The NHL Feeder Chain

The NHL has the best collection of players in the world, but the league's reach is far greater than just the NHL and it's direct affiliates (AHL, ECHL).  Here's a quick breakdown of where the NHL's top prospects, after being drafted, or former NHL players who teams still hold rights to are currently playing:

Top NHL Feeder Leagues
League Type
Country Players Under Contract
Major Junior (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) CAN/USA 221 61
NCAA (Div 1, Div 3)
USA 201 0
European Pro/Jr EU/RUS 115 14
Junior A (USHL, CJHL) USA/CAN 18 0
Other (USHS, CIS)
USA/CAN 4 0

 

Not surprisingly, there is a strong North American slant in the NHL's selection process.  Complications with transfer agreements and a reduced entry draft size have meant there are less NHL prospects playing in Europe than there used to be.  With less picks at their disposal, and less certainty of bringing players over, teams are less likely to take a raw, undeveloped talent from Europe than they were through 2004.  There also have been changes in the global order amongst younger players in that time period, with the USA and Canada emerging as the top two producers of talent.

After the jump, I'll break it down a bit more.

Just as a note, the numbers are likely not 100% accurate, but they're quite close.  I took my data from The Hockey News, team websites, and Elite Prospects.  Players like Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are listed as still in junior hockey, for example, and some players who are currently RFA's of NHL teams but signed in Europe may have been missed. 

Canadian Based Leagues
League Prospects Under Contract Top Club (# of prospects)
Ontario Hockey League 94 28 Niagara/Sault Ste. Marie (8)
Western Hockey League 84 25 Portland (12)
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League 43 8 Saint John (8)
Canadian Junior Hockey League 4 0 Penticton (3)
Canadian Interuniversity Sport 2 0 Carleton/Calgary (1)

 

Currently, there are 22 WHL teams, 20 OHL teams, and 17 QMJHL teams, for reference.  No one says it exactly, but the current NHL brass sees the OHL as the top developmental junior circuit, while the WHL is a strong second.  The QMJHL, for whatever reason, is definitely viewed as the third wheel in the major junior hockey world.  Most players that are drafted out of the CJHL, meanwhile, move on immediately to either the USHL or the NCAA (while some USHL players moved to the CJHL). 

American Based Leagues
League Prospects Top Club (# of prospects)
WCHA (Div. 1 NCAA) 74 Univ. of Minnesota (17)
Hockey East (Div. 1 NCAA) 46 Univ. of Boston (11)
CCHA (Div. 1 NCAA) 42 U of Michigan/Notre Dame (10)
ECAC (Div. 1 NCAA) 35 Harvard (8)
United States Hockey League (Jr. A) 14 Green Bay/Indiana (3)
Atlantic Hockey (Div. 1 NCAA) 2 RIT (2)
Division 3 NCAA 2 St. Thomas/Wisc-Steven's Point (1)
United States High Schools 2 Avon Old Farms/Milton Academy (1)

 

American colleges have more NHL prospects on them than Canadian junior teams on average.  That is for a number of reasons:  most NCAA players have already been eligible for the NHL entry draft, it is rare to find a freshman who hasn't yet gone through the rigors of draft evaluation.  CHL players on a per year basis have more draft picks than NCAA players, but because the NCAA runs on four year cycles and the CHL runs on 2 year post-draft cycles the number differential is made up for in time.  Still, the NCAA offers higher quality of hockey, particularly in the four main conferences.  The University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota boast 33 NHL draft picks between them, meaning only a handful of players in a game between the two rivals will be without NHL affiliation.  What this also shows, however, is where the USHL lacks in quality compared to the major junior leagues.  The USHL gets a substantial amount of NHL draft picks, but as soon as they are picked the players either go to major junior or, mainly, to the NCAA.  Only a handful of players stick around the league for another year before joining their collegiate program. 

European Based Leagues
League Based Prospects NHL Contract Top Club (# of prospects)
Elitserien SWE 44 7 Djurgarden Stockholm (6)
Kontinental Hockey League RUS 27 5 CKSA Moscow (6)
SM-Liiga FIN 21 1 Jokerit Helsinki (5)
Allsvenskan SWE 11 1 Mälmo Redhawks (4)
National League A SUI 5 0 Ambri-Piotta (2)
Czech Extraliga CZE 5 0 Slavia Praha (2)
Deutsche Eishockey Liga GER 1 1 Kölner Haie (1)
Erste Bank Eishockey Liga AUT 1 0 Vienna Capitals (1)

 

This is where my numbers might be a bit off.  Teams don't often publish full records of the players they still own NHL rights for, so some of this is a bit of guess work, and the lack of transfer agreements between the NHL and countries not named Sweden or Finland make it tough to keep track of whether or not a draft pick still belongs to a NHL team or not.  Obviously, the existence of a transfer agreement with Sweden and Finland makes teams pretty confident in selecting players from there.  Meanwhile, the KHL offers high quality players, and a lot of them, which puts them in second place on this list, although on a per capita basis it'd be lower.

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