How Old Are The World Junior Hockey Players? [Ultimate Guide!]

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The 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship will be hosted by the United States beginning on December 26th and ending on January 5th, with 32 teams from around the world competing. Every four years, the world’s best under-20 hockey players gather in a battle of nations to see which team is the best at playing the game. This year’s championship is being touted as the “most historic” because of the pandemic that has effectively sidelined almost all sporting events.

While the competition itself will feature top-notch players, it’s the young age of the participants that truly makes this year’s tournament unique. For the first time ever, all teams will have a completely different age profile. Normally, the World Junior Hockey Championship features teams that are made up of predominantly young men. This year, to adhere to health and safety protocols aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, all teams will have at least one player that is at least 18 years old. The United States will even field a team of mostly U.S. college students which is sure to bring a fresh spin on the competitive spirit of the tournament.

Which Country Has The Most Players From The Past?

As part of our countdown to the start of the tournament, let’s take a look at which country has the most players from the past. Looking at the tournament’s history since its inception in 1978, there are a few trends that can be observed.

First, Canada has obviously dominated the list of countries with the most players. Since the first tournament, Canada has sent the most teams (20) and has also boasted the most players (959). Additionally, no other country has sent more than two teams to the tournament. The list of all-time greats from Canada is incredibly long, and this year’s team is no different. Among the group of skilled over-age players, Canada boasts some of the biggest names in the sport including Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier.

The following two tables list all 20 countries that have qualified for, and participated in, at least one World Junior Hockey Championship. The first table features only the most recent tournament while the other table includes all tournaments (except for 2020).

Most Recent Tournament (Since 1978)

The most recent table lists all the countries that have qualified for, and participated in, the most recent tournament. The list below showcases the 24 teams that have made it to this year’s tournament. The format for the tournament has changed over the years as more and more countries have entered the competition. Prior to the start of the pandemic, the World Junior Hockey Championship would kick off in November and continue for about a week. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, all 32 teams have started their tournament simultaneously, and the championship will be decided by the end of the month.

All-Time Greatest

While Canada has produced the most World Junior Hockey Championship players, it’s interesting to note that over the past 40 years, the number of teams participating in the tournament has decreased. There were only seven teams in the inaugural 1978 tournament which had an all-time greatest team made up entirely of players who went on to play professional hockey. Since then, the number of teams has steadily decreased, and in 2020 there will only be 32 teams in the entire tournament. One of the main reasons for this decrease is the advent of professional team sports in the 1980s which led to a huge rise in the popularity of hockey among adults. The game transitioned from being a sport for children to something that adults could enjoy as well. The increase in overall hockey popularity led to the creation of a professional league (NHL) in 1992 which further separated the sport from its amateur counterpart (NHL)

Notable Names

Looking at the list of teams that have participated in the most recent tournament, a few names immediately jump out at you. First, there is Team Russia which has competed in all tournaments since their inception in 1978. In fact, Russia has sent the most teams to the tournament (24) and has also produced the most all-time greatest players (402). Additionally, it’s hard to not mention the ever-present Canadians who have produced some of the biggest names in the sport. Three of the top four teams in this year’s tournament are made up of former NHL players. The last table in this section will highlight some of the biggest names in hockey history.

Top NHL Players

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the world of hockey has undergone a massive transition. Gone are the days of only seeing kids play in tiny ponds and streets. The game has evolved into a globally popular sport, and for the first time ever, players are now being produced at a unprecedented rate. As the world becomes more digitally connected, coaches and scouts are able to closely monitor the progress of young hockey players around the world in real time. This trend has made it much easier for NHL teams to scout players and identify those that might be best suited for their team.

The following table highlights the top 20 players in the NHL as of the end of November 2020. All players are at least 21 years of age.

Top European Players

While the table above focuses on the top players in the NHL, let’s take a quick look at some of the biggest names in European hockey. This table features only players who spent at least some of their time in the NHL playing in Europe. Looking at the list, it’s clear that a lot of talent exists beyond the borders of North America.

Top Japanese Players

Finally, we have the Japanese. Despite being a predominantly Asian country, Japan has actually produced a pretty low number of World Junior Hockey players. The only reason that they are even on this list is because they have won the tournament twice, most recently in 2012 and 2013. Since then, the number of teams participating in the tournament has steadily increased each year. However, it remains to be seen whether Japan can continue this trend and win the tournament again.

Looking at all these tables, it’s clear that a lot of talent from Canada, Russia, and the United States leads the way. These three countries have combined for over 90% of the total titles over the past four decades. Additionally, many of the greatest players in the game today got their start at an early age in one of these three countries. While it’s fun to look at the past, these tables also serve as a glimpse into the exciting future of hockey.

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