Junior Hockey Insights
Hockey has a passionate following in Canada and the United States. Teens who grew up watching legends battle it out at the rink, as if it were a modern-day stadium, want to test their mettle and even have a full-fledged career in the sport. One of the best places to start your hockey career is in one of the junior leagues.
You can play junior hockey starting at the age of 16. While many players start moving up the tiers by the age of 18, the oldest you can be as a junior hockey league player is 21. So you have between 16 and 21 in junior leagues to get yourself noticed by the NHL.
In this article, you will learn more about different career paths you can take to becoming an NHL player, which key traits scouts look for in tryouts, and how to put your best foot forward and get noticed.
One of the questions most asked by young hockey enthusiasts is whether junior hockey is worth it, especially when it comes to tier 3 leagues. Your junior hockey journey will bring you experience, discipline, and the ability to work with a team. These are some of the most transferable skills that will help you throughout your life.
Whether junior hockey excites you or disappoints, ultimately, depends on what your expectations are. If you wish to get noticed, you must apply yourself and outshine your teammates while also broadly supporting them. No one hoards the puck to the NHL.
If you go in with an entitled mindset, you will find fewer opportunities and little upward mobility. On the other hand, if you are a hardworking athlete and do not get in your own way, you might get drafted from tier three (or even junior d if you are in Canada) to play in the big leagues.
In terms of training and life experience, junior hockey is something most people look fondly at as they reminisce about their younger years. You will not regret it. But if you go with the expectation that it is an easy road to the NHL, then you will be disappointed as someone will outwork you.
You have the choice of looking at the likes of Scott Wilson and Ben Hutton, who made it from Canadian Junior A. Or you can look at the players who did not. The question is, how much do you believe in yourself?
It may also be worth reading our article, which looks into if you should play junior hockey and the pros and cons compared to other sports.
Unfortunately, hockey’s most valuable leagues are not as application-based as one would want it. And that is great because the smaller leagues act as feeder leagues to the NHL.
If one would not play unless given a spot at the NHL, then he does not have the passion for the game. On the other hand, people who play with passion, like their junior team, perform well, and are on an NHL feeder team, may get noticed by talent scouts.
If you find yourself with an appointment for a junior hockey team’s tryouts, consider yourself fortunate and give it you’re all. While the section on dominating tryouts is covered later in the article, the following are things to keep in mind during all of your games, from your high school hockey team to major junior teams. Also, make sure to read our guide on how to get noticed at tryouts.
If you exhibit the following qualities, talent scouts, coaches, and even big-league players will notice you on whichever level you are playing.
This might be all some would-be players need to hear before they start benching half their body weight in the hopes of taking down opponents. However, what scouts look for is not whether you get physical at all costs, but whether you show awareness regarding your physicality.
If you are naturally gifted and can be a force of nature on the blades, you can get physical. But if you are not that kind of a player, do you offset this drawback with speed? Decision-makers pay a lot of attention to this.
Again, teams are not looking for you to be the fastest. What coaches want to see is whether you are fast enough. If you are as fast as you need to be and can generate passes, dodge the losing confrontations, and score, you will impress the right people. If you rely on physicality and ignore speed, you might convey that you are not coachable.
As the earlier portion implied, showcasing that you are not coachable might be an issue. One of the most obvious ways to signal that you can’t be trusted with a lesson is by consistently sticking to a bad practice that costs your team. For instance, if you take on every one-on-one confrontation and lead to the puck getting turned over much of the time, you will lose some serious respect that can cost you your opportunity to move up.
That is why it is not just enough to show that you are not uncoachable; you should actively signal that you have what it takes to improve with the right coaching. Unfortunately, no trick or tactic can help you achieve this. You have to listen to your coach and improve your skills at the rink. Scouts rarely pick the talent after seeing someone play a single game. They usually keep track of the junior players from the age of 16 to 18 before making their approach.
One of the reasons for this is to avoid dealing with parents, but another part of this has to do with seeing someone’s improvement over a long enough period. Those who recruit at the youth level are scouting not for talent, but potential. The NHL teams are machines that convert potential into playable skills.
There is a reason why the concerned federations have set up the junior leagues to act as talent farms. That is because they want to know which players prioritize the game over fame. Sure, an NHL spot may get you a fan base, but that is also possible playing for your high school. The reason you should want to be in the major games is because of your love for the game.
That is one thing coaches have built a keen eye for. They can quickly tell apart the players who play because they love the game and the ones who have a chip on their shoulder. Cultivate a love for the sport even if you want to be in the NHL for money or fame. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things, but if someone loves the game more than you and can show it on the ice, he will get picked.
Here are differences in priorities that coaches can spot:
- Those who love the game will make the team look good; the rest of the players will try to make themselves look good.
- Those who love the game will use the best strategy. The others will do whatever feels right.
- Those who love the game will get up after a dive. Others will make theatre out of a fall.
