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. 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 continues to lead in North America. The NAHL is the leader in direct to NCAA placement at the junior hockey level, surpassing the USHL in direct placements. Known for its unlimited “over age” players, it has become known as the hardest league to play in, in North America. The NAHL is simply a man’s league, and features college ready athletes in every NAHL city.
The AJHL is the best Tier II league in Canada, abd its not even close. The depth of talent is there across the board. The AJHL offers a brand of hockey similar to the NAHL in its physical play while still maintaining a high level of skill. The AJHL is now Western Canada’s Junior A league of choice.
The NCDC comes in only slightly behind the AJHL. The NCDC has made a name for 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 for the second year in a row.
The OJHL continues to make a styrong comeback after the COVID years. Depth of player talent in Ontario has allowed for expansion in the 2023-2024 season. The OJHL is recruiting more actively than the last few years and working hard to keep Ontario players in Ontario.
The SJHL continues to improve in the development department. Though they lost a little ground in the standings this year, it is not for lack of effort. The OJHL simply did a little more and showed a little more.
6. Manitoba Junior Hockey League
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League continues to move players along to the NCAA and Canadian Universities. The MJHL is a very good development path for Western Canada players, and has proven to be a very good path for Canadians to play ACHA D-1.
The NOJHL, maintains its position from last year based upon solid efforts from league leadership, and team ownership groups to improve the level of play. Always a leader in the CJHL, the NOJHL continues to move forward in a dual path environment producing both NCAA and Major Junior players.
The BCHL while still offering a very high level of skill, has flattened out as far as development and player promotion is concerned. The departure from the CJHL and not being able to play for a National Championship or participate in other National events has limited scouting for the BCHL.
The CCHL has maintained its development protocols over the last few seasons. Steady development of primarily Ontario and Ottawa based players is its calling card.
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 good league featuring players in Quebec who are largely not interested in the Major Junior path. It is however not high on any NCAA scouting lists.
The SIJHL improved in 2022-2023. The level of play was up, and scouting was up. Continuing on this path may leead to better days for the SIJHL.
Next week we will tackle Tier III hockey.