Ever wonder if there are hockey leagues that rival the NHL in terms of talent, audience and fan base? well, if so, then this segment should be just for you.
It is well known that players from all over the world flock to the NHL for a chance to win the Lord Stanley Cup and play on arguably the biggest hockey arena in North America. However, hockey is not a phenomenon unique to North America, as many European leagues, such as the SHL, the KHL, and the Liiga, prove to be quite adept at developing talented hockey players who can be successful at any level.
Reading: Best hockey leagues in the world
here is a breakdown of the top 10 hockey leagues in the world:
- 1 10.) ontario hockey league (ohl)
- 2 9.) ncaa
- 3 8.) american hockey league (ahl)
- 4 7.) german league eishockey (del)
- 5 6.) national league a (nla)
- 6 5.) Czech extraliga (tipsport extraliga)
- 7 4.) fight
- 8 3.) shl (Swedish hockey league)
- 9 2.) continental hockey league (khl)
- 10 1.) national hockey league (nhl)
- 11 1.) western hockey league (whl)
- 12 2.) Slovak extraliga (tipsport extraliga)
- 13 3.) quebec major junior hockey league (qmjhl)
10.) ontario hockey league (ohl)
the ontario hockey league has a reputation, like the qmjhl and whl, for producing incredible talent that makes a significant impact at the nhl level. Players like Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, and John Tavares have all played in the OHL and made their mark on the NHL.
While the ohl has a 68-game schedule for 20 teams, the league does a good job of scheduling games that run primarily from Thursday through the weekend. Since most of the players participating in the OHL are between the ages of 15 and 20, there can definitely be some scheduling conflicts with the school schedule. however, don’t be fooled by the fact that some of these kids still have to attend school and make room to constantly improve their hockey game.
ohl consistently produces players who are skilled players in every way. While leagues like the QMJHL have been known to produce offensive superstars, the OHL seems to offer players who are extremely well-rounded. Although the three major youth hockey leagues differ in terms of their respective styles, each has consistently produced a plethora of talent for NHL teams in North America.
Over the course of the last decade, ncaa hockey has become a top developmental path for players to take to the nhl. as collegehockeyinc said in 2017 promotional material:
A record 314 former college players skated in the nhl in 2016-17, accounting for 32% of the league. that number was only 20% at the turn of the century.
This unprecedented growth represents a shift in the way both players and teams use the ncaa as a pathway to the nhl. For teams, they can recruit a promising but somewhat uncertain player who is headed to the NCAA to receive up to four years of growth for essentially free. For players, they can earn a title and develop their game before reaching the AHL or NHL with a physical and maturity advantage over their counterparts. When you look at it this way, it’s no wonder so many players around the world are using the NCAA as their route to professional hockey.
There are too many former NCAA players currently in the NHL to begin to name them all, but here are a few just to give you an idea of the impact the league has had in recent years. This includes the likes of Jonathan Toews, Jack Eichel, Nick Bjugstad, Johnny Gaudreau, and Duncan Keith. With an already impressive and growing alumni roster, the future of hockey in the NCAA is bright, both the players and the NHL love the results.
8.) american hockey league (ahl)
the american hockey league (ahl) is on the list because it is often the last stop for a developing prospect before making it to the nhl. Often NHL teams will decide if a prospect is ready for the big leagues after they have completed a certain number of international games or competition within a North American league. this allows many ahl teams to play host to some of the most talented young players in the world who are about to break into the nhl.
If it weren’t for an age restriction that prevents prospects under the age of 20 from playing in the league, the ahl could have seen even more quality players pass through its ballparks. with this rule in place the ahl is always going to be a little bit crippled in terms of missing out on top draft picks that just aren’t ready to take on nhl ice time as an 18 or 19 year old but could use a little more competition than they were getting in juniors.
It’s not just the players making their way through the ahl, either. Many NHL coaches stop at the AHL along the way to hone their craft, including Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Mike Yeo of St. louis blues.
since 2021-22, every nhl team has maintained an affiliation with an ahl team. As the NHL continues to grow, the AHL will expand along with them, providing quality mentorship and growth for new NHL talent.
7.) german league eishockey (del)
el del was founded in 1994-95 and was made up of teams from the first and second divisions of the ice hockey bundesliga. at first the league experienced controversy as many teams were heavily in debt and some clubs were forced to fold. furthermore, rulings from the european court of justice allowed players to change teams quite frequently and attendance dropped as we entered the new millennium.
