Is the USHL Taking Over the NHL Draft?

With the 2015 NHL Draft just about two weeks away, most draft rankings and mock drafts have been finalized. There’s a consensus among the top 15 prospects or so, and also an increasing trend that has become very clear this year. Usually, the draft is dominated by prospects coming out of the Canadian Hockey League, with a few scattered from all over Europe. However, over the past couple of years, more and more top notch prospects are developing from the United States Hockey League.

What is the USHL?

For those of you who don’t know about the league, the USHL is a 19 team league that was founded in 1947. The league has been in it’s current format since 1979. The USHL is the premier junior hockey league in the United States. It is an amateur league, which allows players to go on from the USHL into the NCAA, unlike in the Canadian Hockey League.

Zemgus Girgensons Dubuque Fighting Saints
Zemgus Girgensons was a member of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in his draft year. Jim Naprstek / Dubuque Fighting Saints

Team attendance in the 2014-15 season ranged from 1411 for the Chicago Steel up to 6376 for the champion Sioux Falls Stampede, as per The Clark Cup is awarded each year to the playoff champion. The Clark Cup is named after Don Clark for his long time work in the Minnesota Amateur Hockey Association and his contribution to developing hockey in the United States.


Do They Produce NHL Players?

Yes. The USHL has 251 alumni in the NHL, and an additional 371 college commitments. Most notably including Gordie Howe and Phil Housley in the past, as well as David Backes, Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski and Thomas Vanek in the present..


How Do They Stack Up in the NHL Draft?

2007 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 35

First Round Picks: 4

Highest Pick: Sam Gagner to the Edmonton Oilers at 6th overall.

2008 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 28

First Round Picks: 1

Highest Pick: John Carlson to the Washington Capitals at 27th overall.

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
John Carlson was selected 27th overall after his season for the Indiana Ice. (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

2009 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 28

First Round Picks: 2

Highest Pick: Louis Leblanc by the Montreal Canadiens at 18th overall.

2010 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 35

First Round Picks: 4

Highest Pick: Jack Campbell by the Dallas Stars at 11th overall.

2011 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 40

First Round Picks: 4

Highest Pick: Jamie Oleksiak by the Dallas Stars at 14th overall.

2012 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 39

First Round Picks: 7

Highest Pick: Jacob Trouba by the Winnipeg Jets at 9th overall.

Jacob Trouba, USA hockey
Jacob Trouba’s spectacular play with the USNTDP earned him the 9th overall pick with Winnipeg. (Ikon)

2013 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 41

First Round Picks: 3

Highest Pick: Seth Jones by the Nashville Predators at 4th overall.

2014 NHL Draft:

Players Drafted: 51

First Round Picks: 5

Highest Pick: Dylan Larkin by the Detroit Red Wings at 15th overall.


 How Does the 2015 NHL Draft Look?

Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel became one of the best players in USHL history in 2013-14 with USNTDP. (Photo: Dan and Margaret Hickling )

The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is a very exciting one for the USHL. In Bob McKenzie’s Final Draft Rankings, there are three current USHL players in the Top 30, as well as three USHL alumni, including the 2nd and 3rd ranked prospects, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin. After that, there are another six USHL members ranked between 30-60th overall. This year’s draft will provide additional support to the theory that the USHL is consistently becoming a larger factor in the NHL Draft each year. Whether it be current USHL players, or alumni that have already moved on to the NCAA. The league continues to grow each season, expanding from 12 teams to 19 in the past six years alone.



U.S. National Development Team

With 31.2% of NHL players having played in the NCAA, and the USHL as the main route to the NCAA, it’s obvious why so many young prospects are beginning to develop their game here. The main source of those future NHL teams come from the U.S. National Development Team. It’s here, where USA Hockey develops it’s brightest prospects. It is used as a large source so that the United States can have their players familiar with each other for international tournaments. A good portion of the players from these teams will go on to play in the NCAA. In fact, from the 2013-14 USNDTP main roster, just two players did not go on to play in the NCAA in 2014-15, while 21 did. There’s no doubt, the USNTDP is the main source in the USHL for preparing and developing NHL players, but the league as a whole is constantly growing and becoming stronger, as is shown in the NHL Draft each year.

What’s in the Future of the USHL?

There’s no doubt, kids are going to continue to shift their development more and more to the USHL. Seeing both the number of prospects drafted directly out of the USHL, and those that go onto the NCAA, young stars are going to see the USHL as a key step in their road to the NHL. The USHL is constantly expanding, and I’m sure as more players drift to the league, expansion will soon be a topic of interest again. Look for the USHL to begin to have the same impact on the NHL Entry Draft as the leagues of the NHL.