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Published: Friday, 16 Jun 2017  
By: Stephen Heisler,

What 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 hockey players.

1- Western Hockey League

2- Ontario Hockey League

3- Quebec Major Junior Hockey League


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 realities.

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 soon.

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 match.

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 up.

9 (tie) – Maritimes Hockey League: 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.

13- Superior 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.



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.

Stephen 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.

Author: Stephen Heisler from
Stephen Heisler has spent a lifetime in the game of hockey. Stephen is also working with individual teams, coaches, and players as a director with Victorious Hockey Company. Stephen, his wife Deysi, and four children reside in Orlando, Florida.

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