Why Play Major Junior?
By Tyler Hinds; ex-CHL undrafted prospect, not that I’m bitter or anything (@THinds3)
Spanning 9 Canadian provinces and 4 American states, the Canadian Hockey League is comprised of 60 teams across three leagues: the WHL (Western Hockey League), the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), and the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). Teams in the separate leagues do not crossover until they have won their respective league championship and battle for the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Players in these leagues are all under 21 years of age with a minimum age of 16.
The CHL is touted as the premiere development league for junior hockey players looking to make the jump to the National Hockey League (NHL). 96 of the 211 (45%) players selected in the 2015 NHL Draft were from the major junior ranks of the CHL.
We picked the brains of Kirt Hill, Senior Manager of WHL Player Development, & Adam Dennis, Director of OHL Player Recruitment, to learn more about the process to play in the CHL.
1. Where did you grow up playing minor hockey and where else did you play?
Kirt – I grew up playing my minor hockey in Winnipeg until I made the jump into the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets and Regina Pats before joining the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Following graduation from junior hockey, I utilized my WHL Scholarship and went to the University of Waterloo where I played 4 years of CIS hockey with the Warriors.
Adam – I grew up in Etobicoke, ON and played minor hockey in the GTHL for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Don Mills Flyers, & Toronto Marlboros. I was then fortunate enough to play 4 years in the OHL with the Guelph Storm & London Knights before playing 8 years of professional hockey in the AHL, Italy-A, DEL, & Austria.
2. What is the funniest moment in your hockey career?
Kirt – The funniest moment of my hockey career was running into a team mascot when the teams were coming onto the ice for a game.
Adam – The most embarrassing moment of my hockey career came in game 4 of the OHL finals against the Mississauga Ice Dogs. We were leading the game 2-0 with a few minutes left to play, we were on a power play and the puck came to me. I smothered it before hearing Ryan Callahan call for it. Ryan was on the other side of the net and when I attempted to push the puck over to him it got caught in the webbing of my trapper and ended up going top shelf in my own net. Luckily we ended up winning the game 4-1 and it didn’t have an impact on the game.
3. What age are drafted to the league?
Kirt – This year the WHL Bantam Draft is for 2001 born players. Players are 14 and 15 years old while being selected in the draft.
Adam – This year the OHL Priority Selection is for 2000 born players. Eligible players are 15 years old.
4. Where are the drafts this year, how many players are selected, and what is the catchment area (Canada and US)?
Kirt – The Bantam Draft will be held on Thursday May 5th in Calgary, AB. Each season over 220 players are drafted and from 11-14 rounds. Players who reside in the Western Canadian provinces (AB, BC, MB, SK, NWT, YK) and Western US states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MN, MT, NE, NV, ND, NM, OK, OR, SD, TX, UT, WA, WY) are within the protected territory of the WHL.
Adam – The OHL Priority Selection has been held online since 2001. Approximately 300 players are selected every year with the majority coming from Ontario. The OHL territories in the US are as follows: AR, FL, IL, IA, LA, MI, NY, OH, SC, VA, WI, AL, DE, GA, IN, KY, MD, MS, NJ, NC, PA, WV.
5. What happens to players that aren’t drafted?
Kirt – Unfortunately not every player will be selected in the bantam draft. It is important to note that there are a lot of players who play in the WHL who were never drafted in the bantam draft:
- Shea Weber
- Duncan Keith
- Jamie Benn
- Dan Hamhuis
- Joffrey Lupul
- Tyler Johnson
For players not selected in the Bantam Draft, WHL Clubs send out camp invitation letters for players to attend their rookie camps in August. These letters typically come a few weeks after the draft via mail or email. Players may receive multiple letters and then can make a decision on which camp they would like to attend. WHL Scouts are always evaluating players. The rookie camp and first year midget seasons are great opportunities for players to gain additional exposure after the draft.
Adam – Players that aren’t drafted have the ability to be selected in the following season. If again they remain undrafted, they may attend a Member Team’s training camp as a free agent.
6. What kind of post-secondary education packages does the WHL/OHL offer?
Kirt – All players currently playing in the WHL and have achieved a high school diploma are encouraged to enroll in post-secondary courses. The financial assistance received for post-secondary studies while playing does not impact the WHL Scholarship benefits a WHL player is entitled to upon graduating from the League. For every season a player plays in the WHL, they receive a guaranteed, full-year WHL Scholarship including tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees to a post-secondary institution of their choice. The WHL Scholarship is considered to be the most attractive and flexible hockey scholarship due to the fact it is a fully-guaranteed academic scholarship with no requirement to play university hockey to qualify, and the student-athlete can apply the funding to any post-secondary program of his choice.
Adam – The OHL Scholarship is two-fold. First, all post-secondary costs associated to a player who is currently playing in the League will be covered. Upon graduation from the OHL players will receive a scholarship ranging from a minimum of tuition, books, and compulsory fees to a Full-ride Scholarship which includes: tuition, books, room and board, and compulsory fees. The terms of scholarships will vary based on the player.
7. Why is playing major junior the best option for prospects?
Kirt – The WHL gives players the opportunity to play against the best players across Western Canada and the Western United States within their age category helping them improve each and every day. The game, practice, and workout schedule of the WHL season prepares players for a pro schedule and environment. Coaching in the WHL is exceptional for player’s development. Many WHL coaches have NHL or pro hockey coaching experience therefore they understand what players need to make the jump to the next level.
Adam – The OHL gives elite level hockey players the chance to play against the best players in their age group heading into the NHL draft. In addition, players have the opportunity to take advantage of one of the best scholarships available to athletes. The goal of the OHL is to develop student-athletes into professionals whether it be in the NHL or one of the many other careers our Alumni have chosen as career paths.
8. What type of off-season training can a player do to best prepare themselves?
Kirt – Training in the off-season can include, dryland, weight training, skill development, injury rehabilitation, & skating skills. It is important for young athletes to work on their skating and explosiveness through the off-season. Skating is a critical area of the game of hockey today and you can always improve on your power or edge work on the ice. It is important for young prospects to not only focus on hockey in their younger years. Players should play multiple sports as it will help with their overall athletic ability only benefiting their game.
Adam – Every player will need to approach their summer training based on individual needs. Some need to get stronger and some need to get faster. The key is to ask for advice and use your team staff for direction.
9. If you had a breakaway right now, what move would you pull?
Kirt – If I had a breakaway, as a left handed shooter, I would come in down the right side of the goalie on an angle and shoot low blocker inside the post.
Adam – I’m a goalie so I don’t have a ton of breakaway moves in my arsenal but based on my experience I found it most difficult when a player came in at varying speeds and shot rather than deked.
10. If you could offer one piece of advice to an aspiring young CHL prospect, what would it be?
Kirt – My advice for an aspiring young WHL prospect would be to continue to get better every day. Whether you are a drafted player, undrafted player, first year WHL player, or WHL 50 Goal scorer, players should strive to get better each and every day. Be sure when you go the rink, or go to a workout, you leave feeling like you accomplished something that day that made you better player.
Adam – The best advice I can give is to stick to the process. Whether you are picked 1st overall or not picked at all you are going to need to devote the next 10-15 years of your career to getting better every day. Don’t get too caught up in results, just stick to the process.
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