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 2022-2023 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 continues to be the clear leader. NCAA commitments, and NHL draft picks tell the story. With more USHL alumni not only getting drafted, but signing NHL free agent contracts after playing NCAA hockey, no one else does it better.
2. The Western Hockey League
The WHL regains the number two position this year. The WHL was loaded with talent and continues to improve on development every year. The WHL is developing players that are having great success in the NHL, and many are also taking advantage of their education packages when aging out.
3. The Ontario Hockey League
The OHL drops just a little to the number three position. A development powerhouse, the OHL had a little bit of an off year in 2023. That said, more players are taking advantage of the OHL scholarship program and going to Canadian University after completing their OHL eligibility.
4. The Quebec Major Junior League
The QMJHL is starting to resemble the old QMJHL. A meaningful Memorial Cup Championship goes a long way in raising the league profile. NHL talent production 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 from junior to college NCAA D-1 placement. They 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.
The NCDC is producing more NCAA athletes each year, and more NHL draft picks than any other Tier II league in 2023. The league limits the amount of twenty year old players on each roster, and focusses on younger NCAA prospect development. With expansion west this season, the NCDC is making big moves for NCAA development.
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. 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 is North America’s leader in NCAA D3 and D2 player commitments, and that is their calling card. No other league on the continent does better with NCAA D-3 commitments. Loaded with last year junior players every year, the EHL puts a great product on the ice for scouts to watch.
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 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 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 BCHL is 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. Competition is not always indicative of upward mobility.
15. 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 with a renewed focus on development is seeing more success. Moving players on to NCAA and Canadian Universities is the focus. A great travel footprint gives the CCHL an environment that is easy on travel and easy on parents budgets.
17. Kootenay International Junior Hockey League
The KIJHL is Western Canada’s top Junior B league. They do development better than any of the other Junior B leagues out west, and its not even close.
The NA3HL has improved its development of players who go on to NCAA D3 and ACHA programs. Some control on expansion has lead to an increase in quality of play, and teams ability to recruit better talent.
The EHLP took offense at not being ranked last year. They dug in and did the hard work on elevating their offerings and elevating player advancement. This is a league to watch in 2024.
20. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
The QJAAAHL had players move up to Major Junior while some are also going to Canadian University. This is definitely Canada’s most Canadian player centered league.
This concludes our rankings for 2023.