Leagues Offer the Best Developmental Opportunities?
A thought provoking Dish to send the masses
into a frenzy while I’m motoring my way across the country to Las Vegas? What
was I thinking?
There is much more to gauging a developmental
opportunity than college commitments. Let’s face it, the year is 2017, colleges
are very tuned into the junior level of play and WILL get their man. That
player could be skating at Warroad High School, with the Flin Flon Bombers, or
even the Boston Junior Bruins, it does not matter anymore. Besides, the
advisors are the ones that are supposed to be in constant contact with the target
schools for each player.
Obviously, the major junior level of play is
at the top of the developmental food chain but not the best bet for college bound
1- Western Hockey League
2- Ontario Hockey League
3- Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
FREE-2-PLAY / TIER I
I’ve never been too worried about what other
folks think and please understand that this ranking is based purely on the
developmental experiences the league has a history of delivering. Some of these
leagues do have a minimal fee, but are still listed as Tier II as part of the
Canadian Junior Hockey League system.
1- United States
Hockey League: The USHL is dialed in
and the undisputed king of pre-collegiate level of play.
2 (tie) - North
American Hockey League: The NAHL has made tremendous
progress as a developmental element. There are some great teachers of the game
in this league while leadership continues to address competitive balance. I
love where the league is going and full of confidence in their future.
2 (tie) - British
Columbia Hockey League: There are two BCHL’s,
one with the have’s and the other with the have-not’s. It’s sad really and I
would not be surprised to see the league go through a period of contraction as
a few weaker markets find their way to a level of competition that fits their economic
4 – Alberta Junior
Hockey League: Despite popular opinion,
the Brooks Bandits do have competition within the league. The AJHL has proven
to be an incredible producer of talent and we don’t see that changing anytime
5 – Saskatchewan Junior
Hockey League: I’m a believer. Like the
BCHL and AJHL, the SJHL offers an incredible experience while delivering on the
promise of development. It’s a more physical league with overall team speed to
6 – Central Canadian
Hockey League: One of the first CJHL
leagues to establish a low league fee for players and now we are beginning to
see the effects. It’s still a great hockey league with excellent support in
almost every market.
7 (tie) - Ontario
Junior Hockey League: So a team from the OJ
won the Royal Bank Cup, so why so far down the list? Loading up with 20
year-olds does not impress me.
7 (tie) – United States
Premier Hockey League NCDC: When it’s all said and
done, at the end of the season, we will know exactly what it costs to play for
free in the NCDC. In my opinion, the NCDC is junior hockey’s version of a Ponzi
scheme. “Join the USPHL and you too could make your way up to the top and
free-2-play hockey!” The funny thing is, I’m still trying to wrap my head around
how the Boston boys managed to talk the rest of the USPHL into paying for their
tuition-free division. Ingenious! Why #7? The old USPHL Premier (EJHL?) was
pretty good hockey. This NCDC now has unlimited imports and I’m certain the big
boys won’t be able to resist giving away the farm to recruit top Euros to the
league. So much for the rest of the USPHL players getting their chance to move
9 (tie) – Maritimes Hockey
This is a solid league with a reputation
for churning out skilled and hard-nosed prospects.
9 (tie) – Manitoba Junior
Hockey League: Newsflash, the MJHL
has plan in place that rolls back the number of 20 year-olds on each roster. I
love it and can see the central prairie league working itself into a proving
ground for high-end younger prospects.
11 – Quebec Junior Hockey
League: Not a place for American
players unless they are able to speak fluent French. We had a group of players
at the Montreal Meltdown and won’t be sending them back again. Great for
tourism, but don’t think about taking a spot from a local player.
12- Northern Ontario
Junior Hockey League: I’m not a fan. League
is managed out of the hip pocket of the well-connected commissioner. Player
fees are all over the place while the teams have minimal control of their own environments.
It’s cheaper than US Tier III, and that’s about the only advantage.
International Junior Hockey League: They need more teams…and
USA Hockey has no interest in helping them add more on this side of the border.
Thief River Falls is very interesting and could be the next Minnesota
Wilderness and jump to the NAHL.
PAY-2-PLAY / TIER III
1 – North American 3
Hockey League: The biggest and most
organized pay-to-play league on the continent. Now with three-less idiot
operators (Think frozen fish tricks), the NA3HL is turning into a well-oiled
machine. I don’t care about NAHL draft picks or call-ups, the NA3 is standing
on their own as a developmental asset for NCAA Div IIII and ACHA Div I players.
2 – Eastern Hockey
League: Former NAHL
Commissioner Mike Santos has taken over the league and it looks like he’s
driving it straight into the arms of the NAHL. Makes sense to me.
3 – Western States
Hockey League: I thought it was pretty
funny to see that other guy actually rank WSHL teams higher than BCHL clubs. I
have only one thing to say about that. The Surrey Eagles could have spotted the
Thorn Cup Champion ten goals and still come out a winner at any time last
season. That was last year… for this season the WSHL is going to still be able
to nab international talent, but it’s going to be a lower caliber player. The
NCDC and USPHL are going to get a fair share of these players now and it’s
going to have an effect on the overall level of play in the league.
4 – Canadian Junior B
Leagues: I’m grouping all these
leagues into one pool because frankly, I really don’t know that there is that
much difference between them. I do know this; these leagues offer a good
opportunity at a fraction of the costs for pay-2-play in the USA.
4- United States
Premier Hockey League – Premier: I’m already feeling sorry
for these kids and operators that have bought into the mess. Now that the USPHL
is operating outside of USA Hockey, players no longer have the protection
offered from the good folks in Colorado Springs. Yikes.
5- Rocky Mountain
Junior Hockey League: These guys have
already come a long way. Another BCHL team is getting involved and the level of
play is expected to rise even higher this year.
6- United States Premier
Hockey League – Elite: OK, I’ll say it again…
call it the Empire Junior Hockey League, USP3, or now the USPHL Elite; it’s all
still lipstick on a pig and still simply Junior C. The only real purpose is to
get more kids to pay for the NCDC.
97 – Canadian Premier
Junior Hockey League: Can you imagine going
to the fair and getting one of those chocolate bananas on a stick only to
discover somebody has played an awful trick on ya…that’s the CPJHL.
98 – National College Prospects
Hockey League: Ditto # 97
99 - Greater Metro Hockey
League: Sending a player under
age 18 to the GMHL should be considered child abuse. Do I need to say anything else?
Bob Russell is the clown prince of junior hockey.
Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working as
a consultant with individual teams, coaches, and players with the Heisler
Hockey Group. When not on the road, Stephen and his family spend most of their
time at home in Orlando, Florida.
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