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High 10 Greatest Ice Hockey Leagues – The Hockey Writers – High 10 Lists

*Authentic idea by Anatoliy Metter

Have you ever ever puzzled if there are hockey leagues that rival the NHL when it comes to expertise, viewership, and fan base? Effectively, you probably have, then this section ought to be only for you.

It’s extensively recognized that gamers from world wide flock to the NHL for an opportunity to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, earn an enormous paycheck, and play on among the largest hockey levels round North America. Nevertheless, hockey is just not a phenomenon that’s unique solely to North America as many European leagues such because the SHL, KHL, and Liiga exhibiting that they’re fairly adept at creating gifted hockey gamers that may succeed at any degree.

Right here’s a breakdown of the highest 10 greatest hockey leagues world wide:

10.) Ontario Hockey League (OHL)

The Ontario Hockey League has a popularity, very like the QMJHL and WHL, for producing some wonderful expertise that has a major influence on the NHL degree. Gamers resembling Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, and John Tavares have all performed within the OHL and made their mark within the NHL.

Peterborough Petes 2023 OHL Champions. (Kenneth Andersen/OHL Photographs)

Whereas the OHL has a 68 sport schedule for 20 groups, the league does a fairly good job of scheduling video games that run principally from Thursday by way of the weekend. For the reason that majority of gamers taking part within the OHL are aged 15-20, there can undoubtedly be some scheduling conflicts with one’s college schedule. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled by the truth that a few of these youngsters nonetheless should attend college and make room to continually enhance their hockey sport.

The OHL persistently produces gamers which might be all-around expert gamers. Whereas leagues such because the QMJHL have been recognized for producing offensive superstars, the OHL appears to ship gamers which might be extraordinarily well-rounded. Despite the fact that the three main junior hockey leagues differ when it comes to their respective types, every has persistently produced a plethora of expertise for NHL groups round North America.

9.) NCAA

Over the course of the final decade, NCAA hockey has develop into a prime growth path for gamers to take to the NHL. As stated by collegehockeyinc in promotional materials from 2017:

A file 314 former faculty gamers skated within the NHL in 2016-17, comprising 32% of the league. That quantity was simply 20% on the flip of the century.

This unprecedented development represents a change in how each gamers and groups are using the NCAA as a pathway to reaching the NHL. For groups, they’ll draft a promising however considerably unsure participant who’s heading to the NCAA to obtain as much as 4 years of development primarily free. For gamers, they’ll earn a level and develop their sport earlier than reaching the AHL or NHL with a bodily and maturity edge over their counterparts. While you have a look at it this manner, it’s no shock that so many gamers from all around the world are using the NCAA as their path to skilled hockey.

There are too many former NCAA gamers presently within the NHL to begin naming all of them, however listed here are just a few simply to present an thought of how impactful the league has been over the previous few years. This contains the likes of Cale Makar, Jack Eichel, Macklin Celebrini, Johnny Gaudreau, Mathew Kneis, and plenty of, many extra. With an already spectacular and rising record of alumni, the way forward for hockey within the NCAA is shiny, with gamers and the NHL loving the outcomes.

8.) American Hockey League (AHL)

The American Hockey League (AHL) makes the record as a result of it’s often the final cease for a creating prospect earlier than they arrive within the NHL. Oftentimes, NHL groups will resolve if a prospect is prepared for the large leagues after they’ve accomplished a specific amount of worldwide play or competitors inside a North American league. This enables many AHL groups to play host to among the most gifted younger gamers on the earth who’re simply on the cusp of breaking into the NHL.

If not for an age restriction that stops sure prospects who’re below the age of 20 from taking part in within the league, the AHL may have seen much more high quality gamers go by way of their arenas. With this rule in place, the AHL will all the time be a bit hamstrung when it comes to lacking out on the most effective draft picks who simply aren’t able to tackle NHL ice time as an 18 or 19-year-old however may use a little bit extra competitors than what they had been receiving in juniors.

It’s not simply gamers who work their manner by way of the AHL, both. Many NHL coaches make a cease alongside the way in which within the AHL to hone their craft, together with the likes of Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dan Bylsma of the Seattle Kraken.

As of July, 2024, 31 of the AHL’s 32 groups have an affiliation with an NHL membership. Because the variety of groups within the NHL continues to broaden, count on the AHL to develop in high quality alongside it.

The Czech Extraliga is likely one of the best professional ice hockey leagues in Europe. The league was based in 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the Czech’s have a lot to point out for when it comes to expertise contributed to the NHL.

Gamers from the Czech Republic make their option to the NHL yearly and plenty of of these gamers have had a shot at taking part in within the Czech Extraliga. There are dozens of Czech gamers within the Nationwide Hockey League, with gamers resembling Thomas Hertl, David Pastrnak, Filip Hronek, and Pavel Zacha contributing to NHL rosters, it’s apparent that the Czech Extraliga has a knack for creating gifted hockey gamers.

