If your son (or you) wants to get picked in the OHL draft and play in this league, you’ve come to the right spot. Below is our guide to the Ontario Hockey League guide and OHL draft info. This guide was created by Junior Hockey Truth after extensive interviews directly with the OHL head office in Toronto and other league officials.
What You’ll Learn:
- Who gets taken in the OHL Draft and what regions these players are from
- What to do if you are not drafted into the OHL
- How the OHL Scholarship program works
- Why this league takes more Americans than any other CHL league
- What it’s like to be an OHL player
HOW TO PLAY IN THE OHL
The standard route to play in the OHL is to go through the OHL Draft. Players picked in
this draft enter the pipeline to making an OHL club. They will also have a step up on other
players their age. Alternatively, undrafted players who become free agents can step into a
training camp and crack a squad.
Nearly all players who make the OHL have played AAA hockey of some sort in midget. If
they don’t jump up from Midget AAA—minor (15) or major (16, 17)—they also have the
option of playing at lower tiers of junior beforehand. It is not uncommon for players to
play in one of Ontario’s four Junior A leagues, which include: CCHL, NOJHL, OJHL, SIJHL.
Other pre-OHL junior options are the various Junior B leagues in Ontario, some which are
quite skilled compared to the typical third tier of junior hockey in Canada. While AAA is
standard, players have made it this way before too.
Once a player is drafted, he’ll either make his club as a top pick or get sent down for more
HOW THE OHL DRAFT WORKS
The OHL Draft, aka the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, is a Minor Midget draft
held the last weekend of April every spring. This is the first day that 15 year-olds can
become property of an OHL team. Lasting 15 rounds, teams select in reverse order of how
they finished in the standings.
If a player is not selected as a 15 year-old, he cannot attend an OHL camp that fall. He
must wait another season, his 16 year-old year, and he will re-enter the draft. If he is not
taken the second time around, he becomes a free agent and can go to the camp of any
OHL team who invites him.
All players in the Ontario Hockey Federation are eligible for the draft. They do not need to
do anything to enter. Likewise, all American players in the OHL American territory can be
chosen as well. No extra requirements are necessary to be picked.
Being picked in the draft does nothing to affect a player’s NCAA eligibility. You’re merely
property of that team and cannot play for any other OHL team until you’re released or
your rights are traded.
To see a breakdown of where in Ontario the 302 OHL draft picks came from in 2012, use the Social Locker below:
scouting event put on by the league. Here’s how it works: the top ranked teams within the
different regions of the OHL and Michigan play each other in a round robin format in the
spring. This allows the best teams (and thus best players) from around the territory to gather
in one spot in front of OHL scouts.
AVERAGE AGE TO BREAK INTO THE OHL
Typically, most players start in the ‘O’ at 17 years old. With a limit on the number of 16 year-olds
that can play each year, few make it this early. On top of this limit, most players won’t
be mature enough physically (and/or mentally) to handle the bigger man’s game just yet.
The small amount of 16 year-olds who do make the league will usually have an education
contract locked up before camp and come to town early to settle in with the team. This isn’t
guaranteed but it is accounted for often so as not to disrupt the player’s school.
Conversely, players do step in as 18 year-olds when they have a good camp and have shown
they can offer a club something unique.
AMERICANS PLAYING IN THE OHL
More Americans play in this league than in the WHL or QMJHL. With teams based in
Michigan and Pennsylvania, and with its proximity to many hockey rich states, Ontario has an
easier time drawing players in than other Major Junior leagues.
Some American players go through the OHL draft and choose to play in this league long
before they are of age. However, it’s not uncommon for a player to come from the USHL or
NAHL and cross the border.
Sometimes players who have commitments to schools get drafted by NHL teams and give
them up to play in the ‘O’. These players (or their agents or NHL clubs) often feel they have a
better chance to develop in a league that is more geared to pro hockey.
In the 2013 OHL draft there were 59 Americans selected (out of 300). The majority came
from Michigan and New York, followed by New Jersey and Missouri. However, other players
were selected from the Great Lakes region and states further south.
