A glimpse at European hockey development: Can Sweden, Finland, Russia keep pace with North America?

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

A total of 17 nationalities have been represented in at least one NHL game so far this season. Nine nations were represented at this weekend's NHL All-Star Game. And while Canada remains the largest producer of NHL talent, the demographics of the league have shifted rather significantly in the past 10 years.

In 2009-10, the NHL was 53.5% Canadian, per QuantHockey.com. Today, that number is 43.2%, with Americans accounting for 25.5%, Sweden claiming 11.7%, Finns making up 5.1%, Russia producing 4.9% and the Czech Republic responsible for 3.5%.

While alarm bells may be sounding in Canada over this shift, the more notable takeaway is the improvement in the other countries to narrow the gap and continue to put elite players in positions to succeed. Just look at Sweden, which doubled the number of players it contributes to the NHL in a 10-year span (5.6% in 2009-10) despite having a hockey-playing population that is roughly the same size as that of the state of Michigan.

Canada's importance to the game is difficult to overstate. They're still the largest producer of high-level players and are unlikely to relinquish that title soon. There are more rinks and more opportunities for exposure to the game than any other country can dream of. The U.S. has a population advantage, but only a small fraction of that large pool plays the sport. That the North American hockey powers' numbers are significantly larger than the rest is hardly a surprise, but it makes what is happening with relatively small hockey populations in Finland and Sweden, in particular, worth watching.