The World Junior tournament is upon us again. NHL fans get an opportunity to watch their team's draft picks perform on the world stage. What future salary can we expect the players from each country to earn in the NHL? This is estimated using the cap hit from NHL Numbers for players who played in the WJC at any age and were drafted to the NHL at any point under the age of 21. Ergo all the players were taken from the pool of NHL draft picks from 2004 to 2011 who played at least 1 game in the tournament.
Team Canada players have by far the highest expected NHL salary of any country at age 23 with $1.8M. The high volume of players produced by Canada makes for very competitive tryouts with the national team. Roughly 50% of Team Canada draft picks will earn over $1M at age 23 and 14% will earn over $4M. Generally, the majority of Team Canada's roster has already been drafted prior to their first appearance in the Tournament. NHL Teams don't often get to draft players who played on Team Canada and instead hope their draft picks make the tournament after having already been drafted. Players who have a productive tournament can dramatically increase their market value.
You may notice the E[V] for Finland is very low. That country has come on strong in recent tournaments, but that bumper crop which started to appear in the 2012 draft has not yet turned 23 years old so are not included in the sample. From 2004 to 2011, there were 5 non-goalie Fins drafted in the first round; from 2012-2016, there were 11. The recent wave of elite Fins does not factor into any of the graphs below or above.
Furthermore, 33% of these draft picks who played for Team Finland would not go on to play any games of North American pro (NHL AHL ECHL) by age 23. It's unclear if the reason is that they didn't want to leave Europe, or weren't good enough to get a contract. Probably a little bit of both. During this time period, Finland was much better known for producing elite goaltending talent, which started to change with the arrival of Teravainen, Ganlund, Barkov, and Ristolainen.
The graph above is expected salary at the age of 23. The next graph takes the total sum of all NHL earnings for players from 2004-2017 before the age of 28. The graph above is an average at a specific age, the graph below is the sum of all ages (up to and including 27). As you can see, Sweden and USA will produce similar salaried players on average, but the Americans produce a greater volume of draft picks.
Coming To America
At what rate do draft picks from the WJC go on to play North American pro? For Team USA and Team Canada the answer is 100%.
Russia has a similar NA pro conversion rate as Finland but a much higher Expected future NHL salary. This is partially because the Russians produced more high-end talent than Finland over the sample (such as Ovechkin, Malkin, Kuznetsov, Tarasenko, etc). We have seen some of the elite Russian talent fall in the draft because of the "Russian factor" whereby NHL teams are afraid to draft Russians too high on fears they won't leave the KHL. In reality, they are converting players to North American pro at a similar rate to other European countries.
Swedish players will stay in Europe at a similar rate to Russians for ages 18, 19, and 20. By age 21 that starts to change, with 71% of draft picks from Team Sweden on an NHL entry level contract, versus 46% for Russians. Czechs are by far the most likely to come over to North America to play junior hockey. 73% of Team Czech draft picks will play more than 9 games of CHL at age 18.
These graphs do a good job of illustrating the expected future value of NHL draft picks from different World Junior programs. Canada is easily the best. There has been more discussion recently about the Americans closing the gap, but that is not being shown in the data sample that was used here. If the gap has indeed started to close just in the past few seasons, we won't see that in this data. Those prospects need a chance to play more NHL games and accumulate pro salary data before this type of analysis is possible.