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. The criteria that was used in rating these leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, Canadian University, the USHL and Major Junior hockey programs. The size of the league as in number of teams was also taken into account for depth of player talent throughout the league. THIS IS NOT TO BE SEEN AS A DESCRIPTION OR STATMENT ON ANY LEAGUE LEVEL OF COMPETITION.
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.
1. The NAHL
The NAHL once again lead the way in North America. Player marketing in the NAHL is the best in the business. From very well executed events, to a propaganda department like no other, the NAHL simply out works every other league when it comes to moving players on to higher levels. Those efforts are now being emulated by other leagues looking to make up ground.
The BCHL is once again in second place and still one of the top development leagues in the world. Yet BCHL continues to lag behind the NAHL in player development volume and marketing reach. With NCAA scouting being further influenced by travel budgets, the BCHL is at the mercy of todays economy and its long distance from most NCAA programs. NHL scouting though is clearly on the rise and keeping the BCHL ahead of other leagues.
Completing its season the NCDC is finding its niche in the Tier II development market. More scouts are attending NCDC games an events as the talent level continues to rise. The league has made the conscious effort to get younger by limiting the number of 20 year old players on each roster making it more attractive to NCAA early scouting. As players learn more about the NCDC do not be surprised to see more top talent from the East Coast stay home to play in the coming years.
The AJHL is simply a solid league that has always been well run, and has maintained a high level of competitiveness. The AJHL continues to press forward with new promotional initiatives for its players and it is paying dividends. These initiatives are great for the players, and if additional moves are made to make it easier for scouts to attend games, the AJHL may surprise people in coming years.
The OJHL is a good league. Yet, the move to a pay to play model with inconsistent pricing from team to team is making is a less relevant development league on an annual basis. The OJHL is still producing and developing talented players moving on to higher levels, but not nearly at the rate they once were. Many now view the teams within the league as slightly above Tier III in the USA, in terms of business operations.
The CCHL continues to develop some nice home grown players. While a good league, complaints regarding rising player fee’s continue to grow in number. More complaints in import player recruiting also came in during the summer as American players are not being informed of the Hockey Canada rules regarding ages when they can move to Junior A. .
7. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League continued to make changes and increased their player promotional efforts for the 2018-2019 season. Its getting better, yet the geography of Manitoba is simply something that can not be over come. Limited scouting due to location and expense to travel will continue to hurt this league.
The SJHL continues to work hard in their player promotion department. Leadership worked hard last season to get more scouts involved, and those efforts look to be paying off. The SJHL should continue to improve their standing with this new effort that is player centered.
The SIJHL is the league that “could”. The SIJHL is producing some quality players that not enough people know about. Some very well run teams are developing a nice pool of prospects. The league office looks to be the only thing holding back the league from actually rising out of obscurity. Losing a team in the USA will hurt the league, and every effort to expand its USA presence should be made moving forward.
The WSHL is climbing the ladder of development. Every year, more players are earning opportunities at higher levels in Junior, NCAA and professional hockey. The high level of European players intrigues scouts and brings additional views to the American and Canadian players in the league. Expansion into Canada has helped recruiting efforts and allowed for level of play to increase. Efforts to increase scouting and player promotion through the league offices are clearly paying dividends.
The NOJHL, was once a league on the rise, and on the rise quickly. What happened? Many people are still trying to figure this out. One key comment made this year by several agents and advisers “the teams need to start delivering what the paying customer wants to buy, and not what the team wants to sell”. Important words in a pay to play league.
12. Maritime Junior Hockey League
The Maritimes and they keep plugging along with their QMJHL relationship. NCAA development is negligible.
13. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
Highly skilled players and no plan to promote them that anyone can tell. Same as the years before.
Next week we will tackle Tier III hockey.