What Is the Second Best Hockey League In The World?

AHL All-Stars (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AHL All-Stars (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Just what is the second best hockey league in the world behind the NHL?

No matter how much the game of hockey grows across the world one thing always remains the same; the NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world. Sure, there are other leagues. Some of those leagues have even tried to compete with the NHL. Those type of leagues never work out.

The NHL always has the upper hand.

Even if there’s no debate the National Hockey League is the greatest hockey league in the world, which league is second best? There’s a few noteworthy candidates, both in North America and overseas. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates. For the record, only professional leagues are considered here. Sorry to all those major junior hockey leagues.

What is the second best hockey league in the world behind the NHL?

Gage Quinney (72)
Gage Quinney #72 of the Henderson Silver Knights. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /


In North American hockey, the AHL is literally the second best league. Every player in the AHL plays with the assumption that they could be on an NHL roster one day, although some players do make a career out of playing one level below.

This is the proving ground for most of the game’s young talent. Not all, but most roads to the NHL go through its development neighbor. It’s also the place where international players get accustomed to the North American style of the game, while it is a good home for veterans who aren’t quite good enough for the big leagues anymore.

Should we rank the AHL above other leagues, like the KHL, for the second best distinction? It does seem most players prefer to stay “home” in the minors instead of taking their talents overseas (although some do) when they can’t get an NHL contract. Also, if you’re in the AHL you’re just one step away from the world’s best league. You can’t say that for the KHL.

Dinamo Minsk Hockey Club players, KHL. (Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /


Without a doubt the KHL is the best hockey league outside of North America. They consider themselves on the level of the NHL, and in some respects they are. For Russian hockey fans, this is their NHL. They have their own minor league system, just like the NHL has the AHL. Still, you never feel as if the KHL is truly “equal” to the NHL.

That might have something to do with the differences between the game itself. The KHL has bigger rinks, and plays a more European style, i.e. less physical, more precision and passing based, brand of hockey than their Canadian and American counterparts.

The average amount of goals scored is also lower in the KHL than the NHL. At the end of the day, hockey is hockey. Comparing the KHL to the NHL isn’t like comparing apples to oranges, it’s like comparing red apples to green apples. Why do we sometimes see Russian and European players struggle a bit to get accustomed to the NHL? When they need a little North American fine-tuning, where do we usually send them? That’s right, the AHL.

Interesting fact – the KHL actually restricts the amount of foreign players on each team. That leaves some good enough for professional hockey, but not good enough for the NHL, players out of the loop when it comes to KHL signings. Another interesting fact is that different KHL teams have drastically different salaries, although the KHL does have a salary cap.

That means the talent level between the best team and the worst team in the KHL is drastically different than it would be between the best and worst of NHL teams. The KHL business model is perfect for Russian born stars, like a certain former New Jersey Devils winger, who “retired”, named Ilya Kovalchuk, but not for many others. Simply put, the finances favor the Russian (well, let’s say European since the league has teams outside of Russia as well) players.

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Honorable mention: The ECHL

Making the case that the AHL is the second best league in the world after the NHL seems pretty easy. If that means the KHL is the world’s third best league, where does the ECHL rank? ECHL players are pretty low down the development ladder compared to both AHL and KHL players, so the edge probably goes to the KHL here. If we wanted to go past the top three leagues and get fancy with the other leagues, such as the Swiss League and other European countries, the ECHL would be top five, if not be above them all.