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 2021-2022 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. Volume of player movement to their next levels is the most critical component in these rankings.
1. The United States Hockey League
The USHL is once again the clear winner. NCAA commitments, and NHL draft picks tell the story. With more USHL alumni not only getting draft, but signing NHL free agent contracts after playing NCAA hockey, no one else does it better.
The consensus among all scouts was that the combination of talent, development environment, and commitment to a slow development process is the key to the USHL’s success. There are no short cuts, and there is no rush to move players before they are ready. This sets them apart from the other successful programs.
2. The Ontario Hockey League
The OHL returned to the number two position after being forced to sit out the 20202 – 2021 season. The OHL is the benchmark for success in Canada, and leads in direct to NHL player development. More players are also taking advantage of the OHL scholarship program and going to Canadian University after completing their OHL eligibility.
3. The Western Hockey League
The WHL falls just slightly this year due to the OHL’s return, but this does not mean the WHL was not loaded with talent, or that they are not developing the right way. The OHL edges them out only based on volume, and the WHL is right on their heels. Once deemed a Defenseman development league, the WHL is developing Forwards that are having great success in the NHL, and many are also taking advantage of their education packages when aging out.
4. The Quebec Major Junior League
The QMJHL is starting to resemble the old QMJHL in that the development of forwards and goaltenders is returning to its glory days. While the last few years have seen some struggles to produce NHL talent in large numbers, those numbers are once again trending up as it looks like there is a renewed focus on player skill development and it has been producing results on the ice that are noticeable.
5. North American Hockey League
The NAHL leads all leagues in direct to college NCAA D-1 placement. They do out produce the USHL in that regard. With a caveat being that most of those placements coming as players age out and exhaust their junior eligibility. The NAHL is an older players league, that is the most physical league in North America at the junior level. Playing in the NAHL is playing in a demanding physical environment and players are growing because of it.
The NCDC has had a development plan since its inception five years ago. The league limits the amount of twenty year old players on each roster, and focusses on younger NCAA prospect development. Closer to the USHL in its development model, the NCDC is developing more NCAA players, and more young players are making the jump from the NCDC to the USHL. By design the NCDC is doing everything it set out to do. With expansion coming in 2023, look for more from the NCDC moving forward.
7. Alberta Junior Hockey League
The AJHL is Canada’s best Junior A league when it comes to development. More players are moving up to Major Junior and Canadian University every year from the AJHL. Producing NHL draft picks with regularity also sets them apart from the rest of Canada.
8. USPHL Premier
The USPHL Premier, by volume moves more players up to the USHL, the NCDC, NAHL, Canadian Junior A, NCAA D-1 and NCAA D-3 than any other league. Volume of movement up can not be matched by any other league or combination of leagues. The USPHL Premier is in a class of its own when looking at development from the pay to play models in North America.
The EHL continues to develop a ton of NCAA D3 players, and that is their calling card. Loaded with last year junior players every year, the EHL puts a great product on the ice for scouts to watch. The EHL is not trying to be anything other than what they are now, and developing for Tier II or the USHL is not what they focus on. NCAA placement in D3 is their bread and butter and they do it well.
10. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League does a great job at working with what they have. A lot of talent, and great ownership throughout the league, the MJHL does its best to move players on to NCAA and Canadian Universities.
11. Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
The SJHL is in a similar position as the MJHL. Great talent and ownership make for a great product on the ice. Moving players on to Canadian University is something they do well. The player development focus has improved in recent years, and the results are definitely there.
The OJHL did a really good job recovering from COVID shit downs. There was a huge effort made to get scouts into buildings this year, and to push players up. Not only were NCAA commitments being focused on, but moving players up to the OHL was also a priority.
The GOJHL is loaded. Loaded with young talent and young OHL draft picks. It is really the OHL’s development league, and scouts don’t have to go far to watch future OHL players. A great league that knows what it is doing when it comes to development.
The NOJHL is probably the most under rated league in Canada among players and fans. Loaded with talent, the NOJHL regularly moves players to the OHL, QMJHL, NCAA, Canadian University and NCAA D3. Great leadership and solid coaching are everywhere in the league.
The BCHL in its first season outside of the CJHL is still a highly competitive league, and teams do a great job working with individual player development. Not playing for a National Championship or in other CJHL events really hurts player scouting and that hurts upward movement.
16. USPHL Elite
The USPHL Elite is a primary development league for the USPHL Premier and a secondary development pool for the NCDC. A young league by average age, the USPHL Elite does a great job at introducing players to Junior Hockey and preparing them for higher levels.
The CCHL made a great recovery after suffering from government restrictions in the 2020-2021 season. Moving players on to NCAA and Canadian Universities is the focus, while some Major Junior scouting is definitely taking place. A great travel footprint gives the CCHL an environment that is easy on travel and easy on parents budgets.
The NA3HL has improved its actual development of players who go on to the NAHL and NCAA D3. Some control on expansion has lead to an increase in quality of play, and teams ability to recruit better talent. While the numbers are not there yet, the NA3 looks to be on the rise when it comes to moving players up.
19. Kootenay International Junior Hockey League
The KIJHL is a great league for Western Canada players to be seen by the BCHL, AJHL, SJHL and sometimes the MJHL. The focus on development is obvious in the numbers of players making an impact when moving up, and those numbers continue to gradually grow.
20. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
The QJAAAHL had a good showing in 2021-2022, and players are continuing to move up to Major Junior while some are also going to Canadian University. This is definitely Canada’s most Canadian player centered league, and few American players even try to play there, if not for this, the QJAAAHL could likely produce NCAA players with regularity.
This concludes our rankings for 2022.