In Quebec, the road to the NHL is not what we think
Since last week, high-level coaches have been exchanging astounding statistics concerning the route taken by the 37 Quebec hockey players who hold permanent positions in the NHL. These figures are sobering because they could be summed up as follows: our development system is on the wrong track.
Hockey is a late development sport. Athletes who play this sport have been scientifically shown to complete their developmental journey long after the age of 20.
In Quebec, the integrated development structure begins to determine “elite” hockey players from the pee-wee category (11-12 years old).
And from there, the path of high-level hockey players seems to be traced in advance: they will then move on to the bantam AAA level (13-14 years old) and will then play in the Midget AAA League at 15 years old. Then, at the end of this season at the midget AAA, they will be selected very early in the draft by a QMJHL team and will join the major junior circuit at the age of 16. At 18, they will then be drafted by an NHL team.
The problem, as the table above shows, is that the vast majority of Quebecers who settled in the NHL did not take this route! Why? Because hockey is a late development sport and we needlessly rush the development process of young people.
- 18 of 37 players had not played in the Midget AAA Hockey League by the age of 15 (48.6%);
- 25 of the 37 players did not play in the QMJHL at 16 (69.4%);
- 25 of the 37 players were not first-round picks in the QMJHL (69.4%);
- 24 of 37 players weren’t first-round picks in the NHL (64.9%);
- 33 of the 37 players played in the QMJHL, and 4 in the NCAA.
These data were compiled by Dominic Ricard. The latter, a respected hockey man, was for a long time general manager of the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL. Very involved in the Preparatory School Development League with the Collège Saint-Bernard, Ricard also supervises (with André Ruel) the development of Quebec clients in the hockey department of the prestigious Creative Artists Agency, headed by Quebec agent Pat Brisson.
Two of these statistics are of particular interest:
- Almost half (48.6%) of Quebecers who hold permanent positions in the NHL have not played in the Midget AAA League by the age of 15. They were therefore not among the best in their age group.
- A vast majority of Quebecers who hold a starting position in the NHL (69.4%) have not played in the QMJHL at 16 years old. They were therefore not among the best in the age group either.
“These figures tend to show that we are on the wrong track by identifying elite players at 12 years old and by drawing them an integrated pyramid which will bring them upwards. We are on the wrong track because development does not work that way, ”says Dominic Ricard.
The proof is that players aged 15 and 16 who were not among the best in their age group find themselves six years later among the world elite and leave in their wake hockey players who nevertheless had access to a better level of play.
Between 2004-2005 and 2014-2015, approximately 450 16-year-old players, therefore considered particularly talented, played in the QMJHL. The vast majority of them were Quebeckers. Yet only 12 of them are NHL starters.
While all of these talented 16-year-olds were used to a limited extent in the QMJHL and faced much more fierce competition, other players of the same age instead played in the Midget AAA League, where they enjoyed some time off. game and increased responsibilities. Incredibly, this model, not very popular with elite hockey players and their entourage, has led twice as many players (24) to the NHL!
“To give a few examples, Jonathan Marchesseault, Yanni Gourde, Cédric Paquette, Mathieu Joseph, Patrice Bergeron and Anthony Mantha were not playing in the Midget AAA League at the age of 15. And they didn’t play in the QMJHL at 16. And none of them were chosen in the first round in the QMJHL, far from it, ”adds Dominic Ricard.
This brings us directly back to my column from last week. This text dealt with the concept of « significant competition » by comparing the courses of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki since September 2018.
Over the past year, Kotkaniemi was placed in « survival mode » in the NHL at the age of 18 while Suzuki was fired into the junior ranks, where he dominated and played a leadership role. A year later, Suzuki clearly surpassed the Finn in the CH hierarchy.
A few years ago, the QMJHL formed a committee to look into the quality of the development of its players. We wanted to establish the best methods to adopt to allow a greater number of players from the QMJHL to reach the NHL.
In light of the statistics presented above, one obvious conclusion emerges: simply stopping the use of 16-year-old players in the QMJHL would be a huge step forward. These players would be placed in their optimal development zone. In addition, such a measure would allow these student-players to finish their secondary fifth before facing the difficult competition schedule of the major junior. This would greatly facilitate the pursuit and success of their studies.
The other, more draconian measure would require Hockey Quebec to rethink its famous integrated structure and make every effort imaginable to allow as many players as possible to take advantage of the best coaching conditions. (School hockey, which now offers an option to the civilian structure of HQ, already corrects much of this anomaly.)
« If 15-16 year olds who weren’t among the best in their age group reach the world elite in a few years, why couldn’t a 10 year old kid playing in the B atom be able to day access the AAA bantam.
“It is done in theory. But the current structure makes this progression almost impossible. Because once a child is categorized among the worst, they are hardly offered any more training time, their coaches take less care of them and they end up dropping out, ”says Dominic Ricard.