How Hard Is It to Make It to the NHL?

As hockey fans, one of our favorite things to do is criticize the players. 'He's a bum', 'he's washed up,' 'we are paying him how much?' It's innate. They make a ton of money to do what we wish we were doing, they can take a little ribbing from us lowly fans.

But are we giving these players enough credit? How hard is it actually to 'make it,' to 'go to the show,' to 'get the call?'

Early 2013, Jim Parcels, a former Peterborough Petes trainer and Ken Campbell, a writer for The Hockey News, co-authored Selling the Dream: How Hockey Parents and Their Kids Are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession. In the book, Parcels breaks down the odds of a kid from Ontario making the NHL. Out of the select 30,000 players they studied, 48 were drafted by an NHL team, and 39 of those 48 actually signed contracts with an NHL team. Of that 39, only 32 actually played in the NHL, and only 15 of those players played more than one full season. And finally, of that 15, only six played the minimum 400 games to qualify for the NHL Player Pension.

So if we count the 400 game league minimum for the Player Pension as having a 'career' in the NHL, then 0.16 percent will get drafted into the NHL and only 0.02 percent of hockey-playing boys in Ontario will make a 'career' out of hockey.

Now to be fair... that study was initially done in 1991 and there has been nine new teams added since then, opening up about 205 spots... but at the same time, according to the CBC, the number of boys playing hockey in Canada has steadily grown about 1.5 percent year over year, and the number of boys playing hockey in the USA has increased about 5.2 percent year over year. The IIHF reports that Czech Republic and Finland have growth in the double digits for boys hockey registrations, which is creating even more competition and overall, decreasing the odds of making it to 'the show.'

The odds are even slimmer if you are born in the second half of the year. A study published in PLOS ONE by three psychology professors found that players born in Jan-March are more likely to be drafted than players born later in the same calendar year.

(I won't even get into the frustrations of a female hockey player who has a better chance of winning the lottery, while getting struck by lightning in a double rainbow than making it to the NHL... I digress)

As any sport, hockey also sees about a 8-10 percent attrition rate each year according to Parcels and Campbell. Meaning that 8-10 percent of boys will drop out of hockey due to injuries, loss of interest, etc. I suppose there are some people that just don't want a career in hockey... weird.

So perhaps these NHL players we so desperately love to take cheap shots at deserve just a little bit of credit. They have hustled and grinded their way through some pretty tough competition to get where they are. If you only take one stat away with you, let it be this one; first round draft picks, who are considered the best of the best, the most desired, the cream of the crop, have historically only been career NHL players 63 percent of the time. It's a pretty tough gig.