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. 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 is the leader in direct to NCAA placement at the junior hockey level. Known for its unlimited “over age” players, it has become known as the hardest league to play in physically in North America due to the physical maturity these older players bring to the game.
The NCDC comes in only slightly behind the NAHL. The NCDC is distinguishing itself on the world stage as a very fast and talented league. While a “younger” league with limits placed on “over age” players on each roster, the league is loaded with young skill. This is evidenced by the NCDC leading all Tier II leagues in the number of players drafted by the NHL this year, and by the number of players taken to the USHL becoming impact players at the Tier I level. With expansion coming in 2023, the NCDC is showing the hockey world that they are ready to lead the nation in coming years.
The AJHL is simply the best Tier II league in Canada. The depth of talent is there across the board. While difficult for scouts to take in as many games as they would like, the AJHL offers a brand of hockey similar to the NAHL in its physical play while still maintaining a high level of skill.
The SJHL continues to improve in the development department. Like the AJHL, it is often difficult to scout due to teams having remote locations. Although development continues to improve, scouting has not, and limited views result in limited NCAA commitments.
The OJHL came back strong in during the 2021-2022 season. OJHL players clearly took the prior COVID year they were forced off, and worked hard in the gym. That hard work off the ice definitely produced results on the ice this past season. The return of the Jr. Sabres and the return of the OJHL showcase to Buffalo has scouts excited for next season.
6. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League continues to move players along to the NCAA and Canadian Universities. More are also finding their way to ACHA programs in the United States as well. Like the rest of Western Canada, the MJHL faces challenges in getting scouts to attend games in remote locations, but the brand of hockey is physical and highly skilled.
The NOJHL, is constantly working toward getting more players exposure to more opportunity. League leadership has always been proactive in how the on ice product is presented to scouts. The NOJHL leadership and its owners have shown many across Canada how to create a product that appeals to OHL and NCAA scouts as well. Its blend of development ideas and actions should be observed by others.
The BCHL while still offering a very high level of skill, did nothing but damage itself by leaving the CJHL and other Junior A leagues across Canada. News coverage on a national level was down significantly, and the inability to play in the National Championships is damaging. Players once destined for the BCHL are now looking at the other Junior A leagues in Canada as options simply due to increased exposure and opportunity for scouting.
The CCHL faced an up hill climb recovering from the COVID restrictions of the 2020-2021 season. Playing in the nations capital, the CCHL more than any other league was under a microscope and arguably had the tightest restrictions. Overcoming this was a challenge, and they did overcome. The end results are promising, and the CCHL will build on a successful completion of last season.
10. Maritime Junior Hockey League
The Maritimes is a high quality league for developing QMJHL talent, and for taking former QMJHL players who have aged out of those programs. It offers a high level of play, and great QMJHL scouting. Not really seen as an NCAA development league, but some scouting does take place.
11. Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League
The QJAAAL is a league not well known by most people in the United States. It really is a French speakers league and not many Americans ever play in it. While it is a good league, it simply is not measuring up to the other Junior A leagues in the country. While making a play for a national championship, the league was shown that they have a long way to go to reach the levels of those teams winning championships regularly.
The SIJHL struggled to get back to playing hockey. Beginning the season with two teams in the USA, and having one fold after a few months did not help. Poor planning during the restrictions at the border caused problems for every team in the league. The SIJHL should offer a better product moving forward, and if returning the showcase to the USA, that will certainly help it regain interest from scouts.
Next week we will tackle Tier III hockey.