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 2020-2021 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.
We also took into account the COVID pandemic, games played, teams not playing, and a whole host of other items that were impacted by the pandemic.
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 few years the USHL has been rated number 1. This season the USHL lead voting that was not as close as in years past. The USHL was a clear winner. And they won not only for player development and promotion but for league leadership in having a plan that successfully navigated the COVID pandemic.
All scouts were unanimous in citing the USHL’s member teams for giving players nothing short of the very best in development conditions. From arena’s to transportation, to meal plans and nutrition counseling, training facilities, and support staff simply can’t be matched. These items are seen as being a critical development factor for players who want to ensure they receive their education while continuing their journey to the NHL.
The USHL is producing NHL draft picks, and every year more players from the USHL, or with USHL ties are going on to have very successful NHL careers. The first round of the draft has been thoroughly dominated by USHL and USHL alumni in recent years.
The USHL’s 74 players on the 2021 NHL Final Rankings is the most for any Junior Hockey league in North America, finishing ahead of the OHL (61), WHL (57), and QMJHL (44), respectively.
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.
2. The Western Hockey League
The WHL jumps two spots into the number 2 position for not only player development, but for having a plan and managing to play during the COVID pandemic.
The success of rookie NHL players from the WHL was taken into account as Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and Bowen Byram have all proven to be NHL ready in their first seasons.
3. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
The QMJHL is not the dominant power it once was. Yet, they did play close to a full season in 2020-2021, and have benefited by having more eyes on their players simply by playing. The QMJHL also had a COVID pandemic management plan, and while some teams experienced infections, that plan allowed the league to successfully finish the season and crown a champion.
4. The Ontario Hockey League.
Last few years, the OHL finished just behind the USHL. This year, the OHL did not play, and there was no plan that was seen as viable, especially for the leagues teams based in the United States. While still one of the best leagues in the world when playing, the OHL is simply no longer the top development path for NHL players.
The USHL and OHL are clearly the world leaders in NHL player development at this time when you look at volume numbers. 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 in normal years.
It is also worth mentioning that several scouts wanted to include or wrote in votes for European leagues as well. The success of the European development path in Sweden and Finland will again be seen at the NHL draft this year. Rising leagues in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia due to players leaving North America to play during the pandemic allowed for these leagues to have higher visibility that in years past. Many leagues who previously were considered outposts will now be regularly scouted.
Next week we will publish the results of rating Canadian Junior A and Tier II in the United States.