Where are the top hockey hotbeds? World Cup rosters reveal sport's rising talent pools

Before they became NHL stars, Henrik Lundqvist and Patrick Kane developed their skills with talent-rich teams in Frolunda, Sweden, and London, Ontario. AP Photo, Getty Images

When the World Cup of Hockey kicks off on Sept. 17, the best players from around the globe will vie for international hockey supremacy.

A deep dive into the eight rosters assembled for this tournament offers a glimpse into where the world's best hockey players come from -- not simply which country develops top hockey talent, but which individual programs form the most prolific NHL pipeline.

ESPN.com examined each World Cup roster, including players who will miss the tournament because of injury, to find which programs are the top NHL incubators. Here is the list of the world's top hockey factories.

London Knights

It makes sense that this list would start with the Memorial Cup champions. In total, 33 Ontario Hockey League alumni were selected to compete in the World Cup, outpacing any other developmental league. Every World Cup team will ice at least one former OHL player. Among Canadian junior teams, the Knights and Kitchener Rangers of the OHL and the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League lead the competition with five players each. London sticks out by virtue of the names it has developed, including Patrick Kane, John Tavares and John Carlson, although Tavares played only 38 total games for the Knights.

"Kitchener is one of the big programs, along with London. They do a great job of recruiting players, going into the depths of the small towns to find good talent," said Ric Jackman, a former NHLer who has played professionally in eight different countries and whose former OHL team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, boasts four alums in the World Cup. "The product [the Knights] put on the ice and the amenities they have -- with that great arena and the success that they've had over the years -- I can understand why players from the United States or Europe want to go play there."

United States National Team Development Program

If the OHL has historically been the main channel for NHL talent, the USNTDP is the new model. Team USA's 23-man roster includes eight players developed in the program. And its reputation continued to grow after nine USNTDP players were taken in the first round of the 2016 draft, including three of the top seven picks. Team North America, which features the best players age 23 and under, has eight USNTDP grads of its own, including top talents Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin and 2016 top pick Auston Matthews.

University of Michigan

With five Wolverines headed to the World Cup, Michigan distinguished itself among Division I teams, edging out Minnesota and Wisconsin, which each boast four alums in the tournament. Michigan, which has won nine NCAA championships, has built quite a program under longtime coach Red Berenson. However, Minnesota -- which will have four former players who represent three different countries in the World Cup -- has shifted the recruiting model by attracting both local and international talent.

"I don't think we were winning the recruiting battles. We were losing kids to Wisconsin. That's when [Minnesota] opened it up to other kids," said former NHL player Craig Johnson, a Minnesota alum who now coaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California. "It proved successful. They ended up winning a couple of national championships after they did it."

Perhaps most surprising is the scant representation from East Coast powerhouses Boston University (Eichel) and Boston College (Johnny Gaudreau, Cory Schneider), which combine for three players in the tournament.


One of the favorites to take the tournament, Sweden's World Cup team draws talent from a variety of historic programs. But Frolunda leads the team with five players, including key pieces Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Karlsson and Loui Eriksson. The club -- which is captained by Lundqvist's twin brother, Joel -- won the Swedish Hockey League title last season.

Djurgardens and Modo are right behind Frolunda, with four players each. But while Djurgardens is located in Stockholm and draws from a larger talent pool, Modo is among the world's legendary programs. Located in the town of Ornskoldsvik (with a population less than 29,000), the club has groomed legends Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund. The Swedish team is led by three prominent Modo alums in Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Victor Hedman.


The club known for developing Jaromir Jagr, who is now its part-owner, has six former players on the Czech roster. Located northeast of Prague, Kladno is among Europe's oldest clubs and has overseen the development of top Czech forwards David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Voracek. But Canadian junior leagues have proven just as responsible for grooming top Czech prospects. Of the 23 players on the Czech roster, 15 played Canadian junior hockey. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has become the go-to destination for Czechs looking to refine their game: Eight members of the World Cup team have played in the league.

Karpat and Jokerit

While Czech players typically leave their country early, Finns prefer to stay home until they get their call from the NHL. When it comes to the programs furnishing the Finnish team, two clubs reign supreme. Karpat and Jokerit boast six and five World Cup players, respectively, and have a history of producing top talent.

"They play a real team game. They've kind of molded their systems around the North American NHL style," said Jackman. "You could see how a lot of players would learn their trade on their pro teams over there. There is a direct transition for them to step into the NHL and be successful."

Karpat's alums on the national team include key players Pekka Rinne, Mikael Granlund and top prospect Sebastian Aho. But Jokerit will always be known as the club that gave the world Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri, the two greatest players in Finnish hockey history. Those two names -- and Jokerit's Helsinki location -- have helped developed an elite program whose top team moved to the Kontinental Hockey League in 2014.

Honorable mentions

Dukla Trencin: Slovakia has fallen behind in its overall hockey development, but this club -- located in the modest western city of Trencin -- has four former players in the tournament, including Slovakian legends Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: No one club dominates Russia's national team. Yaroslavl and Sibir Novosibirsk both feature three players on the roster. But Yaroslavl is a considerably smaller city that has contributed key Russian players Semyon Varlamov, Dmitry Kulikov and Artem Anisimov.