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Rating The Junior Hockey Leagues – Major Junior And The USHL

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 2013-2014 season and nothing more.  A leagues history does not come into account in any way.

The criteria that was used in rating these four leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, and Canadian University hockey programs.

Again this is not a historical account of each league but a rating based upon last season alone.  We hope this series of articles is informative and promotes a healthy discussion.

The top Junior Hockey League in the world…….

The Ontario Hockey League.

The OHL was nearly a unanimous winner as the top junior hockey development league in the world.  When you combine the volume of players that move on to the NHL and Canadian University it is simply an overwhelming statement of success.

Scouts repeatedly remarked that the OHL was the best development league in the world because they have the best of everything.  The best facilities, best trainers, best coaches, largest fan bases, and every owner has the money to continue to improve their programs.

Quotes from scouts:

“There is no other league in the world that can compare when it comes to compete level of its players.  They do a great job at developing NHL players and many players who go on to university programs.”

“All Major Junior hockey is good, but the OHL is just better.  They have the resources to scout, recruit and develop players.  If they don’t move on to the NHL many players use their education packages to attend Canadian University and many of those players then move on to minor pro or Europe, some still move on to get looks in the NHL.”

Second place…..

The United States Hockey League.

Perhaps most surprising in the survey was the majority of scouts that said the USHL is quickly becoming a league of choice for many players throughout the world.

NHL scouts were quick to cite the additional development time that the USHL affords players while moving them on to NCAA programs.  Of note was the opinion that many felt a USHL player was less risky to pick in the draft because the team did not have to make a financial commitment to the player until they felt the player was ready to play.  Some also expressed that the ability to place a player in the American Hockey League directly from the USHL as a development benefit.

Quotes from scouts:

“The USHL is a great league.  Teams are developing young players the right way.  I can watch a player mature physically in very short order when following them over the course of just one season.  They do a great job of identifying talent that some people overlook.  One day a player can be relatively unknown, and by the end of the year he can be a prospect.”

“Coaching is key in the USHL.  It gets better every year, and the players are coming from around the world to play in the league because of it.”

Third place…..

The Western Hockey League.

The WHL and USHL were nearly a dead heat in this survey.  Scouts were quick to note that the WHL produces some top end talent, but that the difference between the top players and other players in the league presented a larger gap than the OHL and USHL.  The WHL was also noted for its players who later go on to play Canadian University and how well the league has done in encouraging players to do so.

Quotes from scouts:

“The dub is big and physical.  Its where I look for defencemen first.  Its a blue collar league that’s really done a great job in teaching their players the benefits of using their education packages when they are done playing.”

“Teams have gotten a lot better at looking for the smart player.  Not just a player who can play in the league but a player who can either make the NHL or go on to a great university and become leaders in their community.”

Fourth place……

The Quebec Major Junior League.

While some may interpret fourth place as being last place, this is not an accurate interpretation.  The QMJHL produces great hockey players, many NHL Hall of Fame players have come from the league in years past.  The one constant comment concerning the league was concerning depth, and the disparity in volume of players moving on to the NHL and university.

Quotes from scouts:

“The Q is hit or miss.  Either you get a highly skilled player, or the skill just drops off.  Because of that some of those players are harder to rate for the draft because you just don’t know how the player will do when moving up to face better competition.  Were the numbers an anomaly because the competition wasn’t as good?  Where would he fit in with players in other leagues?  Those are some of the questions you have to ask yourself when watching the Q.”

“Last year it was about offence.  This year it might be about defence or it might be about goaltending.  Its a mixed bag scouting there.  I like the league, but it really was hit and miss last year.  There was just too much disparity between the top six and bottom six to make watching games a highlight on my scouting calendar.”

Next week we will publish the results of rating Canadian Junior A and the North American Hockey League.

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