When scouts convene to discuss draft eligible players, the development of a player’s game is a frequent discussion point.
Seeing improvement from year-to-year and viewing-to-viewing is one of the main aspects where players are selected in the annual NHL Draft and why some players are simply overlooked.
What has been overlooked by many draft followers is the progression the United States Hockey League has made over the past several years. While last week’s draft did not see the strong presence early like the 2012 NHL Draft, the league’s presence was felt throughout the duration of the seven rounds. This year, 32 players heard their name called at the draft who dawned a USHL franchise’s jersey during the 2012-13 season—a league record.
The number of players drafted from the USHL have spiked ever since the US National Team Development Program joined the league for the 2009-10 season, but the program has hardly been the only reason for the spike.
Future Considerations’ 2013 NHL Draft final ranking featured at least one player from 13 of 16 USHL teams. While 10 teams ended up being represented at the draft, the numbers are still encouraging in regards to talent development for the league as a whole. From three non-NTDP players going in the first round of last year’s draft to 19 non-NTDP players being selected during the entire draft this year, the 16 franchises have shown any USHL team can serve as a development path to the next level.
The league will never feature star-studded teams like the Canadian major junior programs piece together because of top players moving on to the NCAA after being selected. That said, the USHL can continue to take aim at sharing the spotlight with the CHL leagues at the draft.
For the second year in a row, the USHL had more players selected than the QMJHL (31) and fell one short of the WHL’s mark of 33 players. Even the most represented league at this year’s draft, the OHL, was not far out of reach with 37 players taken.
While setting personal league records is impressive in its own right, the league still has opportunities for future growth. Getting top East Coast talent to commit to playing in the Midwest-based league has always been a struggle but has been improving over the years.
The Canadian and international player presence in the league could also improve. Recent success stories from the likes of Jaden Schwartz, Zemgus Girgensons, Michael Matheson and Daniil Zharkov makes the USHL a more attractive option for Canadian and Euros in terms of development.
These improvements are unlikely to happen overnight, but they have been trending in the right direction. Draft eligible players have become more talented, pre-draft eligible players have had more of an impact and NHL scouts have become more abundant in USHL arenas for this reason.
While projecting the potential a USHL draft eligible can be difficult, the scouting report on the league itself is much clearer—there is a high ceiling on what the USHL can become.