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 2020-2021 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
Last few years the USHL has been rated number one. The USHL was a clear winner. And they won not only for player development and promotion but for league leadership in having a plan that successfully navigated the COVID pandemic.
All scouts were unanimous in citing the USHL’s member teams for giving players nothing short of the very best in development conditions. From arena’s to transportation, to meal plans and nutrition counseling, training facilities, and support staff simply can’t be matched. These items are seen as being a critical development factor for players who want to ensure they receive their education while continuing their journey to the NHL.
2. The Western Hockey League
The WHL jumps two spots into the number 2 position for not only player development, but for having a plan and managing to play during the COVID pandemic.
The success of rookie NHL players from the WHL was taken into account as Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and Bowen Byram have all proven to be NHL ready in their first seasons.
3. The Quebec Major Junior League
The QMJHL is not the dominant power it once was. Yet, they did play close to a full season in 2020-2021, and have benefited by having more eyes on their players simply by playing. The QMJHL also had a COVID pandemic management plan, and while some teams experienced infections, that plan allowed the league to successfully finish the season and crown a champion.
4. North American Hockey League
The NAHL planned and approached the COVID pandemic season very well. Minimizing infections and minimizing leaks of information concerning those infections when they happened proved to be very effective. As the season comes to its late conclusion, the NAHL is still pumping out NCAA commitments at the D-1 and D-3 levels. While not reaching previous years numbers, the NAHL is still out producing the rest of the competition, though the competition is hot on their heals.
The NCDC had a plan and its execution was nearly flawless. With a hub city in Florida, the NCDC played, and played often. Recruiting during the COVID pandemic was ramped up exponentially, and the level of play rose so quickly and so high based on that recruiting, that the NCDC lead all North American Tier II leagues with players listed on the final NHL players to watch list. Location played a critical role in recruiting, and while the NAHL is bigger, the NCDC capitalized on their location in the North East and their relationships with NCAA programs. The NCDC took critical steps to becoming a powerhouse in North America for years to come.
6. Alberta Junior Hockey League
The AJHL in a shortened season, took advantage of the time they had to play. The league managed a plan to maximize exposure and local recruiting efforts to land high end local prospects. Communication from the league offices was regular and effective. Marketing to scouts was also very effective as they tuned in to watch internet broadcasts of games. The AJHL made big strides in a short time filling the void left by the BCHL not playing meaningful games. The AJHL is going to surprise people in 2022 and in coming years.
7. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League did an excellent job managing the COVID pandemic and allowing players to have a shortened season. Communication from the league offices was transparent and often, an example of what all leagues should aspire to.
8. Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
The SJHL is simply getting better at developing talent. Again the limited season limited player opportunity yet the league maximized its online presence and broadcasts for scouting purposes, and players are realizing those benefits. Capable, steady, and calm decision making by league leadership allowed players to have confidence in being patient with the league as it managed its pandemic measures.
The NOJHL, is the league that simply made the best of the worst situation possible. It’s COVID management plan is the benchmark by which all other Canadian Junior A leagues should be measured against. Playing the second most meaningful games than all the other Canadian leagues, they maximized recruiting and the on ice product improved along with scouts opinions of the product being delivered. Once torn between NCAA and OHL development ideas, the NOJHL member teams were united in their goal to play for the players, and this was extremely successful.
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. COVID or not, the GOJHL did its players right by allowing them to move to other leagues and take advantage of opportunity. This is why they are the top Junior B league in Canada.
11. Kootenay International Junior Hockey League
The KIJHL is simply a quality league. Moving players on to other teams and leagues during the pandemic, and doing it actively before players requested to be moved sets this league apart from others. The player development now taking place in the KIJHL is raising the bar in Western Canada, exactly what is needed for athletes with lofty goals.
12. USPHL Premier
The USPHL Premier produces volumes of players for higher levels of hockey. They are part of the largest ice hockey organization in North America.
13. Maritime Junior Hockey League
The Maritimes lead the way in Canada with meaningful games played. While little communication was available from the league, the COVID pandemic never really ravaged its footprint and allowed for players to experience a very good season. By default, the MHL benefited from other leagues not playing, and scouting rose without effort. Largely viewed as a QMJHL development league the MHL continued to play that role as the QMJHL used its players throughout the season.
14. Eastern Hockey League
The EHL leads the way in NCAA D-3 development, and the top teams have a very good level of play. That said, there is little to no development for higher levels of junior hockey.
15. USPHL – Elite
The Elite league is a development pool for the Premier league primarily. It serves a younger player demographic, and is an option to stay home over moving away for AAA.
16. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
While the league played a minimal amount of games, they made an effort. Communication was as usual nearly non existent, but they are developing players for the QMJHL and deserved recognition for this effort.
17. Central Canadian Hockey League
They tried. Circumstances simply wouldn’t allow for any measurable level of competitive success. It is expected that these leagues will make a big come back next season. Leadership in the CCHL is stable, and they have one of the best footprints in junior hockey for recruiting in Ontario.
18. The Ontario Hockey League
If not for a last minute showcase put on by OHL players in Erie PA., the OHL would have fallen off the list completely. While typically near the top, the OHL was hit hard by over reaching politics, and will rebound into the top five in short order.
19. Ontario Junior Hockey League
The OJHL did not play, but teams did not hold players back from going other places to play. They put the players first when it came down to the wire, and that is most important.
20. British Columbia Hockey League
The only reason they make the list is because they played a limited number of games. League leadership is questionable, and honesty is not a strong suit.
This concludes our rankings for 2021.