasons.
Disclosures: This data is captured from NHL.com stats pages leveraging the Nationality and Birth City, State, and Country data. There are several examples of a player being born in one country and having a different nationality. For example, Cam Fowler was born in Windsor, but grew up in Michigan. For Nationality, he is considered American, but birth country is Canada. Similarly, a player could be born in one state, but grow up in another. For example, Brooks Orpik was born in California, but grew up in New York. This isn’t perfect, but it is consistently imperfect and does not materially change the overarching point story.