Comparing the NCAA, CHL, USHL, ECHL, and AHL

February 09, 2019

by Dan Milstein


The NCAA, or National Collegiate Athletic Association, serves as the governing body for athletics at more than 1,280 colleges, universities, conferences, and organizations in Division I, II, and III. The NCAA is committed to the student-athlete and to governing competition in a fair, safe, inclusive and sportsmanlike manner. Most NCAA players are scholarship recipients, with many receiving full-ride opportunities.


NCAA regulations require all incoming student-athletes meet a prescribed level of academic performance while maintaining their amateur status before entering college. Those who wish to compete at the Division I level must be certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center which looks at two main criteria:


NCAA athletes must meet minimum academic criteria that takes into account high school courses and grades, as well as standardized test scores (SAT/ACT). Student-athletes must also maintain a grade point average specified by the NCAA.


NCAA athletes are amateurs and cannot have played for a professional team prior to enrollment. In hockey, specifically, this means anyone who plays for a team in the CHL (WHL/OHL/QMJHL) or signs a contract forfeits their NCAA eligibility.

60 Division 1 hockey teams

6 Conferences: Hockey East, WCHA, Big Ten, NCHC, ECAC, Atlantic Hockey, Independent (Arizona State)

Each school plays 30 -35 games plus playoffs (another 6-8 games) with the season starting in October and regular season ending in March. The frozen four (playoffs) will conclude early April.

Recruiting Process

NCAA coaches may contact the player Jan. 1 of the players sophomore year in high school. Prior to that contact must be made by the player by phone or face to face on campus

Academic Requirements

To be academically eligible to compete in the NCAA players must obtain a certain GPA in 16 core classes, in which 10 of those courses must be completed before entering grade 12.

Required ACT & SAT test scores are based on a sliding scale in relation to core GPA.

Unofficial vs Official Visits

Unofficial visits can happen at any time as long as they are paid for by the player

Official visits occur in grade 12 and each player is allowed 5 paid visits , 1 per school.

National Letter of Intent / Scholarships

The National Letter of Intent (NLI) is the name of the document that formalizes an athletic scholarship in exchange for the student-athlete's agreement to attend the university. The NLI is generally signed by the player and the institution in the fall prior to attending school.

Schools are allowed 18 full scholarships. Often times schools offer partial scholarships and carry around 26 players.

Scholarship agreements can be made for 1-5 years and may not be reduced or cancelled year-to-year based on your ability or performance, because an injury prevents you from participating or for any other athletic reason.

Attending CHL training camps and retaining NCAA Eligibility

Each player has 48 hours to attend a CHL training camp with expenses paid, any amount of time after that is the players responsibility to remain eligible for the NCAA.

Dressing in an exhibition game will forfeit NCAA eligibility.

If you have played in the CHL and want to play in the NCAA

There is an appeals process for players who have played in the CHL and some have gone on to play NCAA hockey. The appeal must be filed by the NCAA school and only once the student-athlete has enrolled on campus. The minimum penalty is typically one year of athletic eligibility.

NHL Development Camp for Players in the NCAA

NCAA prospects or current players may attend NHL summer development camps, or prospect camps, but must pay their own way (transportation, lodging, food, etc.) and current players may not miss class to do so. 

There is an opportunity, similar to the 48-hour rule (see above), to have an NHL team pay a portion of a player's stay at development camp on a one-time-per-team basis. The 48-hour period begins when you arrive at the team's facility and ends exactly 48 hours later. While in attendance the team can supply you with expenses that include travel, hotel, food, equipment, and all costs associated with practice and off-ice training. A player would have to cover all costs after that 48-hour period, including return transportation home.

NHL Drafted Players in the NCAA

NHL Clubs have until April 15 of the players senior season to sign that player to a entry level contract in the NHL, otherwise the player becomes and Unrestricted Free Agent.

Undrafted players have the ability to be drafted while in college or become a free agent at the end of their college hockey career.


The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is an umbrella organization that governs the three Canadian-based major junior ice hockey leagues for players ages 16-20.

The CHL consists of three separate leagues, the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL.

Players attend high school in the city in which they play, and live with local billet families.

1,380Active Roster Players
892017 Draft Picks
16-20Age Eligibility
2Import Players (no goalies)

salary varies

5-year Draft History

Making the Team

Each league holds a draft. The WHL and OHL have 2 variations; the WHL drafts 1 year younger than both the OHL and QMJHL. The OHL also holds a U18 draft as well for players that have been passed through.

If not drafted, must sign as a free agent. League players sign with and are drafted by depends on where the parents reside.

Top 2 lines / 4 D generally consist of NHL drafted players 18 -20 year old players

16 and 17 year olds typically see limited ice time and limited roles within the team. Each team is allowed four, 20 year olds.

Education Package

Players still attending high school can attend local HS or take online classes through their home high school. 

Teams are allowed 7 full rides (100% of college tuition paid for, excluding books, room & board)

Standard education package is 1 year of tuition for 1 year played (negotiable)

Players can typically take college classes in season that the team pays for that does not count against tuition money at the conclusion of junior hockey career. 

Tuition money needs to be used within 18 months after junior hockey career.

Tuition money is voided if player signs an NHL or European playing contract.

Import Draft

Looking for 18 or 19 year old NHL prospects to step in and help the team immediately.

Every team is allowed 2, no goalies.

Draft is a snake order that goes from WHL, OHL, QMJHL. In 2018 QMJHL has the first overall selection. In 2019 it will be the WHL and in 2020 the OHL. Teams may not trade picks, however they can pass on their selection.

OHL & QMJHL Draft takes place at the end of the players first year of U16 or U15. WHL will take place at the end of the players 2nd Bantam season. 

Example for 2018 OHL & QMJHL Draft:

Spring 2018: 2002’s drafted - Sophomore in HS (03’s for WHL – Freshman in HS)

  • 18-19: 16 year old hockey year - Jr in HS (15 year old hockey year in WHL)
  • 19-20: age 17 hockey year (NHL Draft year / Senior year in HS) (age 16 WHL)
  • 20-21: age 18 hockey year (age 17 WHL – NHL Draft Year)
  • 21-22: age 19 hockey year (age 18 WHL)
  • 22-23: age 20 hockey year (age 19 WHL)
  • 23-24: age 20 hockey year WHL

WHL Footprint

OHL Footprint

QMJHL Footprint


The USHL is the only Tier 1 junior hockey league in the United States, and is the fastest growing producer of NHL hopefuls. The USHL has seen a 38% increase in NHL draft picks over the past five years.

The USHL can provide you with the unique opportunity to work toward your NHL dream while maintaining your college eligibility.

17Number of Teams
391Active Roster Players
482017 Draft Picks
16-20Age Eligibility
4Import Players (with goalies)


The ECHL is a mid-level professional ice hockey league with teams scattered across the United States and one franchise in Canada. The ECHL is one tier below the American Hockey League (AHL).

ECHL players are compensated, and are generally over the age of 21. Each team has a salary cap of $12,400 per week shared between players, with a minimum salary of $500 per week.

28Number of Teams
560Active Roster Players
72016 NHL Debuts
18+Age Eligibility
AllImport Players


The AHL is a 30-team professional ice hockey league based in the United States, and serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL.

The AHL consists of teams throughout the United States and Canada. Players are compensated, and earn a minimum of $42,375 per year, prorated daily over the course of the AHL season.

28Number of Teams
560Active Roster Players
72016 NHL Debuts
18+Age Eligibility
AllImport Players