There is no special way for an American to enter the league other than to be drafted or
protected as any Canadian player would.
The American states whose player are eligible to play in the ‘O’ are east of the Mississippi
and west of New England going south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
American players must be added to the draft by Central Scouting. Central Scouting does
this on their own, and if a team wants a player he will surely be added. American players do
not have to go out of their way to enter the draft.
OHL CENTRAL SCOUTING
Like the NHL, the OHL has a central scouting service. The Service’s role is to identify players
who could play in the league, highlight their strengths and weakness and provide reports
for member clubs. It acts as a second opinion and additional resource to the scouting staffs
of each team.
Any lists or information gathered by the service is not publicized. Any outside scouting
services or lists are private business and have no bearing on how an OHL team makes it
selections. They’re fanfare.
NHL DRAFT PROSPECTS
It goes without saying that any player in this league will be seen by NHL scouts on a nightly
basis. If he performs, he’ll have a shot at the Show.
Players who get taken in the NHL draft will do so at the end of their 17 year-old year. After
that, most players won’t get any official attention until their 20 year-old season, the first year
they can sign as free agents.
Many OHL players go on to careers in other pro leagues, usually starting in the ECHL if they
are not under an NHL contract.
Compared to the other Major Junior leagues in Canada, the ‘O’ has the best travel. The
league plays an unbalanced schedule, meaning teams within close proximity of each
other, i.e. in their conference, play each other more than those that are far away. This
reduces travel. A team will play another outside of its conference twice in a season, and
the remainder of its games will be in-conference. This creates a couple of road swings each
season with most games being closer to home.
Most road trips are ones where teams return home the same night or weekend, but some
stretch much longer where buses drive hours in the double-digits.
HOW THE OHL SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM WORKS
The OHL scholarship program is pretty straightforward—play a year, get a year. If a player
makes a squad after training camp, he’ll get half a year covered. If he plays after the trade
deadline, he’ll get the second half of the year covered.
“Covered” means books and tuition once the player is in a post-secondary institution and
can include university, college, technical school or professional program. Tuition is paid
directly to the school from the league office.
A Canadian player can use his schooling at any approved—basically all—Canadian
institutions. An American player can go to a Canadian school (where the advantage is that
he can play collegiate hockey), or go to a school in his home state. In either case, tuition
will be covered on the basis that the cost is the equivalent of the provincial/state university
within that player’s home juristiction. In simpler terms, if you go to school in Canada, you’re
covered. If you go to school in your home state, you’ll get the equivalent tuition of your
Players do not have to play hockey to use their scholarship money. Once it’s in your pocket,
it’s guaranteed. Use it how you like within the criteria. The caveat is that players have 18
months after the end of their 20 year-old year to use the money or it evaporates. This is a
generous extension put into play in February 2014, compared to the previous term of six
months. Players do lose rights to their scholarship if they sign an NHL contract (but not an
It should also be noted that OHL teams will cover their players’ costs while the player plays
within the OHL. This is a good way to get some extra university. Players can negotiate
additional terms into their education contract including room and board and no-trade
clauses. How much you get depends on how bad the team wants you. It’s not the standard
but it exists.
Each OHL team is alotted a 50-player protected list. This list is comprised of the team’s active
roster and prospects, including recent draft picks. The team may not exceed this number of
protected players but can carry less than 50. Only players who are protected can play games
as an affiliate.
To be placed on a team’s protected list, players must simply play well enough to get noticed
and be a free agent. (If they are still eligible for the draft, they can only be protected by
being drafted.) The team will contact the player to notify him that he has been protected.
From there, the player usually continues play just as before and will head to camp that fall
unless the team indicates otherwise.
Nicknames you’ll hear: The “O”
Provinces/States covered: Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania
Games Played: 68
Trophy Name: J. Ross Robertson Cup
Reigning League Champion: London Knights, 2013
LEAGUE CONTACT INFO
305 Milner Ave., Suite 200
Commissioner: David E. Branch
Director of Recruitment, Education Services and Player Development: Kyle Raftis
kraftis at chl dot ca
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