Is the BCHL still focused on B.C. player development?

The past year saw a lot of changes in the British Columbia Hockey League. The once stable league separated from Hockey Canada to become independent, it added five teams from Alberta midseason, the Merritt Centennials voluntarily left, and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League joined the Junior Prospects Hockey League as the closest development leagues.

Among all these changes are conversations about whether the BCHL is still B.C.-focused. One of the goals of breaking away from Hockey Canada was to give players options of which path to follow to the National Hockey League and remain competitive compared to the United States Hockey League. With that goal, has the original goal of developing local talent been lost?

Let’s investigate this question by looking at the past decade of seasons. Let’s look at the birth locations of the past top 10 scorers, the First All-Star Team, and the Top Prospects Team.

Past top 10 scorers

A quick look at the top three scorers from the 2023-24 season piqued my interest in digging deeper and looking into the past. The top three point-getters this past season were Caden Cranston (Rochester, New York), Aaron Schwartz (Parkland, Florida), and Félix Caron (Terrebonne, Quebec).

Eventually, I noticed that the top 10 scorers from this season were born in the United States and other parts of Canada besides B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba.

This is just a small sample size, the first year of the BCHL being independent. However, it is a great change from the typical of four or five B.C.-born players in the league’s top 10 in scoring. 2018-19 is an outlier, with Carter Berger the lone B.C.-born top 10 scorer that season.

Past First Team All-Stars

Despite having no B.C.-born players in the top 10 scoring in 2023-24, there were two B.C.-born players named as First Team All-Stars. They were defender Brett Merner (Nanaimo, B.C.) and goaltender Ajeet Gundarah (Richmond, B.C.).

However, when we look into the past, it is typical for only one or two B.C.-born players to be selected as First Team All-Stars. This category remains constant for the BCHL

Past All-Rookie Teams

This category would be one of the best indicators of the BCHL developing B.C.-born players in its league, as the top rookies are most likely among the brightest prospects.

This past season, in a line of three forwards, two defenders, and one goaltender, none of them were born in B.C. Three were born in Eastern Canada and the other three were from the U.S.

Now, before saying that this is a result of going independent, notice the seasons of 2015-16 and 2016-17. There are no B.C.-born players on the All-Rookie Teams from those years. Plus, the 2016-17 season didn’t even have a single Canadian on the All-Rookie Team, it was all Americans.

2024 NHL Draft prospects

Since the NHL Draft just passed, let’s take a look at the BCHL players who made it onto the NHL Central Scouting rankings. The BCHL highlighted 10 players on the NHL Central Scouting final ranking list, three from the merging Alberta clubs. Of those 10 players, three are American, three are from Ontario, two are from Alberta, and two are from B.C.

Both Matt Lahey (Victoria, B.C.) and Luke Ashton (North Vancouver, B.C.) were selected in the draft proceedings. Ashton went in the 6th round, 165th overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets while Lahey was picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 7th round, 200th overall.

This all to say that if there is another season or two of no B.C.-born players placing in the top 10 in scoring in the BCHL or on the post-season All-Rookie Team — the league may not be developing local players as planned. If it wants to keep a reputation of giving local players the opportunity to play high-level, college-tracking junior hockey, it will need to do a course correction. If these are just blips like we’ve seen in previous seasons (see the All-Rookie Team), then 2023-24 was just par for the course.