Best Developmental Ice Hockey Leagues

July 14, 2013  |  Posted by David Pollitt
Dan Spence is an example of a player in the developmental system who is a top NHL prospect.
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Recently I read a blog post by Anatoliy Metter of The Hockey Writers that talked about the Top 10 Best Developmental Ice Hockey Leagues (in North America).  His list of the top 10 best leagues is listed as follows:

  1. AHL (minor professional league)
  2. ECHL (minor professional league)
  3. CHL (Canadian Hockey League, Major Junior)
  4. NCAA (American Collegiate Hockey)
  5. USHL (United States Hockey League, Junior)
  6. BCHL (Junior-A, Tier I)
  7. OJHL (Ontario Junior Hockey League)
  8. GOJHL (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Junior-B)
  9. NAHL (North American Hockey League, Junior-A Tier II)
  10. CCHL (Central Canadian Hockey League, Junior-A Tier II)

Every year I talk with the midget and junior players I coach about what prospective team’s they might play for next season and what their long term hockey goals are.  I’m always asked my thoughts on which are the best developmental hockey leagues and what my opinion is regarding teams/leagues.

While I am certainly not the expert in all North American developmental hockey leagues I have watched a lot of hockey at all levels (such as the AHL, ECHL, CHL, CHL pro league, College, Tier I & II Junior A, Junior B and midget).  The following is my list of the Top 10 Best Developmental Leagues (in North America).

1.  AHL (American Hockey League, minor professional).  This is a no brainer here as all NHL teams send players to this league for prospect development.

2.  ECHL (East Coast Hockey League, minor professional).  The ECHL is a very good league for aspiring players looking to move up to the AHL and NHL levels.  The quality of hockey is high and players get a good taste of the speed and physicality they will see at the higher levels in hockey.

3.  CHL (Canadian Hockey League, major junior).  More players are drafted from the three leagues that make up the CHL (the WHL, OHL and QMJHL) than any other league.  Top bantam prospects are drafted from Canada and the US yearly into this league as the gateway into the NHL.  This league is unmatched for taking young players and moving them into higher pro-level hockey.

4.  NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).  The NCAA is fast developing as a solid league for higher level hockey players to mature and speed up their game to the pro level.  At the Division 1 level many players are as good as players from the Canadian Hockey League, and they get a college education in the process which is perhaps the best solution for younger players as hockey at the pro level is not possible for everyone.  NOTE: Division 1 players get a “full ride” meaning they have their college fees, living, food, etc. paid in full, while the lower Division 2 and 3 leagues offer financial aid for players.

5.  CHL (Central Hockey League, minor professional).  The CHL is a solid developmental league for players looking to move up to the ECHL, AHL and eventually the NHL.  Each team is affiliated with an NHL club so when in this league they are “in the system” as prospects.  In the past three seasons for example (2010 through 2013) there have been 114 call ups to the AHL.  This is a very good league with a 22 year history of developing high quality professional players.

6.  USHL (United Stated Hockey League, junior).  I’m often torn between the USHL and the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League) as my next choice on this list because they are both great developmental leagues.  I give the nod to the USHL because the quality of hockey is slightly better than Tier 1 Junior-A, and many NCAA teams like to pick from this league, and recently a lot of NHL teams are drafting players from this league.

7.  BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League, Tier 1 Junior-A).  This league is the holy grail for young bantam and midget players looking to move into the Canadian Hockey League or into the NCAA.  Many players are drafted from NHL teams right out of this league and are assigned to minor pro teams.  The quality of hockey, the speed and the physicality of this league are very apparent and the number of young prospects chosen to move on is very high compared to other leagues at this level.

8.  CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport).  The Canadian equivalent of the American NCAA the CIS provides athletic scholarships that only cover tuition and compulsory fees for the student-athlete (certainly not the full ride that is offered in the NCAA).  This league offers a university education to players graduating from the Canadian Hockey League who may need some time to develop into minor pro or professional players (in the NHL or Europe).  This league has great coaching, is fast paced and provides a quality experience for players looking to move to the next level in hockey.

9.  AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League, Tier I Junior-A).  The fast paced AJHL has been a quality developmental league since 1963 with alumni players such as Mark Messier,  Lanny McDonald, Brent Sutter, Mike Vernon, and Dany Heatley.  In 2011/12 for example over 300 AJHL alumni competed at the CIS and NCAA level, with 80 players committed to play at the collegiate level that year.  Furthermore, seventy-nine players have been drafted right out of the AHJL.

10.  CCHL (Central Canadian Hockey League, Junior-A Tier I).  The Central Hockey League started in 1961 and due to it’s location in the population rich area of Ontario has been a hotbed of hockey talent for a long time.  This league has produced notible NHL stars such as Steve Yzerman and Larry Robinson, and current NHL players Claude Giroux, Patrick Sharp and Martin St-Louis.

Honorable Mention:  SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Junior-A Tier I).  The SJHL has a long history of being a quality developmental league at part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League system.  A list of the past 7 years of collegiate commitments is shown here as an example of this league producing top prospects.

This is my list of the best developmental ice hockey leagues in North America, but I’m interested to here your views on this topic!

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One Comment

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