Nearly all college hockey players played junior hockey before coming into their freshman season, some don't. But the reality of it is that the majority of players aren't ready to step out of high school or midgets and immediately contribute to a college lineup. I am a supporter of junior hockey and think it's a great thing, but here is my rundown on all the junior hockey leagues that Minnesotans typically choose to play in and my opinion on whether or not it's worth putting off an education.
USHL (Tier 1)- The obvious premier junior league, I'm unsure of an actual statistic, but I'd say the Division-I commitment rate in the league is upwards around 75%, if not more. Each roster has 15+ Division-I commits and the rest will likely end up playing D3 somewhere or trying to move on through major juniors or professional leagues. If you have an opportunity to play in this league, it is highly recommended if you want to continue playing hockey, because this league will advance you to the next level. Also, the fan bases are insane. Most teams in the league fill their rink in their home games and get pretty rowdy.
NAHL (Tier 2)- A league that has been on the rise, the NAHL has been producing many Division-I players in recent years. Teams such as Air Force Academy, Army, Mercyhurst, Bentley, get a vast majority of their players from this league, and every year there are multiple goaltenders in the league getting D1 scholarships. With the addition of new teams, the league is somewhat watered down with talent when it comes to some of the lower teams or lower level players on teams. Not sure of the D1 scholarship rate in the league but would ballpark it around 15-20% with some teams having multiple and some having 0-1. Some teams have a good fan base, some not so much. Most players in the NAHL who do not receive a D1 offer end up playing D3. Many players in the MIAC D3 conference once played in the NAHL. Depending on the player's goals, it's a good league to play D3 hockey, and possibly D1, or move onto the USHL after a year or two.
BCHL (Tier 2)- Like the NAHL, the BCHL can be somewhat watered down, but seems to produce more top end college players than the NAHL. This season, Penticton of the BCHL boasted the majority of the top scorers, having 7 of the top 10 leading point scorers in the league on their team. While the NAHL produces commitments to mostly schools where the hockey team isn't particularly strong, the BCHL sends many players to schools such as UND, Denver, SCSU, Notre Dame, and Minnesota. It is a more physical league than the NAHL, so some argue it is a better preparation league to college.
MJHL (Tier 2)- The Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Not a lot of Minnesotans choose this route, but there are always a few. The league promotes itself as a Tier 2 league, but doesn't produce a whole lot for college commitments, mostly D3 or Division-1 Club teams such as Iowa State. Probably slightly comparable to the NAHL but not quite as competitive. Good league for a player who thinks they could play D3, or use it as a stepping stone to the BCHL the following year.
EJHL (Tier 3)- Although a Tier 3 league, the EJHL produces a good amount of D1 commits, more than the MJHL. Being an east coast league, many of the players end up at Maine, Mercyhurst, Holy Cross, New Hampshire, and any of the Ivy League schools. Most others in the league play D3 at an eastern school such as Amherst, Williams College, or Trinity College. Every year a few Minnesota kids play in the league, but it is more for east coast kids, however, it is a good league to get you to the college level.
MNJHL (Tier 3)- The Minnesota Junior Hockey League has been around for a while now, and its been improving. What would be considered a goon league 10 years ago, has become a more respectable league. While the league still has fighting and unskilled goons, there are some pretty good high school players who spend a year or two in the league after graduating. I wouldn't recommend the MNJHL to a player who is serious about playing college hockey unless they couldn't make a higher level team, then they can try and move up. I don't know of any players in the league to have gone D1 in the last 5 years, unless you count Jake Parenteau who spent one year in the MNJHL before spending two in the NAHL. There are a handful of D3 players every year, but not a lot. Could be a fun league for a kid going to community college to keep playing, or someone who can excel in this league possibly playing D3.