Every year, we have the same old debate. Major Junior or the USHL to NCAA route for development. Which is best? There are plenty of opinions out there, but there is really only one that matters, and that is the collective opinion of 30 NHL teams, and NHL Central Scouting.
The NHL Central Scouting final draft prospect list came out yesterday, and every league is touting their players that made the list. Rightly so, because just making the list in an honor. But lets look at the real numbers being touted by the leagues themselves;
56 WHL players have been listed on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
52 OHL players have been listed by NHL Central Scouting in their Final Rankings.
48 QMJHL players in final 2015 NHL Central Scouting rankings.
46 players that have competed in USHL during 2014-15 make scouting list.
Now those are all very impressive numbers for each league. It does not represent the complete total from the list, but for arguments sake, this is a very large portion of the total list.
Whats missing from those totals though is the 10 additional players from the USHL that are listed but currently playing NCAA, Major Junior, Prep or other Junior hockey. This would bring the USHL number up to 56, equaling the WHL total.
Now, this is NOT a debate on which league is better or more competitive. Those arguments will be made when we do the annual TJHN summer rankings and comparisons. This is only a numerical comparison.
While I appreciate many of these arguments have in the past been based upon tradition, and opinions based on no real supporting data, but the data is now starting to accumulate where more educated opinions can be formed.
The data, over the course of the last five years or so is beginning to indicate that the USHL is on par for NHL development purposes with Major Junior in Canada.
The data, is also still showing that many players who are considered to be “blue chip” NHL prospects are choosing the Major Junior route.
Meanwhile, outside of the draft numbers, the data is clearly showing that the majority of NHL free agent signings are coming from NCAA hockey programs and not Major Junior.
But what does this all mean?
Ask and NHL scout what they think, and you will likely hear that they consider the USHL just as valuable for developing players as Major Junior.
Ask an NHL General Manager, and you will likely hear that they value the additional development time that comes with drafting players who are planning on attending NCAA programs.
The reasons are simple ones as well.
It is the very rare talent who at 18 to 20 years old can make an NHL roster, let alone make an impact on an NHL team. Most of these younger draft picks will end up in the AHL to get additional development time and seasoning.
Consider that the average age of an NHL player is around 27 years old. Consider that the average age of an NHL rookie is around 23 years old.
Now consider that the average age of an NCAA hockey player is around 20 years old, and the average age of a Major Junior player is around 18 years old.
What you have in the NCAA discussion is players are older in general, and more physically mature. When graduating or leaving an NCAA program they have played against older and more physically mature players. In the eyes of many at the NHL level, this gives them an advantage over the younger Major Junior players.
Now take into account that a player that is drafted in the NHL who attends an NCAA program does not have to be signed by the NHL team until their college career is over, and you can see why so many NHL teams are using more NCAA players or NCAA bound players every year.
Discount the physical maturity discussion if you will, and simply look at the financial implications for NHL teams. If you draft a player at 18, who goes to an NCAA program at 19, and the NHL team has until he is 23 to sign him, versus being forced to make a decision on a player in his 20 year old season at Major Junior.
Those are very real financial decisions facing each NHL team. In a salary cap era, every penny is counted, and players are valued not only for their ability but for the cost versus impact on a team.
While this argument is likely to go on for decades, one thing that is hard to argue is that the USHL is being seen as just as valuable as Major Junior now.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher