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Paths to the NCAA Show Need for Patience

June 15, 2020

By Nate Ewell and Sean Hogan, College Hockey Inc.

The paths to NCAA Division I men’s hockey can be winding, with a veritable alphabet soup of NCAA-eligible junior leagues leading to the college ranks.

The vast majority of Division I players will play in one of those junior leagues – with the USHL, NAHL and BCHL producing the most players. To try to clarify those paths, College Hockey Inc. studied each of the 1,600-plus men’s Division I players and looked at not only their junior leagues, but where they played prior to junior hockey.

A few key findings stand out in the results of that study:

While paths vary widely, clear themes emerge when looking geographically at where players are raised.

Wherever players are from, patience is required, with very few players making the jump to junior hockey at age 16.

Most players will not commit to a Division I school until playing NCAA-eligible junior hockey after high school, exactly in line with the study we conducted last year.

“These facts are critically important for every player, parent and coach to understand,” said Kevin McLaughlin, USA Hockey’s Assistant Executive Director, Hockey Development. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Focus on your own development. You have your own, unique path.”

Working our way backwards from college – which players began, on average, at age 20.3 – finds most players playing in an NCAA-eligible junior league the year prior to college.

In the United States, geography isn’t much of a factor. The vast majority of U.S. players spend the year before college in the USHL or NAHL.

A few geographic tendencies emerge; players in the Northeast are more likely to play in prep school prior to college, for example. But even there, the USHL and NAHL reign.

Listed below are the top 15 states in producing NCAA Division I men’s players; click on each state to see which junior leagues those players played in immediately prior to college:

View chart here

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