There's not just one route to take to make the NHL. The most logical way is going into the USHL. The talent in the USHL continues to improve each year, with a growing number of players getting selected in the NHL Entry Draft. Before, NHL scouts used to only pay attention to the Canadian major junior leagues, but the USHL has made giant leaps and is starting to generate more noise.
The USHL is the only Tier 1 hockey league in the U.S., making it the highest level of junior competition available in the country. It is also NCAA protected, which preserves the player’s NCAA eligibility. This means that players are still able to play in college unlike the major junior leagues, where once a player plays one game, their college eligibility is voided. The good thing about the USHL is a player can sign an NHL contract or go to the AHL to further develop their skills, unlike major juniors, where the team owns their rights until the age of 20. 95 percent of USHL players will go on to receive Division I scholarships and play college hockey.
Each January, the USHL hosts a USHL/NHL top prospects game. This year, the game was held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This game is where the top talents of the USHL can showcase their abilities to scouts and teams before the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Numbers show that about 31 percent of NHL players took the college hockey route. They still say college hockey is the fastest way to the NHL. For example: in the 2014 draft, the Chicago Blackhawks took three USHL players for five of their picks in the draft. They obviously believe in the development path. Last year, 37 USHL players were selected in the 2016 draft, with four of those players selected in the first round. Johnny Gaudreau, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Sharp, John Carlson, David Backes, Max Pacioretty, and Scott Darling are just a few names of the over 240 USHL alumni currently under contract in the NHL, and the list is only going to grow in the future.