By James Mirtle
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
Sizing up the NHL: 2019-20 NHL teams by age, height, weight and nationality
This marks Year 3 for the ol’ NHL demographics post here at The Athletic.
This piece is meant to be an annual snapshot of what the best players in hockey look like in several basic biographical metrics. You can find the data from the last two years here and here, although be warned that the methodology was slightly different in 2017-18.
The 632 players in my sample here include every skater and goalie who appeared in a minute (or more) of action as of last weekend.
My thanks to Natural Stat Trick for the data and Dom Luszczyszyn for the graphical wizardry. If there are other breakdowns like this you’d like to see in the future, let me know in the comments.
NHL average age this season: 27.3
After years of a general trend of the league getting younger, the NHL seems to have found its equilibrium around 27 years old. In fact, the players who have played in the league so far this year are slightly older than last year’s group (which had an average age of 27.1).
The Avalanche take over top spot thanks in part to Cale Makar (20) and Conor Timmins (21) making the team out of camp. Colorado has just two players over 30 (Erik Johnson and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and a remarkable 11 skaters who are 24 years old or younger.
The Blue Jackets, Rangers and Hurricanes are all right there, too. The Rangers have had the biggest shift of that group, dropping a full year off their average age, as they subtracted Mats Zuccarello (and a few other 30-plus types) and added Kaapo Kakko, whose 2001 birth year stands out. (He’s the third-youngest player in the NHL after Jack Hughes and LA’s Tobias Bjornfot.)
Henrik Lundqvist, 37, helps skew the Rangers up a bit.
The “old” teams here are all now under 29 years on average. Other than Detroit, they’re all win-now franchises, too. A huge share of Nashville’s core is now 28-plus, for example: Pekka Rinne, Kyle Turris, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Matt Duchene, among others.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, get the award for most 30-plus players, as they incredibly have nine on the roster, including four who are 35-plus. That’s hard to do given there are only 26 across the entire NHL. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do getting that group younger and more competitive.
The team that went the youngest, year over year, was actually Pittsburgh. No more Phil Kessel, Matt Cullen and others. The Rangers, Panthers and Leafs also got notably younger from a year ago.
The team that got the oldest, year over year, was surprisingly the Oilers, as they added 1.6 years to their average age. Mike Smith and James Neal being two reasons, although they didn’t add much else to the roster, either, and everyone who returns, obviously, is a year older.
NHL average height this season: 73.1 inches (6-foot-1)
The Canucks are tall and skinny, just like their young superstar, Elias Pettersson. Tyler Myers helped move them to first here, although what also helps is they have just two players listed under 6 feet: Troy Stecher and Quinn Hughes.
It’s notable that they’re both defencemen, as that’s a continuing trend. Fifteen percent of all defencemen to skate in a game so far are under 6-feet tall. On average, blueliners are still taller than forwards, but that gap appears to be narrowing.
Goalies continue to grow, to the point that they’re now averaging nearly 6-foot-2.5 and more than 200 pounds. That’s been happening for a while.
The Canadiens have dominated the short list for years and years, but they at least have some company in the Preds.
The Habs have six players listed at 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10. Nashville has 5-foot-6 Rocco Grimaldi, the shortest player in the NHL, and seven others under 6-feet tall.
NHL average weight this season: 199.3
The Islanders are, yet again, the heaviest team in the NHL. This time by a lot.
Having a goalie in Thomas Greiss, who weighs in at 232, helps, as does Anders Lee at 231. The Isles have only five players listed under 202 pounds.
Dellow’s Devils, meanwhile, have 14 players under that mark. And only goalie MacKenzie Blackwood weighs more than 215. Nikita Gusev’s 163 pounds make him one of the lightest players in the NHL, too.
Some of those Devils-Islanders rivalry nights could be interesting.
I won’t put this in a chart here because it’s frankly an absurd list and a ridiculous calculation, but every NHL team is considered overweight using BMI. The Islanders top out at 27.4 and the Penguins are the leanest team at 25.5. (Full list available here for the curious.)
