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 2013-2014 season and nothing more. A leagues history does not come into account in any way.
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, Canadian University, USHL, NAHL, Canada Junior A 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. The level of promotion of commitment was also taken into account for this particular rating.
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. USPHL – Premier
With 89 commitments, most of which were to NCAA D-1 programs the USPHL, formerly the EJHL, lead all Tier III leagues in a near unanimous result. While some of those committed players did receive their commitments before playing in the USPHL, many did not. Geography was one critical factor scouts noted for scouting the league, and showcase promotion was another. No promotions to the USHL or NAHL were reported and thus this rating is solely based upon college commitments.
“Its a great league. Clearly the deepest of the Tier III leagues talent wise. Its close and easy to get to, so it saves time and money watching them. The top teams do a great job at promoting players, and teams below get the benefit of scouts wanting to watch the top teams so we find players on nearly every team.”
“Like all leagues you have the “haves” and the “have nots”. Get a few kids with early commits and you get kids who commit later by them being on the same team.”
2. Eastern Hockey League
With an astonishing 155 college commitments the Eastern Hockey League proved they know how to promote players. While many of these commitments are to NCAA D-3 programs, the league was hard at work promoting all of its member teams and players.
“They get over shadowed by the USPHL a little, but it is one strong league. Good operators work very hard to get scouts out to watch kids. They may not get the big name free agents, but they work harder than a lot of leagues to promote the good ones they get.”
3. NA3HL – Merged with AWHL
The NA3HL listed 87 promotions. Their merger with the AWHL earlier this spring, did not allow for the AWHL’s numbers to be added to those reported. The merger of the AWHL into the NA3HL makes the league stronger coast to coast. Estimations would have put promotion numbers well over 100 for the combined leagues. Promotions would include players moving up to the NAHL, NCAA and ACHA hockey.
“The 3HL is a gritty league that has done a lot to promote kids lately. Lots of D-3 and ACHA commits. Its hard to compete for scouting resources though when so much is dedicated to the USHL and NAHL. Schools can find players on pretty much every team when they need a late commit though.”
With 62 promotions, the Minnesota Junior Hockey League showed that by increasing the quality of coaching is paying off for the league as a whole. Promotions would include players moving up to the NAHL, NCAA and ACHA hockey.
“Its probably the most under rated league I have watched. There are a few teams that move players up at an astounding rate. Some teams need to work on player promotion, but there were some nice finds there last year that no one else really knew about.”
5. USPHL – Elite
With 44 commits the Elite league did a good job at promoting its players to many D-3 programs.
“Its not the top dog, but its not bad at all. A lot of good players who just didn’t fit in other places did well here last year.”
6. Metropolitan Junior Hockey League
While many scouts liked the Met, many also complained that player information was very hard to get in some cases. When compiling commitment and promotion information it was not organized in a way that accurate measurements could be made to compare to some other leagues.
“Some teams were great and worked hard to promote players. They could do better promoting themselves as a league though. Its hard to get them on the schedule when there are so many other teams to watch in the region.”
While only reporting one NCAA commitment, the Empire league is seen as a league used to develop players that eventually move on to the USPHL Elite and sometimes Premiere divisions.
“Its a younger players league. A good place to learn and develop before moving on.”
Twenty four teams reported 48 commitments. The league has also done well in promoting players to the NAHL. With a few USHL draft picks, the WSHL is a league on the rise.
“If it weren’t so expensive to go and scout we would go more. Its a good league and a lot of teams work to promote players. Its just out of the way, and we don’t have the budget to really work the league.”
The nine team NSHL boasted 24 promotions. The second season league has shown they are following the WSHL model of player promotion in a smaller footprint. In a Tier III saturated eastern United States the NSHL is carving out a niche for themselves and is a league on the rise.
“They came a long way last year. The level of play was up, and teams are starting to figure out how to get scouts to come. I expect more from them next year.”
10. NPHL (NorPAC)
Unable to obtain accurate promotion numbers for the NPHL may have hurt their ranking, but it is also an indication of what scouts said. Many scouts reported that information on the league and its players is next to impossible to get, and that teams and the league do not do enough for player promotion.
“Like the WSHL, its just so far away we don’t go out there. We saw some good players, and some are moving on.”
With 24 promotions, one to NCAA D-3, the MWJHL is being seen as a nice recruiting ground for ACHA programs. The geography of the league is benefiting the players who look to play closer to home, and benefits scouts who look to catch a game now and again. Hurting the league is competition from the NA3HL and MNJHL.
“Its a new league and they are starting to understand they need to recruit better talent now. A few good players last year. Its not too far, so I will catch a game or two later in the season when you know who the better players are on paper.”