Translating Production from European Leagues to the NHL

I’ve often wondered how to translate production from the various European leagues, since for every diamond in the rough (Ville Leino despite last season) there are so many failures (Fabian Brunnstrom).  Here I’ve takeen a look at every free agent pro signed out of Europe (or draft picks who came over as mature players) post-lockout who has played at least one NHL game and compared their production (I’ve divided them by league; their ages are in brackets next to their names).  I’ve excluded players who had previous NHL experience between stints in Europe because the transition has already been made; I’ve set the “European pro” bar at age 23 (anything earlier and the player is still a prospect).  For goaltenders the comparisons are slightly less apt (in terms of numbers), but it’s interesting to look at the relative success enjoyed by them.

SEL (11)
2006-07
Joel Lundqvist (24) 49-11-21-32 (ppg 0.65) – 36-3-3-6 (0.16) [ppg difference -0.49]
Third-round pick played 134 NHL games (0.19 ppg)
Patrick Thoresen (23) 50-17-19-36 (0.72) – 68-4-12-16 (0.23) [-0.49]
Undrafted Norwegian free agent played 106 NHL games (0.23 ppg)
Bjorn Melin (26) 49-16-19-35 (0.71) – 3-0-1-1 (0.33) [-0.38]
Sixth-rounder played just 3 NHL games in one season
2007-08
Erik Ersberg (25) 41GP, 2.39, .908 – 6-5-3, 2.48, .927 [0.09, +.019]
Undrafted free agent played 69 NHL games over three seasons with LA
2008-09
Fabian Brunnstrom (23) 54-9-28-37 (0.68) – 55-17-12-29 (0.52) [-0.16]
Hyped free agent out of Farjestad has played 104 NHL games over four seasons (0.39 ppg)
Per Ledin (30) 52-16-17-33 (0.63) – 3-0-0-0 (0.00) [-0.63]
Undrafted pest played 3 NHL games in his only season
2009-10
Jonas Gustavsson (25) 42GP, 1.96, .932 – 16-15-9, 2.87, .902 [0.91, .030]
“The Monster” is undrafted free agent has out of Farjestad who has played 107 NHL games over three seasons and is signed for another with Detroit
Mika Pyorala (28) 55-21-22-43 (0.78) – 36-2-2-4 (0.11) [-0.67]
Undrafted free agent played 36 NHL games in his only season
Henrik Karlsson (27) 34GP, 2.45, .914 – 4-5-6, 2.58, .908 [0.13, .006]
Undrafted free agent has played 26 NHL games thus far (he remains under contract with Calgary)
Johan Backlund (28) 49GP, 2.56, .907 – 0-1-0, 3.00, .917 [0.44, +.010]
Undrafted free agent played 1 NHL game over three seasons in the Flyer organisation
2010-11
Mats Zuccarello (23) 55-23-41-64 (1.16) – 42-6-17-23 (0.54) [-0.62]
Undrafted pint-sized Norwegian played 52 NHL games over two seasons (0.50 ppg)

SM-Liiga (14)
2006-07
Niklas Backstrom (28) 32-9-10, 1.68, .940 – 23-8-6, 1.97, .929 [0.31, .019]
Undrafted free agent out of Karpat has played 327 NHL games and is arguably the best goaltender on this list
Fredrik Norrena (30) – 36GP, 2.16 – 24-23-6 2.78, .904 [0.62]
Seventh-round Finnish vet was signed out of Linkopings and played 100 NHL games over three seasons in Columbus
Mikko Lehtonen (29) 43-6-8-14 (0.32) – 15-1-2-3 (0.20) [-0.12]
Ninth-rounder played 15 NHL games in his only season
Janis Sprukts (24) 35-18-10-28 (0.80) – 13-1-2-3 (0.23) [-0.57]
Eighth-rounder played 14 NHL games over two season (0.21 ppg)
2007-08
Cory Murphy (30) 45-13-37-50 (1.11) – 47-2-15-17 (0.36) [-0.73]
Hyped signing hampered by injury problems; played 91 NHL games over three seasons (0.40 ppg)
2008-09
Ville Leino (24) 55-28-49-77 (1.4) – 13-5-4-9 (0.69) [-0.71]
Undrafted forward has played 220 NHL games over four seasons (0.45 ppg)
Antti Niemi (25) 26-14-6, 2.35, .926 – 1-1-1, 3.40, .864 [1.05, .062]
Undrafted free agent from the Lahti Pelicans, he won a Stanley Cup with Chicago (2010) and has 170 NHL games to his credit; he remains as San Jose’s starting goaltender
Tim Stapleton (C/RW) 55-29-33-62 (1.13) – 4-1-0-1 (0.25) [-0.88]
Undersized NCAA grad played two years in Finland before coming back to North America; he played 118 NHL games over four seasons (0.31 ppg)
Anssi Salmela (25) 56-16-16-32 (0.57) – 26-1-5-6 (0.23) [-0.34]
Undrafted blueliner played 112 NHL games over three seasons (0.19 ppg)
Janne Pesonen (27) 56-34-44-78 (1.39) – 7-0-0-0 (o.oo) [-1.39]
Ninth-rounder played 7 NHL games in his only season
2009-10
Alexander Salak (23) 20-20-9, 2.40, .923 – 0-1-0, 5.37, .850 [2.97, .073]
Undrafted free agent played 2 NHL games in his only season with the Florida organisation
2010-11
Jussi Rynnas (23) 14-13-1, 2.71, .911 – 0-1-0, 4.24, .925 [1.49, +.014]
Undrafted free agent out of Assat has played 2 NHL games over two seasons with Toronto’s organisation; he has one more year left in his ELC
2011-12
Lennart Petrell (27) 56-13-22-35 (0.62) – 60-4-5-9 (0.15) [-0.47]
Sixth-rounder played 60 NHL games last year and was re-signed for the coming season
Iiro Tarkki (26) 20-20-14, 2.09, .924 – 1-0-0, 4.39, .700 [2.30, .242]
Undrafted free agent out of Blues Espoo spent one year with Anaheim’s organisation

