Currently, there are many different levels of competitive hockey that are played all over the world. Most international hockey players aspire to play in the NHL because it has the highest volume of fans, as well as the highest paying contracts. As a result, the NHL is an extremely diverse league that is home to players from dozens of different countries worldwide.
What are the types of hockey leagues?
Professional Hockey Leagues
Professional hockey leagues feature the best players in the world. Here are some of the most popular professional hockey leagues in the world.
National Hockey League (NHL)
The National Hockey League is the highest-level of professional hockey in the world. Since its inception in 1917, the NHL has showcased the most talented players in the world on an international stage. The NHL has 32 teams throughout the United States and Canada.
American Hockey League (AHL)
The American Hockey League is the highest level minor league in the world, and develops many future NHL players. Each team in the AHL is required to be affiliated with an NHL club, and are referred to as the NHL team’s “farm team.” The AHL has 31 teams throughout the United States and Canada.
East Coast Hockey League (ECHL)
The East Coast Hockey League is another developmental professional league, and develops players for higher levels such as the AHL and NHL. Many NHL teams have direct affiliations with ECHL teams, and will send players to the ECHL to gain experience at the professional level. The ECHL has 27 teams throughout the United States and Canada.
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)
The Kontinental Hockey League is a professional hockey league based in Russia. It features some of the best players in the world who have chosen not to play in North America. It is common for players to be drafted to the NHL from the KHL, and some players even chose to develop in the KHL instead of the minor leagues in North America. The KHL has 22 teams, 19 of which play in Russia. The other three teams are from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and China.
Major Junior Hockey Leagues
Major junior hockey leagues feature some of the best players under 20 years old in the world. The largest percentage of NHL draft picks come from major juniors. The three major junior leagues are:
- Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
- Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)
- Western Hockey League (WHL)
NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey
NCAA Men’s Division I hockey is the highest level of collegiate hockey in the United States. College hockey in the United States contains the second-highest percentage of NHL draft picks out of any league. There are 60 NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey teams, most of which are split into conferences. The remaining teams are considered independent, as they have no affiliation with a conference. The NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey conferences are as follows:
- Atlantic Hockey
- Big 10
- Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA)
- Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC)
- Hockey East
- National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC)
U Sports Men’s Ice Hockey
U Sports Men’s Ice Hockey is the highest level of collegiate hockey in Canada. While not as many players get drafted into the NHL from U Sports Men’s Ice Hockey, it still features a high level of competitions. There are 35 teams that operate under the U Sports Men’s Ice Hockey umbrella, each belonging to one of three conferences. The three conferences are:
- Atlantic University Sport
- Canada West Universities Athletic Association
- Ontario University Athletics