What It Takes to Make the NHL (Skills, Odds & More)

Making it to the National Hockey League (NHL) is a dream for many ice hockey players.

Achieving that dream requires hard work, dedication, talent, and a touch of good luck.

This article will provide insight into the journey toward the NHL, explaining:

  • the level of skill required
  • how to get drafted
  • understanding the odds, and
  • exploring the fallback options for those for whom hockey might not work out

Skill Level Required for the NHL

In terms of skill level, the NHL demands the absolute best.

It is a league where world-class athletes with exceptional skills in ice hockey compete.

To play in the NHL, you need to excel in skating, puck handling, shooting, and checking.

Aside from physical prowess, a player should also possess strategic intelligence, understanding the game’s intricacies and making quick decisions on the ice.

Advice on How to Play in the NHL

A path to the NHL requires more than just talent.

Developing the right habits and mindset is equally important.

A young player should focus on consistently improving their skills.

Seeking advice from experienced coaches and players can provide valuable insight into what it takes to play at the highest level.

Playing in high-level amateur leagues can expose a player to a competitive environment, which is crucial in their development.

Moreover, maintaining physical and mental fitness is a must, given the intense physical nature and pressure in professional hockey.

How to Make the NHL (from an NHL Coach)

The Path to Getting Drafted in the NHL

Getting drafted into the NHL is a significant milestone in any player’s journey.

The NHL Draft is an annual event where teams select eligible players to join the league.

Most draft picks are 18-19 years old and have proven their talents in junior or collegiate leagues.

To get noticed by scouts, players need to showcase their skills in these high-profile games, tournaments, or championships.

Impressive performances can significantly increase a player’s chances of being drafted.

Understanding the Odds

While every young hockey player dreams of playing in the NHL, it’s important to remember that the odds are steep.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of players compete in junior and collegiate leagues worldwide, but only around 200 players are selected in the NHL Draft.

Even then, not all draftees will make it to the NHL.

The path to the NHL is highly competitive, and only a small percentage of players will reach this level.

How to Make the NHL ft Jack Eichel, Rod Brind’Amour & Kevin Weekes

Fallback Options if Hockey Doesn’t Work Out

Given the competitiveness of the journey to the NHL, it is wise to consider fallback options if a professional hockey career doesn’t materialize.

Many players use their hockey skills to secure scholarships at universities, providing them with a quality education while playing the sport they love.

Others might play in lower-tier professional leagues or overseas, where the competition is less intense but still challenging and rewarding.

Coaching or administrative roles within the sport are also viable paths for those passionate about hockey.

Why I Didn’t Make the NHL (My Biggest Regret)

FAQs – What It Takes to Make the NHL

1. What are the basic requirements to make it to the NHL?

To make it to the NHL, aspiring players must meet several basic requirements, including:

  • Exceptional hockey skills: Players need to possess excellent skating, stickhandling, shooting, and passing abilities.
  • Physical fitness: NHL players must have a high level of physical fitness, including strength, agility, speed, and endurance.
  • Hockey knowledge: Understanding the game, strategies, systems, and positioning is crucial.
  • Mental toughness: The ability to handle pressure, make quick decisions, and stay focused during high-intensity situations.
  • Competitive drive: NHL players must have a strong desire to succeed, along with a willingness to continually improve their skills.
  • Discipline and work ethic: The commitment to training, practicing, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential.
  • Resilience: Overcoming setbacks, injuries, and adversity is a common part of the journey.

2. What age is ideal to start pursuing a career in the NHL?

There isn’t a specific ideal age to start pursuing a career in the NHL.

Many players begin playing hockey at a young age, often around four or five years old.

However, it’s important to note that NHL players have varied paths and development timelines.

Some players may start later and still reach the highest level, while others may begin early but require additional time to develop.

The key is to focus on consistent skill development, training, and seeking competitive opportunities to showcase talent.

3. Do players need to play in junior leagues before making it to the NHL?

Playing in junior leagues can be beneficial for a player’s development and exposure to NHL scouts.

Junior leagues, such as the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), United States Hockey League (USHL), or other regional leagues, provide a higher level of competition than youth leagues.

