Slavomir Lener, a veteran coach who has traveled the world working in the game, provided the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit with a distressing series of statistics which indicate a clear devastation of the European game because of a loss of players to Canadian junior hockey.
“We don’t want to stop Czechs and Slovaks from leaving, but we want to inform the players what their chances of making the NHL are. At the same time, the NHL is very important for us because it’s the best league and gives us strength to fight soccer, which is the big sport in Europe. But Europe is also important to the NHL. We provide more than our fair share of top players. More than 50% of starting goalies in the NHL are European, and more than one-third of top-four defenceman and top-six forwards come from Europe, so we make a big contribution to the NHL.”
After setting the stage by looking at this past season’s NHL player representation, Lener then produced some sobering thoughts. “We have been losing hundreds of players into junior hockey in Canada,” he said. “Many times, it is the result of the European agents not telling the player the full story. As well, the idea of a European having to go to the CHL to get drafted is very popular, but the numbers tell a different story. The majority of CHL Europeans do NOT get drafted, and only 4% ever become established NHL players. The CHL is a great league for North Americans, but it is not the best league for Europeans in general.”
Lener is not speaking out of jealousy—he is speaking out of survival. “The effect,” he continued, “is that the entire development system in Czech and Slovakia is getting weaker ever year, and there is a decline in the quality of players every year. The number of Czech and Slovak players drafted by the NHL every year has declined since 2000, and there is an all-time low this year when only one homegrown player from these two countries was drafted by the NHL. One.”
“There are no more players coming from our countries, no one like Jagr, Hejduk, Elias, Gaborik. All the players come through the CHL, but none of them are of the same star quality as these players.”
“If you look at career numbers, 22 Europeans have played 1,000 games in the NHL. Not one came from the CHL. Of the more than 100 players from Europe who have won the Stanley Cup, exactly eight have CHL experience. Our players must develop at home, and when they are ready, fine, then they can go to the NHL.”