It’s no shock that the Czechs have been delivering excellent play on a nationwide degree and this may solely proceed to develop with time.

6.) Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL)

The DEL was based in 1994-95 and was comprised of groups from the Ice Hockey Bundesliga’s first and second division. To start with, the league skilled controversies as many groups had been extremely in debt and a few golf equipment had been pressured to fold. Moreover, rulings by the European Courtroom of Justice enabled gamers to maneuver fairly incessantly between groups and attendance numbers took a fall coming into the brand new millennium.

Christian Ehrhoff
Former NHL defenseman Christian Ehrhoff completed his lengthy skilled profession in his native Germany, taking part in for Kolner Haie within the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. (Picture: Andy Martin Jr)

Nevertheless, the league rebounded because it skilled an inflow of NHL gamers in the course of the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. The league additionally re-instituted using the relegation system as extra emphasis could be positioned on play within the second division of the Ice Hockey’s Bundesliga. For the reason that 2010-2011 season, play has largely been managed by Eisbaren Berlin and EHC Munchlen, as they’ve mixed to win 11 of the final 14 championships.

Whereas the DEL remains to be creating its footprint within the hockey panorama, it’s arduous to not like German hockey. As we noticed of their surprising run to the Silver Medal within the 2018 Olympics, Germany is rising a robust and passionate fanbase able to competing with the most effective on the earth.

5.) Nationwide League (NL)

Primarily based in Switzerland, the Nationwide League (NL) is the highest tier of the two-tier Swiss hockey league, with the opposite being the Swiss League (SL). The NLA had the most effective attendance figures for European hockey golf equipment in 2016-17, due in no small half to hockey membership SC Bern and its spacious (17,131 capability) residence, PostFinance-Area, that averaged 16,399 spectators every sport.

The NLA consists of 14 groups that play a complete of 52 video games in a season, with the highest eight groups qualifying for the playoffs. The underside 4 groups within the standings get thrust right into a relegation bracket, with the highest crew from the Swiss League given an opportunity to vie for NLA inclusion.

Since 2000, the NLA has largely been dominated by three golf equipment, HC Davos, ZSC Lions and SC Bern, who’ve all gained at the least 5 championships within the new millennia.

With a extremely aggressive league and nice attendance charges, the NLA means that very like us in North America, these Swiss love their hockey.

4.) Liiga

Finland’s prime skilled ice hockey league, Liiga, is regarded by the IIHF because the second strongest league in all of Europe. Hockey’s recognition in Finland has skyrocketed and so has the nation’s success on the worldwide degree. This was mirrored within the 2022 Beijing Olympics when Finland took residence the males’s Gold Medal for the primary time.

The Liiga has been thriving ever because it took over hockey duties in Finland from the SM-sarja in 1975. Viewership, help, and the extent of hockey play in Finland has dramatically elevated over the past three and a half a long time and the Liiga additionally retains churning out NHL-caliber expertise. The Finnish league is comprised of 16 groups that compete for certainly one of ten playoff spots in a span of 60 common season video games, with the underside groups going through relegation to Mestis, Finland’s second league.

Liiga additionally contributes a substantial quantity of expertise to the NHL with a few of Finland’s most extremely touted gamers resembling Aleksander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, and Roope Hintz shaping the league of their picture. There’s little doubt of the expertise taking the ice every night time in Liiga.

3.) SHL (Swedish Hockey League)

The Swedish Hockey League consists of 14 groups that play a 52-game schedule. Very like the Czech Extraliga and Liiga, the Swedish Hockey League has a system that rewards a crew 3 factors for a regulation win, 2 factors for an extra time win, and 1 level for an extra time loss. Additionally, for a enjoyable little bit of trivia, previous to the 2012-13 season, the highest three-seeded groups get to select their opponent out of the bottom-seeded groups for the primary spherical.

The SHL additionally makes use of a relegation and promotion system because the bottom-seeded groups within the SHL are pitted in opposition to the highest groups in Sweden’s second-tier league, HockeyAllsvenskan. The relegation collection, which is dubbed Kvalserien, determines who will likely be relegated to the second-tier league and who will likely be promoted to the Elite League.

Sweden has skilled huge hockey success as of late on a world degree, profitable gold on the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship and on the 2006 Winter Olympics. Apart from Saab, Volvo, ABBA, and Ikea, the Swedes have been making fairly an influence on the NHL world as effectively. With names like Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and the retired Daniel & Henrik Sedin contributing at a excessive degree to the NHL, it’s no shock why the Swedes have develop into a dominant title within the hockey world over the past decade.