There doesn’t appear to be a ton of correlation between team ability and size, although the Blues, Capitals, Golden Knights, Lightning and Leafs are all heavier than average clubs and should finish in the top 10 this season. And you tend to get some rebuilding teams on the low end here given they often have young players playing key roles.
NHL average draft position: 59.6
Not sure how much this one means, but it gives you a general sense of how pedigreed team’s rosters are.
The Avs have 10 first-round picks in their lineup right now and only one undrafted player. San Jose, meanwhile, has eight undrafted players and five more taken in the fifth round or later.
Both are pretty good teams, so there you go. Doesn’t always take a ton of high picks to get there.
I haven’t counted undrafted players in this calculation at all so that throws things off a little for some teams.
There are fewer Canadians in the NHL than last season, down from 43.7 percent (which is roughly seven players). That’s a number that’s been falling throughout league history, as even as recently as the mid-1990s, the NHL was roughly 75 percent Canadian-born.
Even a decade ago, Canada was healthily above 50 percent of the league, but large increases in Americans and Swedes have eroded that number continuously in the salary-cap era.
The reasons are different for each country. In the U.S., much of hockey’s growth has been coming in areas where the NHL teams are successful. There are way, way more kids playing in places like Pittsburgh, Chicago and the D.C. area than ever before. California, too. You can draw a direct line between the NHL being in Arizona, for example, and Auston Matthews’ unique rise to prominence.
Sweden, meanwhile, has worked hard to perfect their player development model. I’ve written about this when it comes to goaltenders and defencemen in recent years (here and here), after visiting the Swedish Ice Hockey Association in Stockholm. It’s very impressive what they’re doing, and it’s resulted in a country of just 10 million residents producing 73 players in the NHL this season.
On a per-capita basis, Sweden is incredibly now producing more players than Canada. I believe for the first time ever.
That’s not a trend that appears to be slowing down, either, given Sweden’s share of NHL players has jumped substantially from last season at this time. NHL teams are scouting (and drafting) Swedish players more than ever, as they seem to consistently outperform their draft position.
The fact those players are more and more willing to play in the AHL at young ages helps, too, as they’re not bound by CHL rules keeping them out of the minors before age 20. That creates an environment where there’s a longer development tail for some European players, either in leagues at home or by joining the AHL younger than most Canadians and Americans.
That’s an advantage, to the team and the player.
Even with that decline for Canadian players, Ontario is king, with nearly 20 percent of all NHL players coming from the one province. The Greater Toronto Area alone has produced more than 50 current NHL players, or nearly 10 percent of the entire league.
Alberta and B.C. have passed Quebec in recent years, as more and more money has flowed into minor hockey out west. The depth of talent in the Lower Mainland in and around Vancouver, for example, has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. My sense is the money involved has made it harder to come from smaller centres, which may be why there are only five players from Atlantic Canada and they’re all concentrated around Crosby country.
In the U.S., the Three M states still produce the most players, but it’s not as overwhelming as it used to be. Upstate New York and Buffalo have become hotbeds, as has Wisconsin (Kessel country) and the Greater Chicago Area.
The “other” figure is also much larger than ever here, with players born in Missouri, New Jersey, Washington State, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other various spots on the rise.
Again, that is likely a trend that will only continue as newer NHL franchises establish deeper roots, more rinks get built and minor hockey is invested in thanks to the league’s growth initiatives at the youth level.
This is a new chart this year, thanks to Don Cherry pointing to the Blues’ Canadian-ness as the reason they won last June.
This year, the most Canadian team in the NHL is actually Montreal, by my count, followed by St. Louis, Vegas and the Islanders.
Alas, the 2018 champion Capitals are the least-Canadian team with just 20 percent of their roster from hockey’s motherland, so I suppose they’re doomed (or something).
It’s incredible the variety of roster makeups highlighted here. There are now three NHL teams that are majority European, which is a very new phenomenon in the league. Then there’s Arizona with nearly 60 percent of the roster coming from the U.S., and Edmonton, which lacks an American player altogether.
As for the Leafs, who Cherry admonished for being not Canadian enough to win? They’re actually well above the average, with almost half a roster full of “locals,” including stars John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and Frederik Gauthier.
I don’t think all this means a whole lot, but it could help you win trivia night at the local bowling alley.