- Those who love the game will improve across time. Those who do not will get complacent.
- Those who love the game will continue playing regardless of appreciation. The rest will give up if they do not get famous quickly.
Since leadership and masculinity are intertwined in popular culture, a contact sport like hockey attracts players who all see themselves as leaders. In such a pool of players, the one who can get the whole team behind him is not just a leader but a star.
Most junior hockey teams, however, do not have a single leader like this. But if a team has players following a single person, he immediately earns scouts’ and coaches’ attention. But the same player has to showcase the ability to work under a leader to convince the decision-makers that he is NHL material.
The fact remains that you will likely not get drafted from the junior hockey team you play with to lead a major hockey team. So while coaches keep an eye out on players with charisma and leadership abilities, they also want to avoid clashes and make sure you are not a liability until you are ready to lead the charge.
From all the qualities mentioned above, this one is the most critical because it is used to figure out who not to approach. NHL scouts do not want anything from people who have a victim mindset. And there are some traits that signify a victim mindset.
- Victims believe things happen to them. Winners believe they make things happen.
- Victims blame others. Winners take responsibility.
- Victims focus on why something can’t be done. Winners focus on how things can be done.
To synthesize the above: make sure that you learn from your mistakes and always strategize your gameplay with optimism and get the puck where it must be instead of focusing on why it is impossible.
The above portion primes you for the tryout by giving you the pointers to follow no matter where you are playing. But if you are among the fortunate players given a shot at a valuable tryout, you want to make the most of this. Follow the pointers in this section to put your best foot forward.
This might seem like an obvious one, but too many players try to show that they are well-rounded players who have mastery of everything. This only shows that you are generic and, if anything, makes you invisible. The coaches and decision-makers watching the tryout see so many well-rounded players that they are bored of that motif.
You know your strength, and whatever you feel gives you the edge; make sure you showcase it every shift, even at the cost of downplaying the rest of your abilities. Often, coaches are aware of a single major flaw in their current lineup, and if your strength happens to be one that can offset the recent weakness of their team, you can find yourself getting a curated Bootcamp treatment within a week or two.
There is a silent understanding among the decision-makers regarding how many people who try out are not fit for the league. A coach can spot from a mile away the people who are not meant to play professionally as adults. These indicators are known by different names but might also be called “avoid me” mistakes because they act like flashing neon signs for whom to cut.
Fortunately, this means that a big part of getting selected is not getting in your way. All you have to do is avoid the following mistakes and get yourself noticed, as you will stand out from most of the players.
- Do not try to score the most. This may sound counter-productive, but tryouts are not meant to help coaches select the best scorers. They are intended to help find the best players who can make the team score.
- Do not take every one on one confrontation. If your opponent makes a mistake and you see an opening, sure, take the chance, but if you take every conflict just to take one, not only will you lose the puck more than you will score, but you could make the whole team look bad.
- Do not be bad on ice. If you show even a little hesitance on ice, you are out. It showcases that you have taken up a trial spot despite not being sufficiently prepared. Coaches can even get offended by this. Do your drills, be the best you can be on the ice.
You want to showcase that you are reliable. Hockey teams are like tribes, and picking the wrong talent makes coaches unpopular with the existing talent. Did you sharpen your skates? Is your stick with you, or did you forget it in the car? If you can’t be trusted to bring the required equipment, how can you be trusted with a major contract?
As comfy as it may feel to just sink inside the helmet and meditate on the puck, communicating with your teammates will get you some brownie points. Be loud, be passionate, and, most importantly, be strategic.
Sure, calling out for the puck or your teammate’s name as you pass it on can be useful, but many players have code that helps them understand the kind of strategy their partner is running. With that said, if you are assigned a drill, do not mess it up to showcase your strategic genius. This will only anger the coach.
In the rink, your strength and skill matter but with all things equal, the player with the most willpower almost always gets picked. If you can work at your best to make the lost play work, that shows your determination.
When you try to block an opponent despite knowing there is no victory to be had, that shows grit. Do not just showcase willpower; cultivate enough of it that it oozes out of you.
While it is easy to get lost thinking about the next level, coming this far is a feat in itself. You want to enjoy every moment and give it your all without beating yourself up too much. This may be your last tryout or first among many, but just by being there, you are much further than many. And at least you are not among those who have a dream but do nothing to achieve it.
Now that we have gone over what scouts look at in general games and what to do at tryouts to stand out and get selected for a spot on your favourite team, let us explore which factors determine your career’s success.
There is a difference between a coach and a mentor. A coach makes drills work; a mentor makes you the best you can be for your own good. A coach belongs to the entire team, whereas a mentor is your ally. Usually, mentors have advice that comes from experience.
Not every mentor has to be Wayne Gretzky. You can have mentors who teach what you should not do because they made the same mistakes. Furthermore, a mentor does not have to be someone you physically meet. Sometimes, a hockey player documenting his journey online could give you a few words of advice that shift your perspective.