However, the league rebounded when it experienced an influx of nhl players during the 2004-2005 nhl lockout. the league also reinstated the use of the relegation system as more emphasis would be placed on playing in the second division of the ice hockey bundesliga. Since the 2001-2002 season, the championship game has been largely controlled by Eisbaren Berlin, having won 5 championships in 10 years. In recent years, EHC Red Bull Munchen has risen to the top of the league, winning three consecutive championships.
While del is still developing its mark on the hockey landscape, it’s hard not to love German hockey. As we saw in their unexpected run to a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, Germany is developing a strong and passionate fan base capable of competing with the best in the world.
6.) national league a (nla)
Based in Switzerland, the National League A (NLA) is the top tier of the Swiss two-tier hockey league, the other being the National League B. the nla had the best attendance figures for european hockey clubs in 2016-17, due in no small part to hockey club sc bern and its spacious (17,131-seat) home, postfinance-arena, which averaged 16,399 spectators in every game.
The NLA consists of 12 teams that play a total of 50 games in a season, with the top eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. the bottom four teams in the standings are pushed into a sort of consolation group and the best team in national league b gets a chance to compete for inclusion in the nla.
since 2000, the nla has been largely dominated by three clubs, hc davos, zsc lions and sc bern, which have won at least five championships in the new millennium.
with a highly competitive league and excellent attendance rates, the nla suggests that just like us in north america, the swiss love hockey.
5.) Czech extraliga (tipsport extraliga)
The Czech Extraliga is one of the most competitive professional ice hockey leagues in Europe and is currently ranked by the IIHF as the third strongest ice hockey league in Europe. The league was also founded in 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the Czechs have a lot to show for it in terms of talent brought to the NHL.
players from the czech republic come to the nhl every year and many of those players have had the opportunity to play in the czech extra league. There are currently over 50 czechs in the national hockey league and with players like thomas hertl, vladimir sobotka and pavel zacha contributing to nhl rosters it is obvious that the czech republic and czech extra league have a knack for developing talent in all aspects. hockey players.
The Czech Extra League has 4 more teams than the Slovak Extra League, but the league format also adds interesting elements to its viewers. only the top 6 teams make it to the playoffs, but the teams that finish 7th through 10th compete against each other for a chance to advance to the quarterfinals against one of the top 6 teams. As for the teams that finish 11th to 14th, those teams are forced to compete against each other, and the loser of the group faces the best team in the first league of the Czech Republic. Since the Czech extraleague uses a relegation/promotion system, the last team in the extraleague will be subject to relegation to the first league if they cannot beat the seeded team from the last league.
It’s no surprise that the Czechs have been putting up some outstanding play domestically and it should come as no surprise to fans that, behind American and Canadian players, the Czechs are the third most populous group in the NHL.
finland’s top professional ice hockey league, the liiga is considered by the iihf to be the second strongest league in all of europe. The popularity of hockey in Finland has skyrocketed, as has the country’s success internationally. At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, for example, Finland finished with the bronze medal, eliminating Team USA in a 5-0 triumph.
the liiga has been thriving since it took over the responsibilities of hockey in finland from sm-sarja in 1975. the audience, support and level of play for hockey in finland has increased dramatically over the last three and a half decades and the The League also continues to generate NHL-caliber talent. the Finnish league is made up of 14 teams vying for one of ten playoff spots over a span of 60 regular season games, with the top six teams automatically entering the quarter-final stage. The Czech Extraliga and Liiga use the same playoff format in which the 7th-10th seeds compete against each other for a chance to meet one of the 6 quarterfinalists.
the league also brings a considerable amount of talent to the nhl and some of finland’s most hyped prospects like mikael granlund and teemu pulkkinen are set to make their mark on the nhl one of these days. Talented nhlers like aleksander barkov, sami vatanen and rasmus ristolainen are all products of the league and the future of the league is as bright as ever as long as it continues to produce such incredible talent.
3.) shl (Swedish hockey league)
The Swedish hockey league is made up of 14 teams that play a 52-game schedule. Like the Czech extraleague and liiga, the Swedish hockey league has a system that awards a team 3 points for a regulation win, 2 points for a win in extra time, and 1 point for a loss in extra time. the top eight of 12 teams make it to the playoffs, but the format of the first round of playoffs is a bit interesting as the top three teams get to pick their opponent from among the last teams for the first round.
the shl also uses a relegation and promotion system, as the bottom ranked teams in the shl face the top teams in sweden’s second tier league, hockeyallsvenskan. the relegation series, which is called the kvalserien, determines who will be relegated to the second-tier league and who will be promoted to the elite league.
