Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Better Know A Junior League: Canadian Hockey League
When you want to talk about the next rising stars that come to the NHL, you have to look at the Canadian Hockey League for the best bang-for-your-buck prospects feeder system for the pros. In the past few years, the CHL has been a cash-cow, growing in exposure and popularity thanks to the products they have developed.
The CHL is broken up into three leagues-- the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Western Hockey League. Each of them have their own style of play and it shows when the winners of the three league championships and the host city meet in the Memorial Cup playoffs to determine the top team in the CHL.
Starting in the QMJHL, the league itself is more of a finesse league from what I've seen. While they do have some contact, the primary focus is on the scoring side of things, more offensive driven game-plans, and overall highlight reel kind of goals. While 12 of the 18 teams are in the Province of Quebec and take up two divisions, the QMJHL has a third division for the other six teams in the Maritime provinces (three in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia, and one on Prince Edward Island). The past two Memorial Cup champions came from the Q-- the Saint John Sea Dogs and Shawinigan Cataractes.
Moving to the other side of Canada, the WHL is a very blue-collar league. It's a grittier, tighter checking, very physical side of the CHL, but also has the ability to be a skill league with such players a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Scott Niedermayer, Mike Modano, Joe Sakic, and Ryan Getzlaf to come out of the league. The most spread out league in the CHL, the WHL has 22 teams-- six in British Columbia, five in Alberta, five in Saskatchewan, four in Washington state, one in Manitoba, and one in Oregon. The spread out nature gives prospects a chance to experience the rigorous NHL travel schedule.
The Ontario Hockey League is a blend of both the QMJHL and WHL style. A lot of finesse players with a gritty edge to it as well. Five of the last six 1st Overall Picks in the NHL Draft have been from the OHL-- Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Patrick Kane. All except three teams of the 20 member teams are based in Ontario-- two are in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania. With a solid display of both physicality and finesse, the OHL brings the best of both the QMJHL and WHL to Ontario.
While there is a great upside to watching the CHL, the downside is the fact it isn't that accessible to the masses to go see unless you visit the Great White North of Canada or some border states that they land in. However, if you do have the chance to go see a game (which is perfect for the family and quite inexpensive), I highly suggest it because there's action across the leagues for kids who have a lot of determination to get to that next level.