Considering that the QMJHL just finished burying the Lewiston MAINEiacs a couple of days ago, it's ironic that a press release the league put out on Friday outlines a new requirement for each team draft at least two American players every year.
The new mandate, which would guarantee at least 36 American draftees in the league each year (there will be 18 teams again in 2012-13 when Sherbrooke re-enters), aren't in effect for today's entry draft and will instead start next year. Last year, six players from the U.S. were chosen over 12 rounds
With Lewiston now out, there are no U.S.-based teams in the Q and only seven in the CHL (five of which are in the WHL). Fewer than 10 of the 18-team league's 400+ players in 2010-11 were born in the states, despite the Q's American territory including hockey-rich New England.
Because of the lack of a foothold in the U.S. (most New England players go the USA Hockey/NCAA route) and a worry that more Quebecers are taking the NCAA route, Q commissioner Gilles Courteau announced some new initiatives:
"Our short term goal is to create development camps in Quebec, the Maritimes and the Northeastern United States. The camps will help us offer players superior development workshops while giving them insight and information on our programs and our League. They will include specialized on-ice tutoring as well as off-ice workshops designed, among other things, to prepare draft-eligible players for pre NHL draft interviews."
"Internally, and starting next year, our entry draft will be expanded to include fourteen rounds instead of twelve with each of our teams obligated to select two American-born players. This initiative will help us expand our reach into the United States. Also starting next year, 15 year-old players will be eligible to be drafted in the first eight rounds instead of in the first five rounds." (QMJHL)
The other two CHL leagues have been somewhat more successful in drawing top-flight American talent. The OHL has done well in places like Michigan and New York, and the WHL is making inroads among elite youth programs in emerging markets like Arizona, California and Texas.
Of course, in the other two leagues there isn't the linguistic barrier that likely acts as a deterrent for Americans in the Northeast who may otherwise have interest in pursuing the major junior route.
That simple divide between French and English might be too great to overcome even with a new push into the American market, but the Q should be commended for trying.
Certainly there won't be dozens of Americans flocking to the league, but even a modest increase in U.S. players will make the new rules worth it. More importantly, QMJHL teams will now be forced to spend more time scouting and recruiting in New England, which should lead to greater awareness of the Q among young American players.