For this, you deserve congratulations because you are already reading up on useful information for your career’s success. As you know, there are so many options that the right path can often seem masked. A single mistake in decision-making can cost someone their entire career.
A lot of potential is lost in tier three alongside a lot of money. At least 34 prominent leagues have gone defunct in recent history. If your hunch drives you, you rely on coincidence to bestow you with good fortune. But since you are researching for your success, it seems like you are more likely to make your good fortune.
This was briefly touched upon earlier in the article. It cannot be emphasized enough that those who love the process do not just get selected often but also have the most fun. After all, if the only thing you like about your journey is the end, you will be disappointed most of the time. But if you fall in love with the journey itself, you will have a great time.
Another trait that almost all NHL players have in common is persistence. It is no coincidence that NHL players have such determination: coaches filter new talent by determining and picking the ones who have enough of it. It might also be worthwhile to take a look at our article, which discusses the probabilities of making the NHL.
To improve your determination, start aiming for targets that others claim to be impossible. Use the naysayers’ criticism as a motivator to make you more stubborn in your desire to succeed. The determination you will get from being fuelled by people not thinking you can make it will take you very far. From Mohammad Ali to Michael Jordan, sports outside of hockey have visible examples of people fuelled by others’ judgments.
Openly discuss your dreams and plans with the most pessimistic people, so you have a point to prove once you are told your dreams are too big and too unrealistic. And stick to your goals regardless of what happens. While there is no tactic to display this determination, you will naturally communicate it once you have it. And it will take you quite far.
A cliché suggests that people who say they can and those who say they can’t are both right. Similarly, in hockey, the player who looks at why a play will not work makes less effort to make the play work. On the other hand, a player who is always looking for solutions can see opportunities where others can’t – both on and off the ice.
If you are the individual who can see such solutions in a short timeframe, you will not just move up the tiers but will dominate the games you are a part of. To cultivate this skill, do the drill of never complaining. In your life, with friends, and in relationships, stop complaining and instead only pose solutions.
Yes, this fundamental shift in perspective that starts with saying ‘let us order food’ instead of ‘I am hungry’ becomes such a habit that you can’t help but notice only how you can score or pass even in the most hopeless circumstances.
Even without trying, you start displaying strategic chops. However, it must be said that this transformation is not instant, as habits take at least two months to form correctly.
So far, you have learned how you can make sure your path ahead is paved with opportunities and positive connections. This section looks at some mistakes that cost talented hockey players their well-deserved shot to play professional hockey.
Just like coaches are responsible for getting the right players into the team, you are responsible for picking the best league you can start in. On junior level, tier 3 leagues are the easiest to get in, but you can end up spending a significant amount of money in the process.
If you play in a league with a poor upward drafting record, you play to a blind audience. Well, not exactly, because there is always a tiny chance that someone with enough pull is watching, but the chances are slim. Always make sure you look at the teams’ history and league’s record with NHL recruitment. Do not sink your time and money in a league that isn’t followed by decision-makers.
To help with this choice, we highly recommend you review our article going over which junior hockey league is best.
Many people pick hockey because it is a sport they enjoy. Some people would like to get a scholarship out of it, and others would like fame. All of those are valid reasons to want to pursue hockey more seriously.
But if you are in it only for the fame or the scholarship, then you likely will not last. The key reason here is the nature of hockey as a contact sport. It takes determination, grit, and overcoming a lot of physical and emotional pain to get to the top.
Unfortunately, most dreams are killed by listening to those who gave up on their dreams. As a rule of thumb, do not listen to those who dropped out of junior hockey. Listen to people in whose shoes you want to be a few years from now. Would you like to be where the person talking you out of your journey is? Or would you like to be playing and getting paid? Be careful who you listen to.
When you think about hockey, does yoga come to mind? Exactly. A hockey player’s training plan might focus on what the game needs, but players can’t afford to neglect what their bodies need.
Ensure you have a good stretching routine, cover enough exercises for your upper body strength, and practice diving so you can fall without getting hurt. Getting injured and sustaining unrecoverable damage will turn your potentially inspiring journey into a cautionary tale.
Your passion for hockey can turn into a full-fledged career if you join a high-visibility junior hockey league. When you play any game, make sure to display the qualities silent scouts look for and if invited for a tryout, make sure you reveal your strengths and use strategy to offset your weaknesses. Most importantly, love the game and the process, and avoid making avoidable mistakes that can cost you your career.
- Junior Hockey News: USHL Age Restrictions To Change?
- NHL: Draft Historical Selections by Club
- Tim Turk: Hockey Tryouts – What Coaches Look For
- CJHL: 2020 NHL Draft Sees Nine CJHL Players Selected
- Braydon Cox: What Motivates Hockey Players?
- HSS: Common Hockey Injuries