KHL/Russia (4)
2006-07
Jan Hejda (28) 50-3-13-16 (0.32) – 39-1-8-9 (0.23) [-0.09]
Fourth-rounder has played 422 NHL games over the past six seasons (0.23 ppg)
Alexei Mikhnov (24) 40-14-8-22 (0.55) – 2-0-0-0 (0.00) [-0.55]
Former first-round pick played just 2 NHL games in his only season
2010-11
Johan Harju (25) 55-4-14-18 (0.33) – 10-1-2-3 (0.30) [-0.03]
Sixth-rounder played 10 NHL games in his only season
2011-12
Alexei Emelin (25) 52-11-16-27 (0.52) – 67-3-4-7 (0.10) [-0.42]
Third-rounder played 67 NHL games in his rookie season

NLA (4)
2006-07
Patrick Fischer (30) 44-21-32-53 (1.20) – 27-4-6-10 (0.37) [-0.83]
Undrafted Swiss vet played 27 NHL games in his only season
2007-08
Jonas Hiller (25) 28-16, 2.60, n/a – 23-10-7-1, 2.06, .927 [+0.54, n/a]
Undrafted Swiss star from HC Davos has played 250 NHL games and remains Anaheim’s starting goaltender
2010-11
Roman Wick (25) 37-15-16-31 (0.83) – 7-0-0-0 (0.00) [-0.83]
Fifth-rounder played 7 NHL games in his only season
2011-12
Raphael Diaz (25) 45-12-27-39 (0.86) – 59-3-13-16 (0.27) [-0.59]
Undrafted blueliner out of EV Zug has played 59 NHL games in his (so far) only season

Czech Elite League (1)
2007-08
Jaroslav Hlinka (30) 46-19-38-57 (1.23) – 63-8-20-28 (0.44) [-0.79]
Undrafted Czech vet played 63 NHL games in his only season

DEL
Players fitting this category haven’t come out of the DEL (the league tends to be a haven for former AHL and ECHL players), as Marcel Muller is the only one who comes close, but signed as a 22-year old he’s really more of a prospect.  There was NHL interest in Tomas Greilinger in 09-10 (who would qualify for my purposes), but nothing came of it.

Slovak Elite League, Erste Bank Liga, Get Ligaen, Al-Bank Ligaen
Players have not been signed directly out of these leagues unless they have prior NHL-experience.

Conclusions: the vast majority of the players signed (24 of 33) come from either the Swedish or Finnish leagues; slightly more than half of the non-goaltenders have played fewer than a season’s worth of NHL games (12 of 23; I’m not including the re-signed Petrell, sophomore Emelin, or RFA Diaz); only two players (Leino and Hejda) have more than two seasons worth of NHL games to their credit.  Those two players are (so far) the only regular NHLers to come out of Europe as veterans post-lockout (seven seasons).  Among the goaltenders there’s been more success (7 of 11 have managed to have an NHL role for at least two seasons), and they compose a significant percentage of the signings (33%).

In terms of the translation of production the stats for players with less than 30 NHL games played just isn’t representative and I’ve tossed them out, which only leaves only the SEL (as a league) open for comparison (none of the other leagues have more than two who qualify):
SEL (5 players): -0.49 ppg
Combining all the non-SEL players (7): -0.55
Putting all the players together (12): -0.52
These numbers only look at players in their first season out of their European leagues, so for the numbers of players with at least 50+ games played in the NHL over their careers (12) their average North American production is: 0.29 ppg (Zuccarello and Leino have the highest).

The conclusion drawn is an obvious one: the scouting community doesn’t make many mistakes and there are very few diamonds in the rough overseas.  The most overlooked players are undersized forwards, which matches the tendency with players in North America.

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7 Comments

  1. […] Translating Production from European Leagues to the NHL […]

  2. […] do undrafted college players have in the NHL (the same kind of question I examined in my look at European free agents)?  There’s a large number of players signed from the NCAA, but no comprehensive list of them […]

  3. […] in the footsteps of my look at the success of European and college free agents in the NHL, I thought I’d take a look at undrafted players who made […]

  4. […] -Here’s my look at ECHL success stories post lockout, which continues my look at where diamonds in the rough are found in the NHL (having already looked at college and Europe). […]

  5. […] NHL draft), but made their way to the league through other means.  I’ve previously explored European, college, and the ECHL routes, and I’ve included those players here to create a master list […]

  6. […] about translating European and Collegiate success in North America can be more fully explored here (Europe) and here […]

  7. […] difficult to be settled with that conclusion.  This echoes my own look at undrafted players, where European goaltenders were far more successful than any other category missed by the […]


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