The Canadian Hockey League’s track record speaks for itself; it is hands down the best hockey development league in the world.
In the 2013 NHL entry draft, 22 of the 30 first-round picks and 61 of the top-100 selections came from the CHL. This type of draft numbers are essentially business as usual. In the prior three drafts, the league averaged over 18 players in the first round. Not to mention, eight of the last 10 first-overall picks were plucked out of major junior.
The CHL has not only become the place to play for Canadians and Americans, but also for Europeans. The league, which allows each team to hold two imports, has produced high-end players such as Edmonton Oilers first-overall pick Nail Yakupov, who played for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who played for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, who played for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, and many more.
The major junior league attracts elite talent from all over the world because of its top-notch coaches. The CHL has no shortage of coaches who have developed strong reputations for grooming players to get to the NHL. Look no further than Kelowna Rockets head coach Bruce Hamilton and Brandon Wheat Kings bench boss Kelly McCrimmon, who both own their respective clubs, for that.
The CHL’s 72-game schedule is also one of the league’s top selling points. No other junior league offers players that many games. This essentially builds players’ endurance to prepare them for The Show.
The one knock on the CHL has been one game in the league voids players’ NCAA eligibility. This isn’t, however, the CHL’s fault. That’s not their rule; it is the NCAA’s regulation because they don’t allow players to join their program who have played with or against players with professional contracts or experience. Therefore, since the CHL allows players to return from the NHL and ink their entry-level contracts, the NCAA considers major junior a professional association. It seems this regulation will never change because it’s a NCAA-wide regulation and they won’t make it an exception for hockey.
Nonetheless, the CHL has an excellent education package. One game, regardless of regular-season or pre-season, automatically earns players one-year of a CIS scholarship. From there on, every year in the league earns players additional years in their scholarship packages. Not to mention, some players are getting ‘special’ CIS packages that have included an automatic five-year CIS scholarship if the player plays 10 or more games in two different seasons.
Few and far between go on from CIS to the NHL. But the numbers aren’t exactly great in the NCAA either. In fact, only roughly one percent of the players in the NCAA go on to have a career, which is considered minimum three and a half seasons, in the NHL.
The NCAA route obviously does work as it has for Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathon Toews, Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel and New Jersey Devils goaltender Corey Schnieder. But based on the numbers, the CHL squashes the NCAA when it comes to grooming players for the next level. NHL teams have taken notice of this. Year after year, teams have encouraged players who have signed letters of intent to NCAA schools to join the CHL. In the 2011 NHL draft, for example, four players ended up joining the CHL who signed letters of intent to American colleges.
As far as the future goes, it seems the CHL is gaining more and more ground on the NCAA. Proof is in the pudding in how the Winterhawks convinced Seth Jones, who was drafted fourth overall in 2013 by the Nashville Predators, to choose them over University of North Dakota. Not to mention, the consensus top prospect of the 2014 draft, Sam Reinhart, plays for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice and 2015 draft sensation Connor McDavid suits up for the OHL’s Erie Otters.