They offer opportunities for players to refine their skills, gain experience in a more competitive environment, and potentially attract attention from NHL teams.

However, it’s worth noting that not all NHL players go through the junior league system.

Some may play in college or international leagues before making the jump to the NHL.

4. Is college hockey a viable path to the NHL?

Yes, college hockey can be a viable path to the NHL.

Many successful NHL players have honed their skills and developed their game while playing in collegiate leagues, particularly in the United States.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I and Division III, as well as Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), provide competitive platforms for players to showcase their abilities.

College hockey offers a combination of high-level competition and academic opportunities, allowing players to develop both athletically and academically before pursuing a professional career.

5. How important is the NHL Entry Draft?

The NHL Entry Draft is an important event where NHL teams select players to join their organizations.

It serves as a major gateway for players to enter the NHL.

While not all NHL players are drafted, the majority of them are.

The draft order is determined by team standings, with the lowest-ranked teams having the highest draft picks.

Being selected in the draft signifies recognition of a player’s talent and potential by an NHL team.

However, undrafted players can still sign contracts with NHL teams as free agents or work their way up through minor league systems.

6. What role do minor leagues play in NHL player development?

Minor leagues, such as the American Hockey League (AHL) and East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), serve as developmental platforms for aspiring NHL players.

These leagues provide a higher level of competition than junior or college leagues, allowing players to further refine their skills and adapt to a professional playing environment.

Players who have been drafted or signed by NHL teams often begin their professional careers in the minor leagues.

The AHL, in particular, is regarded as the primary developmental league for NHL organizations, with many players making the transition from the AHL to the NHL.

7. How do players get noticed by NHL scouts?

Players can increase their chances of getting noticed by NHL scouts through various means:

  • Performing well in high-level leagues: Playing in competitive leagues, such as junior leagues, college hockey, or international tournaments, can attract the attention of scouts.
  • Showcasing skills at tournaments and showcases: Participating in tournaments and showcases specifically designed for NHL scouting purposes can provide exposure to scouts from multiple teams.
  • Attending prospect development camps: Many NHL teams organize prospect development camps, inviting young players to showcase their skills and gain exposure to team personnel.
  • Getting recommended by coaches and mentors: Coaches, scouts, and mentors who have connections within the hockey community can recommend players to NHL teams.
  • Utilizing social media and online platforms: Sharing highlights, game footage, and achievements on social media and platforms like YouTube can help players gain visibility and attract scouts’ attention.

8. Are there any educational requirements to play in the NHL?

There are no specific educational requirements to play in the NHL.

However, having a solid educational background is valuable for personal development and future career opportunities beyond hockey.

Many aspiring NHL players balance their academic pursuits alongside their hockey training during their youth and college years.

Additionally, some players choose to attend college or university, where they can play collegiate hockey while obtaining a degree.

9. Can players from countries outside North America make it to the NHL?

Absolutely. The NHL is an international league that welcomes players from all over the world.

Many players from countries outside North America have successfully made it to the NHL and achieved great success.

In fact, the league has seen a significant increase in the number of international players in recent years.

Scouts and teams actively search for talent globally, and international competitions, such as the Olympics and World Championships, provide additional exposure for players from different countries.

10. What happens if a player doesn’t make it to the NHL?

Not every aspiring hockey player will make it to the NHL.

However, there are still various opportunities to pursue a professional career in hockey.

Players who do not make it to the NHL can aim for other professional leagues, such as European leagues or minor leagues in North America.

These leagues offer competitive play and the chance to continue developing as a player.

Additionally, players can transition to coaching, scouting, or other roles within the hockey industry or pursue other career paths outside of hockey while cherishing the memories and experiences gained from their hockey journey.


Becoming an NHL player is a dream for many, but it is a journey that requires exceptional skill, dedication, perseverance, and a bit of good luck.

Understanding the path to the NHL, including the drafting process and the odds involved, can help prepare aspiring players for the journey ahead.

And even if the NHL dream doesn’t come true, there are still numerous opportunities to stay connected with the sport they love.


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