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. 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.
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 leads in North America. 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.
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.
4. 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.
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.
7. 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.
8. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
While the league played a minimal amount of games, they made an effort. Communication was as usual nearly non existant.
9. OJHL, CCHL, SIJHL, and WSHL
They tried. Circumstances simply wouldn’t allow for any measurable level of success. It is expected that these leagues will make a big come back next season. Leadership in the CCHL is stable, the SIJHL has made positive changes, and the OJHL has its traditional footprint that benefits players ability to stay home and play. The WSHL simply had the very big balls to call off a season before it started and looks to regroup for 2021. Good leadership without optimal results is still better than bad leadership and bad decision making. These leagues should be commended.
The BCHL showed the entire world how NOT to handle a crisis. While playing a low number of games, the talent level plummeted along with commitment numbers. The absence of American players from BCHL rosters showed the absolute inability to develop local talent when they were forced to use it. From absolutely misleading players about their ability to enter Canada and play, to misrepresenting fee’s that some of those players would be forced to pay, the league and many of its member teams stole the final season of Junior Hockey from many 20 year old players by their lack of honesty. Leaving the CJHL is simply another outward example of the illness within it’s thinking and leadership.
Next week we will tackle Tier III hockey.