The NHL is one of the most significant sports leagues in the world and the professional ice hockey league. Playing in the NHL is among the greatest honors for any ice hockey player, especially those who want to pursue playing ice hockey as a career. The NHL can help you reach new heights.
Who gets the chance to play with the NHL, and how many players does the NHL have? Because not everyone is lucky enough, not everyone gets the chance.
So, how many players are in the NHL? In the 2021-2022 season, the NHL had 1,123 players. And out of those, 119 were goaltenders, and 1004 were skaters. NHL decrees that every NHL team must have min 20 or max 23 players on active rosters at the beginning of the season. Hence, with 32 NHL teams, there are between 640 – 736 players in the NHL at one time. Moreover, only 20 (18 skaters + 2 goalies) players can select for the game per team.
Total Number of Players who played in the NHL
During the 2021-22 season, 1,123 players played in the NHL. These included:
- 119 goaltenders
- 1,004 skaters
But we have also mentioned that the NHL teams have the restriction to keep the number of players between 20 – 23, and 32 NHL teams make 640 to 736 players without including the injured reserve.
The teams do not have this roster size restriction only one month before the season begins, after the trade deadline at the end of February or the start of March. So, how come 1,004 players? Three significant elements define the NHL roster size of a team at any particular moment:
1. Minimum Roster Size
Any team’s least number of players is 20, with 18 skaters and 2 goaltenders.
2. Maximum Roster Size
The maximum number of players allowed is 23. These 3 remaining players are the team management’s choice to pick any combination.
3. Injured Reserve
In case a player gets injured and cannot play, then the management can put him on the injured reserve, which is not part of the roster.
Common scenarios on how many players a team has at any one time?
The NHL teams have this choice to keep 20 to 23 players on their roster, so what do the teams do? Usually, the roster size of most teams is 22-23 players. How do the teams select their roster size? Let us look at the different scenarios.
- There are 20 players on the team when they decide to keep one healthy scratch for the defenseman and forward each. So, they select 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders. In any case, the coach may mix up the forwards and defensemen in his team. (ex: 11 forwards, 7 defensemen)
- Sometimes, the teams also carry precisely 20 players on their rosters though it is pretty unusual. The teams do this because of the salary cap implications.
- And lastly, teams carry 22-23 players on their rosters and some on the injured reserve. Since hockey is a challenging physical game, teams usually have one or two players on their injured reserve lists. These players stay and practice with the team but do not play the official matches. Once a player is okay, and back on the active roster, teams must have space for them. If the roster has increased its limit, the teams must trade the players or send them to minors.
NHL Trade Deadline and the Increase in Roster Size and Number of Players
The NHL tradeline ends at the start of March. When the deadline expires, the teams can keep more than 23 players.
But there are conditions. Teams can have four additional call-ups, but they are free to sign up players from other teams. And a team cannot have more than fifty contracts throughout the season. Even when the roster limit is lifted, the teams typically do not take extra players for two important reasons.
- First, teams do not want extra players in the team, especially those not playing. The team players have established schedules and routines and are used to that. So, it becomes difficult to handle more players.
- Secondly, there are always salary cap implications that the management has to consider. Teams cannot quickly bring up players from the minors. So, they avoid the extra players.
Generally, four types of players can join the team after the roster size limit is lifted:
- Players have current NHL contracts.
- Players from the minor leagues
- Players on professional tryout contracts
- Draft picks
Teams can work with these players and finalize players for the next season. The roster limit of 23 players is back in September when the new season begins. By this time, teams must have selected their final roster. Teams are also allowed to contract with fifty players, which helps them in unusual circumstances.
The following table shows the number of players teams can have:
|#||Roster Limits||Count Per Team||Total (31 Teams)|
|3||Standard Player Contract (50-Max)||50||1600|
|4||Reserve List (90-Max)||90||2880|
Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Black Aces
When the playoffs begin, more players can join the team. The salary cap implications are no longer there because the playoff salaries are not part of the salary cap, so players from the minor leagues who have played in the playoffs can become part of the team.
These players who now join the team to play in the playoffs are known as the black aces. The black aces can play with the team if required, but they practice separately and not with the team since the coaches do not want changes in the team techniques and strategies they have been following throughout the season.
These players usually come from the minor leagues and have played the seasons there. So, that is how we know the number of players in the NHL teams. If you want to play in the NHL, you must be part of one of these categories. Happy Striving!
Previous Seasons Figures
It’s good to know this season’s 2022 figure, but you are likely interested in previous seasons’ stats too. So, let’s see the statistics for the last ten seasons.
|1||2021 – 2022 (Draft expansion, Seattle Kraken)||1123||1004||119|
|5||2017-2018 (Draft Expansion, Vegas Golden Knights)||985||890||95|
|10||2012-2013 (48 Games Season)||921||839||82|
For clarity, this list excludes the number of healthy scratches or backup goalies who have never played in a match. Also, these are only NHL regular season stats; before the 2017-18 season, NHL had only 30 teams.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which country has the most number of NHL active players?
In 2022, Canada will be on top, having the most number of active NHL players, 374. The United States sits in 2nd place with 245 active NHL players.
What is the Canadians’ percentage in the NHL?
In the 2022-23 season, Canada has 42.7% of the NHL active players. The United States has a 27.1% percentage, and Sweden ranks third with 10.6 %.
Which state gives the most number of active NHL players?
As of quanthockey figures, Minnesota gave the most number of NHL active players, 51.
So, now you have the answer to your question, a definitive answer – “It depends”. It depends upon the reason you are asking for. Whether you want to know the number of players in the NHL season or you are interested to know the number of players who earn NHL or minor league contracts. So, it all depends on what you want to know because the number of NHL players changes every season. The primary reason for giving you all the brief details about this whole stuff is to provide an overview of all the possibilities.
Players’ numbers crossed the 1000th mark this season, and soon, there will be more, depending on the NHL contracts and rules.