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 2016-2017 season and nothing more. A leagues history does not come into account in any way. It is a statement on development of players and how hard those leagues work to move players up to higher levels.
The criteria that was used in rating these twenty leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, Canadian University, USHL, NAHL, Canada Junior A and Major Junior hockey programs.
1. The United States Hockey League
The USHL is the dominant path for development now. The majority of NHL free agent signings come through the USHL to NCAA path. The continuously increasing NHL drafted player numbers from the USHL continues to grow. Vision and innovation are words used to describe how the USHL has become such a development force.
2. The Ontario Hockey League
Still one of the best leagues in the world, the OHL no longer dominates. A lack of depth is reducing its numbers of players moving on. Steps to remedy that depth issue have been taken with the addition of a second draft for Midget players. How effective that step may be is yet to be seen.
3. The Western Hockey League
The WHL is what everyone expects. A factory for physically dominating defensive prospects. Nolan Patrick though has highlighted all that the WHL can be if we look closer. There are a number of offensive gems being found with more regularity in the WHL and the league is becoming known for that new balance in development.
4. North American Hockey League
The NAHL is the leader in direct to NCAA placement at the division one level. It is the league of players who tend to develop a little later. It is also becoming the league of choice for NHL goaltending prospects. The NAHL has carved out a niche as the top place to look for NCAA talent when the NHL takes players from those programs early.
5. British Columbia Hockey League
The BCHL is simply out pacing the rest of Junior A in Canada when it comes to NCAA and CIS placement. Many of those NCAA players are moving on to professional hockey.
6. The Quebec Major Junior League
The QMJHL is hanging on to the number six spot. The league while still producing some NHL talent has largely become an afterthought in Canada. While moving a number of players on to minor professional leagues, the QMJHL is not the development powerhouse it once was. Until the CHL decides to jump in and find a way to help the league it will continue its steady decline.
7. USPHL – Premier
The USPHL – Premier with its numbers of players heading to NCAA D-1 combined with its D-3 commitments is on the rise. The league became much more aggressive in its player marketing and it paid dividends.
8. Eastern Hockey League
The EHL continued to lead the United States in NCAA D-3 and D-2 placements. While also moving a number of players on to higher levels of junior hockey, the EHL is embracing a development ladder philosophy.
9. Alberta Junior Hockey League
The AJHL took advantage of having a high profile NHL draft pick playing in the league. This benefitted all players with increased exposure.
10. Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League
The GOJHL, based on the volume of players moving on to the OHL as well as other Canadian Junior A leagues continues to show why it is one of the top development leagues in the world.
11. Ontario Junior Hockey League
The OJHL experienced a drop in player movement this year. While that is not easily explained, it is worth noting and keeping an eye on moving forward.
12. Central Canadian Hockey League
The CCHL also experienced a drop off in player promotion this year.
13. USPHL – Elite
The USPHL – Elite had its development numbers bolstered through the Mid West based teams.
The NA3HL is a good league. We simply can not count mandatory “tenders” given by the NAHL as legitimate development opportunity.
15. Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League
The NOJHL continues its steady development stream for both NCAA and Major Junior.
16. Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
The SJHL elevated their efforts to promote players this year and it paid off. Moving forward such efforts could help elevate the league in the eyes of scouts.
17. Western States Hockey League
The WSHL improved by ridding itself of some teams that were less than up to standards. Through that development improved slightly and we expect that trend to continue.
18. Kootenay International Junior Hockey League
The KIJHL continues to improve. Its efforts are being noticed by scouts at all levels.
19. Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League
Steady development and promotion for BCHL teams is what keeps good players in the league.
20. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The MJHL joins the top twenty this year after working very hard to improve its player promotional efforts. Should this effort continue we would expect the league to continue to rise.
This concludes our rankings for 2017.