I want to remind all readers that this series of articles rating the junior hockey leagues in North America is based upon independent opinions and analysis of scouts throughout the United States and Canada.
This rating is based upon the 2015-2016 season and nothing more.
The criteria that was used in rating these twelve leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, Canadian University, the USHL and Major Junior hockey programs. The size of the league as in number of teams was also taken into account for depth of player talent throughout the league. THIS IS NOT TO BE SEEN AS A DESCRIPTION OR STATMENT ON ANY LEAGUE LEVEL OF COMPETITION.
Again this is not a historical account of each league but a rating based upon last season alone. We hope this series of articles is informative and promotes a healthy discussion.
1. The NAHL
The NAHL continues to separate itself from all other Tier II leagues when it comes to marketing players to higher levels of hockey. While it is not the USHL, many teams are now actively doing more work to move players on. The Blaine Showcase and NAHL draft are clearly two key items that raise the NAHL scouting profile above all others.
The BCHL is still an excellent development league and well scouted, it is simply not the marketing machine that the NAHL is. Distance between the BCHL and higher level programs limits scouting. With scouting geography being influenced by travel budgets, it is likely this trend will continue.
The OJHL in its talent depth and location to scouts clearly gives them an advantage over many others outside of Ontario. Southern Ontario is still producing and developing many talented players moving on to higher levels. The OJHL however only barely hung on to the #3 ranking as the CCHL, AJHL, NOJHL and another were right on their heals in voting.
The CCHL continues to position itself to become a top developer of players in Canada. While changes continue to take place in the league and development structure, things could be better, and the CCHL could have fallen to #7 if not for a few votes. While a great league, many people have begun to complain about recruiting practices of some teams.
A well run, well established league that is focused on developing players. Yet geography does inhibit scouting in the winter months. The AJHL continues to focus on development and it shows every year.
The NOJHL, featured more in season call ups to higher levels than any other Canadian Junior A or Tier II league. Yes, the NOJHL lead the entire country. With no expansion in 2016, all teams should grow stronger and those numbers should improve. The NOJHL has a lot of potential, if the owners can stop trying to do what they want, and start doing what the paying customers want, this league could take over Ontario.
New to the ratings is the Western States Hockey League. After being maligned for adopting the Tier II label, the WSHL proved to be worthy of the label. The top half of the league is truly deserving of Tier II status by any measure. The WSHL annual Las Vegas showcase sets them apart from many other leagues.
The SJHL has fallen in their effort to promote players upward. The focus on simply winning games within their league has turned scouts off. Leadership has lost touch with what is important to players and scouts.
9. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
While some teams actively try to promote players, others do not. The disparity between top development teams and others is so great that scouts are limiting there trips to view teams. Geography and ease of travel has scouts turning to other alternative destinations.
The “haves and the have nots”, as it was last year, continue that trend. There are some Coaches within the league though that are looking to change how things operate. There are some owners too that are looking to completely change how things have been run. This leads to optimism, yet does not completely solve the issues of Canada’s smallest Junior A league.
11. Maritime Junior Hockey League
While known as a very competitive league, few teams are spending the resources needed to move players on. It is as if they don’t even care to try.
12. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
A very good league that unfortunately does little to try to move players up. Nothing more can be said that isn’t written.
Next week TJHN will examine Canadian Junior B