The United States Hockey League, USHL, is the top junior league in the U.S. and has been growing as a top developmental destination in recent years. Yet, they have never seen an influx of talent as they have this season. Early on, it was NCAA players whose teams (mostly Ivy League programs) canceled play this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, as the CHL leagues – OHL, WHL, and QMJHL – and other Junior-A Canadian leagues remain out of action, the flow of top players has continued. The USHL season is ongoing and has thus far operated without much delay, making it the greatest beneficiary on the other side of the border from the stalled Canadian leagues. This past week has shown that talented players throughout Canada are running low on patience with their current leagues and are now making the move south.
On Tuesday, the trend really began to pick up steam when the BCHL announced nine departures, four to the USHL including two top players from the powerhouse Penticton Vees. Buffalo Sabres forward prospect Matteo Costantini, who had joined Penticton this season before heading to the University of North Dakota next year, has now joined the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. Well-regarded 2021-eligible defenseman Owen Murray is also headed to the NCAA next season as a University of Massachusetts commit, but instead of staying with the Vees this year, he has now joined the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers.
On Wednesday, Penticton lost another top defenseman, as projected 2021 second/third-round pick Jack Bar left for the USHL’s Chicago Steel and will not return to the Vees next season with Harvard University in his sights. However, the bigger story was the exodus from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Detroit Red Wings 2020 second-round pick Cross Hanas and potential 2021 first-round forward Jack O’Brien, along with two other teammates, all left for the USL’s Lincoln Stars. Lincoln also picked up 2021 defenseman and Boston University commit Charles-Alexis Legault from the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors.
The biggest move to date is a major addition for the Sioux Falls Stampede. Forward Cole Sillinger, a consensus 2021 first-round pick, left the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers to head to the U.S. Sillinger recorded 53 points in 48 games with the Tigers last year and may just be one of the best players in the USHL now that he has arrived in Sioux Falls.
The question of course with all of these transfers is whether any of these players will leave if their Canadian teams are able to play this season. These USHL clubs undoubtedly hope they can retain their newfound talent throughout their season and postseason and they almost certainly will if junior play in Canada is unable to return. However, the WHL is already taking steps toward a possible return and other leagues will try to follow. Regardless, this influx of talent is great for the competition level of the USHL this year and its reputation moving forward as it looks to compete for top players with the CHL elite in the future.