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Rating The Junior Hockey Leagues – Tier III 2017 Edition

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 2016-2017 season and nothing more.

With several mergers effecting the 2017-2018 season to come, this rating DOES NOT take those mergers into account.  The movement of EHL teams to the USPHL IS NOT taken into account.  The movement of NA3AHL teams moving to the EHL IS NOT taken into account.  Player movement up was graded on the league the players played in for the 2016-2017 season and not where their teams will play in 2017-2018.

The criteria that was used in rating these eleven leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, USHL, NAHL, and Canada Junior A 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.  The level of promotion of commitments was also taken into account for this particular rating.

1.  Eastern Hockey League

The EHL, was once again the top producer of NCAA prospects at the Tier III level.  The EHL also continued to move players on to Tier II when those opportunities were presented. The EHL lead all Tier III leagues in NCAA D-3 and D-2 placements.  There are many that are keeping a close eye on this season to see if the EHL can maintain its numbers or if they will continue to gravitate toward the NAHL development stream.  Many feel that the attractiveness of the EHL is in its autonomy and are voicing concerns over any subservience to the NAHL.

2.  USPHL – Premier

The USPHL, continued to be one of the top Tier III leagues in the United States in the 2016-2017 season.  Geography plays critical role in scouting the league, and showcase promotion was another.  The Premier division continued to do a great job of moving players on to all levels of College Hockey.  This division will change for next season, and the addition of EHL teams will likely bolster the promotion numbers.  How the Premier is used to develop players for the new NCDC will be a critical success factor moving forward.

3.  NA3HL

The NA3HL is again doing a good job at NCAA D-3 commitments for its players.  They continue to market their ability to move players to the NAHL.  Those marketing activities though are not indicative of the amount of players who actually end up playing in the NAHL from the NA3HL.  All NAHL teams being required to tender an NA3HL player artificially inflates the number of call ups.  The North Iowa Bulls and Metro Jets did such a great job with player movement last season they deserve recognition for it.  They are model franchise for the league when it comes to player promotion.

4.  USPHL – Elite

The USPHL Elite continues to be a scouts paradise.  The volume of  players moving on to NCAA D-3 from the league says a lot.  It says the focus is on development.  “Completely underrated” is the phrase scouts have been using.  While the higher level programs get a lot of attention, the Mid West teams within the Elite division are some of the most talent rich organizations in the country.

5.  USPHL 3

2016-2017 was the last season for the USP3.  While being seen by many as a lower level league, younger players continued to make the jump to higher levels.  In non traditional markets the USP3 often took the place of non existent AAA programs and provided a value to local players.

6.  NA3AHL

This is where things simply get confusing.  This league was for this season alone, part of the NAHL family.  Now they have moved on to the EHL for the coming season.  Not only were players confused by how the league was run, but so were scouts.  It did provide value for players though and could be making a move toward better structure with the EHL move.

7.  RMJHL

The RMJHL moved up simply based on a number of leagues folding and merging.  Lets be honest.  When a league is comprised of players that were cut from Midget AAA teams, it is not a good league.  Simply put, it would be better off being a Midget AAA league at the Tier II level.  The only reason it exists is to stem the tide of WSHL expansion.

8.  GMHL
The Greater Metro Hockey League is no longer the worst league in North America.  Congratulations.  This league simply wont die.  Like a cockroach it will survive a nuclear winter.  Any league that allows players at 22 yrs old to play against 15 year olds, is not a league that is in it for anything but money.

9.  CPJHL

In its first year, the CPJHL had its issues like every other first year league ever started.  A few players did move up, and more look to have moved up since the seasons end.  Talent was not deep, but a few players showed potential.  In year two, it looks to be a league on the rise.

10.  NCPHL

The NCPHL is a train wreck.  It all starts at the top with league management being completely incompetent.  Operated more like a loosely framed showcase league, it is embarrassing.  This is for all intents and purposes the “island of misfit toys” and any player in the league is simply wasting his time and money.  Scouts are not attending this leagues games or events unless paid to do so.  Avoid at all costs.

Next week we will publish our top twenty all inclusive list covering all levels of junior hockey.  Where will your league fit in?

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