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 2017-2018 season and nothing more.
The criteria that was used in rating these four leagues, was how do teams within the leagues compare when developing players who move on to the NHL, NCAA, and Canadian University hockey programs.
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 United States Hockey League.
Last year the USHL was 1.A. This season voting was not as close as in seasons past. The USHL was a clear winner, and the reasons for being the clear cut winner are becoming more evident each season.
All scouts were quick to cite the additional development time that the USHL affords players while moving them on to NCAA programs. This is seen as being a critical development factor for players who want to ensure they receive their education while continuing their journey to the NHL.
Of note as well was the over all reaction to the USHL, or USHL alumni leading the total head count of players drafted into the NHL in June.
Citing the direct correlation with USHL – NCAA – and leading all groups in the amount of NHL free agent signings carried a significant impact on the voting.
Those doubting the impact of NCAA advocacy from multiple leagues and organizations on hockey development can no longer bury their heads in the sand. The “strictly amateur” route is not only paying dividends, but those dividends are being realized by more players every year.
2. The Ontario Hockey League.
Last year, the OHL finished just slightly behind the USHL, by one vote. This year, the USHL extended its lead over the OHL. While still one of the best leagues in the world, the OHL is simply no longer the top development path for NHL players.
Though the domination of the NHL draft was there compared to the WHL, and QMJHL, the OHL no longer dominates everyone. The OHL continues to develop some of the worlds greatest players.
The USHL and OHL are clearly the world leaders in NHL player development at this time. While our rankings have in the past and will likely today cause much debate, the one thing that can not be argued, is that these leagues represent the best of the best. We expect the back and forth battle in annual rankings to continue.
It is also worth mentioning that several scouts wanted to include or wrote in votes for Europe as well. The success of the European development path was again clear at the NHL draft this year.
3. The Western Hockey League.
Scouts noted that the WHL continues to produce some top end talent. Clearly it is breeding ground for very talented defensemen. NHL draft and free agent signings continue to show the WHL has a knack for developing physical shut down defense first players.
The WHL has also been noted recently for its goaltender development. Many in the scouting community feel as though the WHL may be developing some of the better young Major Junior goaltenders.
4. The Quebec Major Junior League.
The QMJHL is a mere shadow of what it once was. Other than a handful of players, the QMJHL is simply not the development ground it once was. Many have argued that Junior A in the BCHL is of a higher over all caliber, and that the NAHL in the United States has clearly surpassed the QMJHL in development.
The return of European goaltenders to all of Major Junior will help with some total draft numbers, but it is likely too little too late. The USHL path is no longer a secret and provides more liberal opportunity for players in their NHL draft years.
Next week we will publish the results of rating Canadian Junior A and Tier II in the United States.