So, you want to play in the NHL eh? If you grew up in Canada (and arguably other countries around the world) it’s the dream of any child who has ever picked up a hockey stick and shot a puck. I mean who doesn’t dream of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup over their head? While hockey is a global game today, we can debate where it was started, but hockey is Canada’s game (sorry lacrosse fans). Many little Canadian hockey players dream of making it to the NHL, and a select few will, but in general it is a longshot for most.
The National Hockey League (NHL) started with the 1917-18 season after the league assumed three of the six teams from the National Hockey Association (NHA) which existed from 1910 through to 1917. Three of those NHA teams, the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers and Ottawa Senators formed the first NHL along with the Toronto Hockey Club. All four teams in the NHL’s first season were Canadian-based teams. The first US-based team that joined the NHL were the Boston Bruins when they joined in the 1924-25 NHL season.
Back in the “early days” and during times of the Original Six era, the NHL did not have a draft. Instead NHL teams either owned junior/semi-pro teams or had “agreements” or what were referred to as “sponsorships” with these teams that allowed them access to younger players. Players were claimed by NHL teams based on the junior teams played for. It wasn’t until 1963 when the National Hockey League held a draft (then known as the amateur draft) that teams could actually draft players. The first NHL Amateur Draft was held in Montreal, Quebec in June 1963. The Amateur Draft was put in place in 1963 in order to break the existing NHL teams’ monopoly on junior players, which they had gained by the NHL Sponsorship System. (More on the NHL Draft History).
- The NHL Amateur Draft existed from 1963 through to 1978
- In 1978, the NHL renamed the draft to the NHL Entry Draft
- From 1986 through to 1994 the NHL conducted a Supplemental Draft, a secondary draft that allowed the NHL to select undrafted college players who were at least 21 years old that may have been missed in previous Entry Drafts.
- The NHL also conducts Expansion Drafts any time a new franchise enters the league.
- The NHL also conducted Intraleague Drafts whereby NHL teams could select players from each other (although there were protected lists). The last Intraleague draft occurred in 1975.
Related: All-Time Draft Picks of Every NHL Team
How many players have ever played in the NHL?
For all of the hockey parents out there. Let this one sink in for you. There have only ever been around 7,900 players who have ever played a game in the NHL. This is a fact. Back in 2017, when the NHL celebrated their 100th anniversary, nhl.com updated their database to include game-by-game statistics for each of the 7,623 players who have competed in the NHL since 1917. Let’s be very clear on this since 1917 up to 2017 there were 7,623 players who have played in the National Hockey League. In the five seasons since then, of the 1,100 players drafted into the NHL another 233 have played at least one NHL game. This brings the total to 7,826 players to have played in the NHL since 1917. That’s it, less than eight thousand players who have EVER played in the NHL. It makes me chuckle a little because I probably know eight thousand families here in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia that think their child is going to play in the NHL at some point.
So, you want to play in the NHL?
As mentioned, anyone who has ever played ice hockey has had thoughts of how awesome it would be to play in the NHL. Here are some stats that might make you think twice about this career path (hockey parents I’m looking at you):
Number of Players Drafted to the NHL by Year
Here is a breakdown of players drafted into the NHL through 2023. (Note: The 2023 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 2023).
|Year||# of Players Drafted||# of Drafted Players that Played in the NHL||%||Avg NHL Career Games||Avg NHL Career Points|
The 2023 NHL Entry Draft will be the 61st NHL Entry Draft. The draft will be held on June 28–29, 2023, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The Chicago Blackhawks have the top selection this season and are expected to draft WHL phenom Connor Bedard with the first overall pick.
Related: Connor Bedard’s Top Ten WHL Games
Making the NHL is difficult at best. Odds are less than one percent. In a number of cases having an NHL pedigree in your family can help get you there. Looking at the past thirty years, the 2011 NHL draft class saw the largest percentage of drafted players play in the NHL with nearly 60% of drafted players playing at least one regular season game in the NHL (remember the average is closer to 43%). While you can never give up on your dreams of playing in the NHL, players and parents should be realistic about the odds of getting drafted and playing in the National Hockey League. Until then keep practicing and keep playing!