Well, I wouldn't say zero participation. France is once again in the elite level World Championship, and has been in and out of it on a regular basis over the last decade. Gretzky's parents were from Belarus, who are well represented internationally, and Poland still plays the game, they're simply not good enough to get back into the elite league. They have some well supported local teams, but with the success of their soccer team, it's hard for the hockey guys to get any attention when they're so weak.
Either way, it's not the NHL's job to grow the game in these markets, it's the IIHF's. Hungary has seen huge growth without any NHL stars, Kopitar developed into one of the top snipers without having a Slovenian star to look up to. Romania also has a small but active and passionate hockey community. Even Great Britain has two ECHL level leagues than fill the seats with passionate fans, albeit in 2,000 seat arenas. Anyway, the game doesn't grow over night, and in countries without a tradition in the sport, it's going to take time. I don't think the French are going to adopt it as their national sport just because some guy named Mario has French ancestry.
The smart teams would do it themselves. You want good draft picks? Start cultivating talent in places where athletes, staff and coaching are significantly under-tapped due to underfunding of the sport.