As the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has become flush with 12 teams, the number of plum prospects being harvested should also increase.
Make no mistake about it, the little league that is growing already does a pretty-good job of moving players to a higher level.
Colin Miller, a 22-year old defenceman who recently had his National Hockey League rights transferred from the Los Angeles Kings to the Boston Bruins as part of a major trade that involved forward Milan Lucic, played a full season in the NOJHL as a 17-year old for the Soo Thunderbirds before moving up to the Ontario Hockey League to become an undrafted star for the Soo Greyhounds.
Goalie Ken Appleby, who backstopped the Oshawa Generals of the OHL to the 2015 Memorial Cup championship as a 19-year old, played in the NOJHL as a 16-year old for the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Goalie Jake Paterson, who recently completed a four-year OHL career with the Kitchener Rangers as a 20-year old and who has signed an NHL contract with the Detroit Red Wings, led the Soo Eagles to the 2011 NOJHL championship as a 16-year old.
And over the past four years, the reigning NOJHL champion Thunderbirds from the Soo have developed three players for the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks — goalie Michael Doan (Northern Michigan University Wildcats), defenceman Owen Headrick (Lake Superior State University Lakers) and blueliner David Radke (Colorado College Tigers.)
On the subject of the NCAA, it should be noted that there are a number of good Division 3 programs throughout the United States that are comparable to many smaller, Division 1 schools.
At any rate, in looking ahead to the 2015-2016 NOJHL season, there are several skaters of varying ages who possess the potential to play at the NCAA level.
Rayside-Balfour Canadians have two young stalwarts who are also OHL draft picks — 1998 birth-year defenceman Ryan Mooney (Sudbury Wolves) and 1999 birth-year forward Cayse Ton (Owen Sound Attack.)
Mooney and Ton are both on the small side but have the skill, speed and smarts to play at the next level.
More than one casual observer carries the notion that Mooney and Ton have Division 1 potential — as does their Rayside-Balfour teammate, Brett Whitehead, who is a lanky, 1998 birth-year defenceman.
As for an older player who has Division 1 written all over him — that would be 1996 birth-year forward Steven Harland of the Powassan Voodoos, who led the NOJHL in scoring as a rookie in 2014-2015.
Up in Cochrane, the Crunch has one player in particular who could be ticketed for a smaller Division 1 or mid-market Division 3 program next season — Dustin Cordeiro, a 1995 birth-year forward who tallied 60 goals in 61 games in 2014-2015, regular season and playoffs included.
Of note, Cochrane, from its first NOJHL season in 2014-2015, moved five players to the Division 3, NCAA level for the 2015-2016 campaign.
To be sure, the NOJHL appears to be on the rise in terms of team growth and player development.
If it hasn’t yet, the NOJHL should move up a level of its own on the OHL/NCAA watch list.