2.) Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)

The Kontinental Hockey League is extensively thought of the No. 2 professional hockey league on the earth, with the KHL being thought to be the strongest ice hockey league in all of Europe. Since its founding in 2008, the KHL has launched 27 groups, with the highest 8 in every convention making the playoffs. The KHL playoff construction is kind of just like the NHL format, with the highest two groups from every convention competing for the Gagarin Cup.

What makes the KHL so attention-grabbing is that it holds a wide range of gamers from completely different backgrounds and nations. Even when the first expertise pool comes from Russia, they nonetheless pull gamers in from all around the world, together with expertise hotbeds like Canada and generally much less anticipated elements of the world like Nice Britain. This creates a very numerous participant base, that may solely be rivaled by the likes of the NHL when it comes to high quality and depth.

Nevertheless, the league has discovered itself in the course of many controversies through the years, most notably the 2022 Russian Invasion of the Ukraine, which precipitated a number of golf equipment exterior Russia to depart to league to keep away from going through extra sanctions. This may make it tough to speak concerning the league at occasions, as severe, real-world conditions have implications for the game. So, whilst you can’t low cost the standard of play on the ice, you additionally should be prepared to debate the complete image on the subject of the KHL.

1.) Nationwide Hockey League (NHL)

Many professional hockey gamers abroad and in North America view the NHL because the final and most essential cease of their careers. Profitable contracts, media publicity, and an opportunity to win hockey’s final prize, Lord Stanley’s Cup, are among the many components that drive sure gamers to make it to the NHL stage. With 31 groups within the league, the NHL is certainly greater when it comes to each depth and general high quality than the KHL and has arguably the most effective expertise from world wide vying for one trophy.

Whereas some may argue that the NHL grants probably the most publicity to hockey gamers in North America, the Stanley Cup and its historical past is well-known all through the world. Among the most gifted gamers to make an influence within the NHL have been developed abroad, however the NHL nonetheless stands unequalled within the pantheon of hockey leagues.

With their current profitable enlargement to Las Vegas and Seattle, the NHL is just not solely rising however discovering new markets in North America who’re hungry for hockey. With every thing in thoughts, it’s probably that the NHL will proceed being the highest hockey league on the earth for years to come back.

Honorable Mentions

1.) Western Hockey League (WHL)

The Western Hockey League is certainly one of three members of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) that options 22 groups primarily based in Canada and the western a part of the US. The WHL was established within the Sixties and has develop into a dominant power within the growth of younger hockey gamers through the years. Since its founding, the WHL had thrived, profitable the Memorial Cup 19 occasions, most lately by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
The WHL has produced many gamers who’ve had a significant influence on the NHL since its’ inception within the 1960’s. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When it comes to prospects, the WHL has produced many star gamers through the years. Among the greatest gamers presently within the NHL, together with Carey Worth, Shea Weber, Jamie Benn, Jordan Eberle and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins all discovered significant growth within the WHL. Lately, the league has additionally been producing among the prime younger defensemen within the NHL as effectively. This contains present top-line defenders like Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, and Seth Jones.

The Slovak Extraliga was based in 1993 after Czechoslovakia break up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Despite the fact that the Slovakian league was a part of the Czech Extraliga earlier than 1993, the break up has labored out effectively for each side because the Czech Republic and Slovakia proceed to provide high quality NHL gamers. Among the most notable Slovakian gamers to have an effect on the NHL are Pavol Demitra, Zigmund Palffy, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Zdeno Chara.

Whereas the Slovakian league is simply comprised of 10 groups, it has an attention-grabbing facet that enables for the Slovakian U20 Junior crew to play in some common season video games. Whereas the Slovakian Junior Group (HK Orange 20) can not compete within the playoffs and sure contests, the opposite groups within the league compete for certainly one of eight playoff spots.

Since its inception, the Slovak Extraliga has largely been dominated by two groups, HC Kosice and HC Slovan Bratislava, who’ve each gained eight championships, tied for many in league historical past.

3.) Quebec Maritime Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) 

The QMJHL, the third member of the CHL, has delivered important expertise to the NHL. NHL Corridor of Famers resembling Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Patrick Roy all performed in “The Q” and had spectacular careers within the NHL. Within the modern-day, gamers resembling Sidney Crosby signify QMJHL alumni which have made a major influence on the NHL.

Out of the three main junior hockey leagues, the QMJHL is understood most for producing gamers with immense offensive prowess. With current alumni like Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Huberdeau and Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon tearing it up within the NHL, there’s little doubt “The Q” is aware of incubate among the prime offensive abilities on the earth.

Despite the fact that some detractors might reference the QMJHL’s lack of defensive play, the league has captured the Memorial Cup trophy six occasions since 2000 and stays probably the most thrilling leagues for hockey in North America.

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Olivia Brown
Olivia Brown
Olivia Brown specializes in soccer, covering MLS, NWSL, and international competitions. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Sports Media. Olivia has written for and ESPN FC, providing thorough coverage and in-depth analysis of the sport.


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