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What is the most proven route to the NHL for the American player?

By College Hockey, Inc.

One of the principal arguments made by CHL teams to young players from the United States to convince them to play major junior hockey has been that the CHL is the fastest and surest way to make it to the NHL. While this argument sounds attractive, especially to a 15-year old, the facts do not support it. In addition, as detailed below, the data reflects that a high percentage of U.S. players who forego college to play in the CHL never play at a level beyond major junior hockey.

College Hockey, Inc. studied statistics regarding U.S. players born between 1980 and 1990 to determine how those who opted to play major junior hockey (in the QMJHL, OHL or WHL) instead of college or junior hockey in the U.S. fared in terms of making it to the NHL. We compared these results against players born during the same 10-year period who played NCAA hockey. We looked at the data from any state which had 10 or more players leave to play in the CHL (a total of 10 states). Here are our findings, using a benchmark of 41 games (or half a season) played in the NHL:

89 players from Michigan left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL. Of these players, five have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Tim Gleason, Cam Fowler. Chad Larose, David Legwand, Eric Reitz and James Wisniewski. During the same period, 21 Michigan players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Adam Hall, Ryan Miller, Ryan Kesler, Matt Greene, Rob Globke, Jim Slater, David Moss, Chris Conner, David Booth, Andy Greene, Andy Hilbert, Matt Hunwick, TJ Hensick, Justin Abdelkader, Nathan Gerbe, Kevin Porter, Alec Martinez, Scott Parse, Steve Kampfer, Jeff Petry and Erik Condra.

51 players from New York left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL. Of these players, 12 have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Zach Bogosian, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Tim Connolly, Nick Foligno, Patrick Kaleta, Patrick Kane, Matt Lashoff, Nick Palmieri, Rob Schremp, Tim Sestito and Brandon Sutter.  During the same period, seven New York players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Mike Komisarek, Chris Higgins, Eric Nystrom, Jimmy Howard, Lee Stemniak, Tim Kennedy and Matt Gilroy.

30 players from Minnesota left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL or WHL. Of these players, only four have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Dustin Byfugloen, Peter Mueller, Kurt Sauer and Mike Sauer. During this same period, 30 Minnesota players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – David Tanabe, Jordan Leopold, Jeff Taffe, Paul Martin, Andrew Alberts, Mark Stuart, Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Keith Ballard, Ryan Carter, Tim Gilbert, David Backes, Colin Stuart, Tim Conboy, Matt NIskanen, Jack Hillen, Kyle Okposo, Brian Lee, Alex Goligoski, Erik Johnson, Steve Wagner, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby, Blake Wheeler, Matt Hendricks, Dan Sexton, Jamie McBain, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Justin Braun.

27 players from California left the U.S. to play primarily in the WHL. Of these players, only one has made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Ryan Hollweg. During the same period, two California players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Brooks Orpik and Casey Wellman.

18 players from Illinois left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL. Of these players, only two have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Craig Anderson and Danny Richmond. During the same period, eight Illinois players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Andrew Hutchinson, Danny Richmond, Brett Lebda, Matt Jones, Andy Wozniewski, Mike Brown, Robbie Earl and Tim Stapelton.

17 players from Massachusetts left the U.S. to play primarily in the QMJHL. Of these players, only two have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Keith Yandle and John Carlson. During the same period, 11 Massachusetts players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Rick DiPietro, Doug Janik, Noah Welch, Ryan Whitney, Michael Ryan, Brian Boyle, Cory Schneider, Bobby Butler, Benn Ferriero, Joe Callahan and John McCarthy.

15 players from Alaska left the U.S. to play primarily in the WHL. Of these players, only two have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Brandon Dubinsky and Nate Thompson. During the same period, three Alaska players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Joey Crabb, Tim Wallace and Matt Carle.

12 players from Pennsylvania left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL. Of these players, only one has made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Mike Weber. During the same period, four Pennsylvania players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – RJ Umberger, Bill Thomas, John Zeiler, and Dylan Reese.

11 players from Washington left the U.S. to play primarily in the WHL. Of these players, none have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games. During the same period, two Washington players who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Patrick Dwyer and TJ Oshie.

10 players from Ohio left the U.S. to play primarily in the OHL. Of these players, only two have made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Dan Fritsche and Mike Rupp. During the same period, only one Ohio player who played NCAA hockey made it to the NHL for at least 41 games – Peter Harrold.

In response to the question posed in the title of this article, by a margin of nearly three to one, for U.S.-born players currently between ages 21 and 31, the best path to the NHL has proven to be NCAA hockey. Stated another way, 74 percent of U.S. players entering the NHL over the past 10 years have come from college hockey, not the CHL.

For the 280 players from the 10 states listed above who opted to play major junior hockey, 130 of them never played hockey at the professional level (AHL, ECHL or Europe) and played their last competitive hockey at the major junior level.

Finally, for the U.S. players who left for the CHL (often turning down a college education) based on the belief that “playing for a CHL team was the surest route to the NHL,” most ended up disappointed with the results.  Nine (9) out of ten (10) of these players did not make it to the NHL, and 46% of them never played at a level above the CHL.