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United States Development Leagues Shows That The CHL Isn't The Only Way To Go

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The United States ability to develop players has been doubted but within the past decade there has been a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of players produced.

Bruce Bennett

The United States is steadily becoming better and better at developing its own talent. The USHL has gone from being a league that was no where near the same caliber as the Canadian Hockey Leagues to one which produces some excellent and plenty of good players.

For example the USA team at the World Junior Championships in Malmo was nearly made entirely out of players who were playing in the USHL, NCAA or AHL. Only three players out of the 22 are in the CHL, Adam Erne (Quebec Remparts), Ryan Hartman (Plymouth Whalers) and Anthony Stolarz (London Knights). Only two are in the AHL, Connor Carrick and Stefan Matteau.

The vast majority of those players currently play in the NCAA and have come through the USHL system. The strength and skill of these players shows that the USA is producing some top end talent and its beginning to show.

While they might have lost to Canada in the group stage of the WJC, and Russia in the quarter finals, they proved themselves to have some exciting talent. The most exciting of all was Jack Eichel, a draft eligible forward in 2015. He appears almost certain to be selected close after Connor McDavid in the 2015 draft.

In 2012 24 players were drafted out of the USHL, 11 from the USNTDP and 14 from the NCAA and USHS. In 2011 24 players were drafted out of the USHL and 18 from the NCAA and USHS.

In some estimates the first round in 2014 could see six players from the USHL be selected: Sonny Milano, Dylan Larkin, Nick Schmaltz, Jack Dougherty, Jack Glover and Alex Tuch.

In 2013 no USHL prospects were drafted in the first round. Seth Jones had been in the USHL but played his draft year in the WHL.

The standard of United States hockey is steadily improving and it can be seen through the high quality of the United States junior team, the USHL and the NCAA.

The majority of draftees will continue to come from the CHL, simply due to numbers involved. Three leagues of draft eligible players is going to outweigh the collective talent and numbers of the USHL, and High School leagues. But the idea of the USHL producing top level players is not as outlandish as it might have been.

The USNTDP has helped producing higher levels of US teams and that can be seen in their results for the WJC. They produced two gold medal performances and a bronze medal performance since the 2010 WJC tournament, though they did go to the relegation round in 2012.

There are some very good players who are former USHL players in the NHL and not just Americans. They include Nathan Gerbe, Alex Goligoski, Justin Abdelkader, David Backes, John Carlson, Martin Hanzal, Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Sharp.

It appears for now that the American development leagues will continue to develop more and more players and become an alternative to the CHL. To be a good NHL player doesn't mean a route through the Canadian Major Juniors is the best way to go about it.

No matter what some say about American's playing in the CHL, and non-canadian players in general, the USA is beginning to flex its muscles when it comes to the development of talent. It might take a little while longer before there is a regular top talent to come out of the USHL every year but there is plenty of good talent there nevertheless.