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Top Development Leagues of North American Hockey

Hockey is one of the most renowned sports in North America and there is such great competition among athletes trying to make it into the NHL. Because not every player that suits up is able to make it into the NHL, there are many developmental leagues where a vast majority will have to go through to perfect their skills to make it into the league. We have listed below the top developmental leagues in North America in terms of the success they provide their athletes in making it to the NHL.

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CCHL – Central Canada Hockey League

The CCHL was founded in 1961 by the Montreal Canadiens in hopes to lure the top talent onto their team. It took the league some time to gain popularity and it was not until late in the 20th century when it saw some of the top talent roll through. Some of these greats included Billy Smith, Larry Robinson, and Steve Yzerman. It still continues to be one of the top developmental leagues to this day, being home to 12 teams in 2 divisions. Some of the current NHL players that have come through this league include Jimmy Howard, Claude Giroux, Patrick Sharp, and Martin St-Louis.

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NAHL - North American Hockey League

A strong competitor to the USHL is the NAHL as far as youth programs. It is however considered slightly of lesser quality than is the USHL as it is a second tier league. It is the first Junior A hockey league to have come to America. Some of the NHL players that have come through this program are James Van Riemsdyk, Cory Schneider, and Patrick Kane. It is a strong enough developmental league to continue churning out players for years to come.

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GOJHL - Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League

The GOJHL is a Junior B league that came to light in 2007 in Canada. It should be noted that although the league is relatively new, it is the result of a merger of three other leagues into one. Because of this, many of the teams are familiar with each other and have had more history than it might seem. It oftentimes is confused with the OJHL, which has been around for a longer time but in its short run it has managed to attract a lot of talent that eventually leads players into said OJHL or the OHL. Some notable NHL players to have come through this system include Mark Scheifele and Tanner Pearson.

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OJHL - Ontario Junior Hockey League

The OJHL is much older than the GOJHL, as it was founded in 1954. The OJHL is a result of the re-merger of the CCHL and OJAHL leagues, which were initially know as a league called the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League that had a falling out. Even though there are only twenty two teams in this junior league, it has still managed to produce top notch talent that has made it to the big leagues. Some of its notable players include John Tavares, Rick Nash, and Corey Perry. The OJHL is considered a close alternative to the BCHL as far as top talent production and development.

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BCHL - British Columbia Hockey League

The BCHL is considered the best Junior A developmental league for top youth prospects. Since 1961 it has time and time again produced some of the best talent that would eventually make it into the NHL. It is highly sought after by many youth hopefuls and the competition level remains very high to this day. Some of the top prospects to eventually make it into the league include Brett Hull, Bob Nystrom, Cliff Ronning, and Duncan Keith.

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USHL - United States Hockey League

The USHL is considered one of the best developmental leagues as it hosts many draft-ready talent to come through its system. The league dates back to 1947 and it is the most competitive league among American youth prospects. There are only sixteen teams but there is still enough competition to provide some of the top talent. Of these players that have made it into the NHL include Joe Payelski and Kyle Okposo. The USHL puts players in a top platform to be able to develop their skills and thrive in front of many scouts.

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NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Association

Not only is the NCAA a great platform for hockey players to refine their skills, but it also provides them an opportunity to earn a higher education degree to prime them for life. There are one hundred and thirty eight collegiate teams that compete among three divisions. The third division is where most of the prominence and competition lies, although all three provide great competition. It will always be a popular destination for hockey players as the NCAA has so much to offer its student-athletes.

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CHL - Canadian Hockey League

The CHL is a combination of the big three hockey leagues in Canada - WHL, the QMJHL, and the OHL. It has produced some of the top NHL talent throughout decades. There have been countless big names in hockey that have come through the CHL and it is without a doubt that this developmental league primes the athletes for success. It is considered a very prestigious league and it will remain so for years to come.

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ECHL - East Coast Hockey League

The ECHL was originally known as the East Coast Hockey League and was founded in 1988. It is considered to be slightly below the AHL as far as reputation in the hockey community. It is almost considered a mid-tier professional hockey league due to the tremendous talent in the system. There are twenty two teams that compete regularly among five divisions. It is home to many great talents because oftentimes teams will overload prospects in the AHL and there will be spillover into this league.

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AHL - American Hockey League

The AHL is the most sought-after developmental league among hockey prospects, as it is considered the last stop before making it into the NHL. Generally, if players prove themselves in this league, then it is highly likely that they will be called up to the NHL at some point. It is the other semi-professional league along with the ECHL. There are thirty different teams that compete in six divisions. It is safe to say there is a high level of competition among all these thirty teams filled with top level talent.

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