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 2018-2019 season and nothing more. League history does not come into account in any way. What they did five or ten years ago has zero impact on todays ranking. 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 once again proving it is the dominant path for development. Anyone who wants to argue this point can simply look to last years NHL draft results. Now is when I look for our Canadian readers to chime in on things. The majority of NHL free agent signings also come through the USHL to NCAA path. The number of players looking at the USHL as a viable option to keep their NCAA opportunities open is continuously growing. Experts around the world expect this trend to continue.
2. The Ontario Hockey League
The OHL is still an incredible development option for those players who are on the fast track to the NHL, but it no longer dominates hockey development as it did ten or more years ago. A continued lack of depth is reducing its numbers of players moving on. Players have recognized the clear advantages of playing in the USHL and keeping their NCAA opportunity open until their draft year has passed.
3. The Western Hockey League
The WHL is raising its offensive game. Once known as a factory for physically dominating defensive prospects, the WHL is now producing some very talented offensive players. While still maintaining their reputation as a hard defensive minded league, the forwards playing and producing in this league are better prepared for the NHL because of it.
4. North American Hockey League
The NAHL is still the leader in direct to NCAA Division One placement. It is a league of players who tend to develop a little later, and trend a little older. The NAHL is a very hard league to play in. Fast and physical, the league is very difficult to break into and not one for younger players. The NAHL is developing a steady stream of players that now make it to the NHL after NCAA hockey.
5. British Columbia Hockey League
The BCHL continues to out produce the rest of Canada when it comes to NCAA and CIS placement. Many of those NCAA players are moving on to professional hockey. The BCHL simply recruits better, and develops more players because they have higher standards than the rest.
6. The Quebec Major Junior League
The QMJHL is still hanging on to the number six spot. The league while still producing some NHL talent has largely become an afterthought in Canada. Fewer players every year are choosing the QMJHL over Junior A, or heading south to the USA. The 2020 NHL draft may help shine the light back on the QMJHL for the next few seasons, and the hope is that with NHL draft success, the QMJHL can once again raise its game to what it once was.
Once again the NCDC saw its numbers of players heading to NCAA D-1 and D-3 programs rise in the 2018-2019 season. The league in its first two years proven that its geography and free to play hockey can pay immediate dividends for players. The NAHL also recognized this as the number of NCDC players drafted and signed to NAHL rosters in the summer of 2019 rose dramatically. The NCDC should continue to raise its game as they continue to limit the number of 20 year old players and develop younger prospects close to home.
8. Eastern Hockey League
The EHL is simply a well oiled machine and 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. Excellent coaching, administration, and marketing keep the EHL in the top ten every year.
9. USPHL Premier
The USPHL Premier proves every year is still one of the top development leagues in North America. Moving players to Tier II and NCAA programs is a daily occurrence. While the NCDC has taken the lead in the USPHL family, the Premier is still an excellent development league. The USPHL is clearly the development pool for the NCDC as many players are simply moved up through the organizations. Clearly the business model thought of three years ago is working.
10. Alberta Junior Hockey League
The AJHL continues to take advantage of its new found level of attention from NHL scouts. This attention has benefitted all players with increased exposure, and higher levels of scouts in the buildings on a regular basis. Better scouting, more scholarships, and an increased level of play keeps the AJHL in out top ten.
11. 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.
12. Ontario Junior Hockey League
The OJHL continues to see a drop in NCAA commitments, and barely held on to the number twelve spot. Now many players and parents see the league as a cash cow for owners and the level of play has clearly fallen off.
13. USPHL – Elite
The USPHL – Elite moves up one spot this year simply based on the volume of players moved up to the USPHL – Premier. Many of these players are now getting NCAA opportunities as they take their time developing within USPHL development systems.
14. Central Canadian Hockey League
The CCHL is now falling. Many complaints about player fees. Misleading recruiting practices with non Canadian players, and gimmicks to get families to fork over more money every summer are not going over well. A continued decline in commitments is also not a good sign moving forward.
15. Kootenay International Junior Hockey League
The KIJHL moves up two spots this year. A noticeably increased effort to move players to Junior A has been working and the league talent level is on the rise because of it.
16. Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
The SJHL once again elevated their efforts to promote players this year and it paid off. While geography keeps scouting limited, the SJHL is trying to focus on developing quality players for NCAA and CIS programs.
17. Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League
The NOJHL is a fading a bit. Once on the fast track for leading Canada in NCAA D-3 player development, the NOJHL has not found a real identity. Too much major junior influence is now keeping the top players who are not ready for higher level Tier II leagues from going to the NOJHL.
18. Superior International Junior Hockey League
If not for bad league management, the SIJHL would have risen in the rankings this year. A greater emphasis from individual teams on player development is working, yet a lack of creative problem solving at the league level holds the SIJHL back from becoming a player destination.
19. Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League
Still a great BCHL player development league and very well run. It is a staple of the Canadian development system.
20. Eastern Hockey League Premier
The EHLP is a not as well known as the others, but is steadily developing many players for the EHL. The EHLP is kept younger by design in order to move players up through their own development systems and this is a model that is clearly working.
This concludes our rankings for 2019.