Sweden has experienced great hockey success in recent times internationally, winning gold at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships at the 2006 Winter Olympics. In addition to Saab, Volvo, ABBA and IKEA The Swedes have also had a huge impact on the NHL world. with names like erik karlsson, victor hedman and retiree daniel & Henrik Sedin Contributing at a high level in the NHL, it’s no surprise that the Swedes have become a dominant name in world hockey over the last decade.
2.) continental hockey league (khl)
the continental hockey league is widely regarded as the no. 2 professional hockey league in the world, with the KHL it is considered to be the strongest ice hockey league in all of Europe. Since its founding in 2008, the KHL has fielded 27 teams, with the top 8 from each conference making it to the playoffs. The structure of the KHL playoffs is quite similar to the NHL format, with the top two teams from each conference competing for the Gagarin Cup.
what makes the khl so interesting is that it contains a variety of players from different backgrounds and countries. Even if the main pool of talent comes from Russia, they still attract players from all over the world, including talent hotbeds like Canada and sometimes less-expected parts of the world like Britain. This creates a truly diverse player base that can only be rivaled by the likes of the NHL in terms of quality and depth.
This diversity is also seen in the location of KHL teams. Following its most recent expansion into China, there are now six franchises established outside of Russia, with the potential for a franchise in London as well. while this is likely to create some amazing travel plans, it’s an impressive feat that should only help the league continue to grow in both size and quality.
1.) national hockey league (nhl)
many professional hockey players abroad and in north america see the nhl as the last and most important stop in their careers. Lucrative contracts, media exposure, and the chance to win hockey’s ultimate prize, the Lord Stanley Cup, are among the factors that drive certain players onto the NHL stage. With 31 teams in the league, the NHL is definitely bigger in terms of depth and overall quality than the KHL and has arguably the best talent from around the world competing for a trophy.
while some might argue that the nhl gives hockey players the most exposure in north america, the stanley cup and its history are well known around the world. Some of the most talented players to make an impact in the NHL have been developed overseas, but the NHL is still unrivaled in the pantheon of hockey leagues.
With its recent successful expansion to Las Vegas and Seattle, the NHL is not only growing, but finding new markets in North America that are hungry for hockey. All things considered, the nhl is likely to remain the best hockey league in the world for years to come.
1.) western hockey league (whl)
the western hockey league is one of three members of the canadian hockey league (chl) which has 22 teams based in canada and the western part of the united states. The WHL was established in the 1960s and has become a dominant force in the development of young hockey players over the years. Since its founding, WHL had thrived, winning the Memorial Cup 19 times, most recently by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014.
In terms of prospects, the whl has produced many star players over the years. Some of the best players currently in the NHL, including Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jamie Benn, Jordan Eberle and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, found significant development in the WHL. In recent years, the league has also been producing some of the best young defenders in the NHL. This includes current frontline defenders like Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, and Seth Jones.
2.) Slovak extraliga (tipsport extraliga)
The Slovak Extraliga was founded in 1993 after Czechoslovakia was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Even though the Slovak League was part of the Czech Extraleague prior to 1993, the division has worked well for both sides as the Czech Republic and Slovakia continue to produce quality players in the NHL. Some of the most notable Slovakian players to have made an impact on the NHL include Pavol Demitra, Zigmund Palffy, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, and Zdeno Chara.
Although the Slovakian league is only made up of 10 teams, it has an interesting aspect that allows the Slovak U-20 junior team to play in some regular season games. While Slovakia’s junior team (HK Orange 20) cannot compete in the playoffs or certain contests, the other teams in the league compete for one of eight playoff spots.
Since its inception, the Slovak extraliga has been largely dominated by two teams, hc kosice and hc slovan bratislava, who have won eight championships, tied for the most in league history.
3.) quebec major junior hockey league (qmjhl)
the qmjhl, the third member of the chl, has delivered significant talent to the nhl. NHL Hall of Famers such as Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Patrick Roy all played on “The Q” and had spectacular NHL careers. Today, players like Sidney Crosby represent QMJHL alumni who have made a significant impact on the NHL.
Of the three major junior hockey leagues, the qmjhl is best known for producing players with immense offensive prowess. With recent alumni like Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Hart Trophy finalist Nathan Mackinnon taking the NHL by storm, there’s no question that “The Q” knows how to incubate some of the best offensive talent in the world.
Although some detractors may reference the QMJHL’s lack of defensive play, the league has captured the Memorial Cup trophy six times since 2000 and remains one of the most exciting hockey leagues in North America.
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