USHL, the US top junior ice hockey league, is not well known in Switzerland or better said, is considered inferior to the CHL. This season there are eight Swiss Players playing in the CHL compared to one in the USHL. What makes it so that it is viewed this way? It could be because almost all Swiss top players who would like to pursue their careers in North America are directed by their agents towards the CHL, given the fact that all the Swiss players playing in the NHL (having elected to play Junior hockey in North America) made it through the CHL (Sbisa, Niederreiter, Bärtschi, Müller, Meier etc.). I believe the USHL is also perceived as the feeder league for the NCAA which is correct but it is also the league which produced the most NHL draft picks in 2015! Thus it is certainly a league a Swiss top Junior player should consider when contemplating his next career step.
The CHL with its 66 teams, divided into three Leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) between 20 and 24 teams a League, covers most of Canada.The USHL can be compared, size and footprint wise to one of the CHL Leagues. It consists of 17 teams (including the US NTDP Team), located in the Midwestern United States.
Today the USHL is on the same level as the CHL. Its draft picks have been trending upwards over the last few years. This year no other League in the world had more draft picks: USHL 37 + 10 Alumni, WHL 37, OHL 33 and QMHL 31.
If you compare the two leagues there is a philosophical difference. The USHL is on top of the USA Hockey Ladder Development Pyramid with an emphasis on developing the players for the next level (NCAA / Pro). The teams play a 60 game regular season schedule followed by the playoffs, giving the teams ample time for practice. The CHL Leagues play a 72 plus game regular season schedule plus playoffs, simulating a NHL schedule to prepare the top talents for the strenuous NHL work load.
It is correct that the USHL serves as a feeder league to the NCAA with over 95 % of it players receiving D1 NCAA opportunities and 377 player who had D1 College commitments. At the same time it gives a top player who does not want to go the college route as much exposure as the CHL (see above draft numbers) with the advantage for the NHL team to place the player, after the draft, in a league of their choice (AHL, European League, or USHL) vs. returning him to Junior hockey as dictated by the Agreement between Hockey Canada and the NHL in case he does not make the NHL roster. Had Timo Meier been playing in the USHL, the San Jose Sharks would have had the choice to let him play one more year of Junior Hockey, place him in their AHL farm team or a Swiss team for that matter.
So yes, the USHL is certainly an option for a Swiss top prospect to consider. Let’s hope we will see more than just one Swiss player (Gianni Brandi, Des Moines Buccaneers) in the coming seasons. For more information about the USHL see USHL