Fighter type players are the lowest skill you need to make it. You don't even have to be a good hockey player to do it, if you are big enough and can at least do a few things you can do it.
Checking machine is next. It takes more talent but still not much. Then you have things like stay at home defensemen, face off specialists etc. all the way to the top.
At the top skilled player, a fast, stickhandler.
In the important games, the physical play is more important then ever. The physical player becomes more integral to his team. You play physical as a way to take away the advantage of the faster or more skilled players.
Motiviation is often seen as working through checks, hitting more and taking hits better.
There are 2 things that these assumptions lead me to when it comes to non NA players.
1. It is very unlikely there are positions for physical players outside of the US or Canada. Why would a non-talented hockey player even try to come over here? Why would a marginal good type try to get to the U.S. and play?
2. The Euro player is more skilled because of 1. When the serious games get going, the goon can neutralize the talent by bashing his skull in. He doesn't have to skate with a guy he just beat up.
Even if he is not beat up, the smaller skilled player is not as free to be skilled (look at Crosby last night).
Since so many of the non NA players are not physical types, they are in general more skilled types, they are the victims of the physical types - the majority of them are NA player.
I think it's almost impossible for a Russian trained and bred player to be a leader here. Leaders must be able to communicate with their team and English is the language used by the majority of NHL players. Canadian and American players are obviously the most comfortable with the language so its just way easier for them to step into a leadership role. It has nothing to do with leadership abilities just circumstances. You look at those old teams composed fully of Russians, or even their more recent Olympic teams. Those squads dont lack leadership, but their abilities dont translate over into the NHL game where they have a variety of players and are uncomfortable to communicate with them.
Ivan Hlinka was an excellent hockey man and coach but he couldn't communicate his thoughts well enough in English to be as good a coach in the NHL as he was in the Czech Republic.
Beyond that though the numbers are against Europeans. 2 of every 3 NHL players come from NA. There are 10 Canadians for every Russian in the league. Russians made up only 5% of the opening rosters last fall (or an average of about 1 Russian player per team).
Btw, these were the numbers I came up with based on the opening rosters last fall and the information provided on team websites:
Canada 369 51.7%
USA 118 16.5%
Czech Rep 54 7.6%
Sweden 43 6.0%
Finland 37 5.2%
Russia 35 4.9%
Slovakia 21 2.9%
Germany 7 1.0%
Ukraine 7 1.0%
Switzerland 4 0.5%
Others (14) 19 2.7%
And Boris Mikhailov was one of the grittiest players I ever saw. There must be more of them in the Russian leagues but that is rarely the type of player teams are looking for from Russia, they're already a dime a dozen in NA.