No NHL, no problem. While the lockout drags on, there's plenty of topflight hockey to follow across the sport's sprawling landscape. Much of it is already underway. Here's the best of what to watch, and where.
The umbrella organization that oversees Canada's three major junior leagues -- Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- is comprised of 60 teams spread over nine Canadian provinces and four U.S. states. It's a major pipeline for NHL players, attracting much of the top talent aged 15-20 from around the world via separate league drafts from specified territories across North America, and a unified import draft of players born overseas. Each member league crowns its own playoff champion. Those three, along with a host team (rotated every year among the leagues) meet in a round-robin tournament for the Memorial Cup. First awarded in 1919, the venerable trophy has long been symbolic of the top junior team in Canada.
The CHL also cooperates with the sport's governing body in the country, Hockey Canada, to provide players for key in-season international events, such as the World U-20, U-18, and U-17 championships. The U-20, better known as the World Juniors, is the premier amateur event on the hockey calendar. Team Canada will be made up almost exclusively of CHL players. The league will also be represented on most other rosters. Sweden is the defending champion after defeating Russia, 1-0, in last year's final.
•Canadian Hockey League
• Nov. 5-15, Subway Super Series: A six -game tour featuring a team of Russian junior all-stars, who play a pair of matches against the best under-20 players from each of the CHL leagues. It starts with the QMJHL taking on the Russians in Blainville-Boisbriand, QC, and ends with the WHL's best playing host in Victoria, BC.
• Dec. 26-Jan. 5, World Junior Championships: This year's tournament will be held in Ufa, Russia, featuring 10 teams: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Latvia and Switzerland in Group A, and Canada, the U.S, Russia, Slovakia and Germany in Group B.
• Dec. 29-Jan. 4, World U-17 Hockey Challenge: Russia tries to defend its championship in a 27-game tournament held in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec.
• Jan. 16, Top Prospects Game: The CHL's top 40 prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft will be in action at the Halifax Metro Centre with the game carried on TSN in Canada.
• April 18-28, World U-18 Championship, Sochi, Russia: Defending champion Team USA is in Group A with Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia. Group B includes Canada, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia.
• May 17-26, Memorial Cup tournament: The Saskatoon Blades of the WHL will host and try to win their first CHL championship.
The O is generally regarded as the top junior circuit in the world. Established in 1974, it's a 20-team circuit divided into four five-team divisions and two conferences. Seventeen of the teams are based in Ontario, with two more in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania. All clubs play a 68-game schedule, with the playoff champion taking home the J. Ross Robertson Cup
Approximately 20 percent of current NHLers, and 11 first-round selections in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, including first-overall pick Nail Yakupov (Sarnia), got their starts or trained there. Players are aged 16-20, though the vast majority are 17-19. Each team is allowed to dress up to three 20-year-olds. A 15-year-old may play under special exemption. Notable league alumni include Wayne Gretzky (Sault Ste. Marie), Steve Yzerman (Peterborough), Taylor Hall (Windsor), Steven Stamkos (Sarnia), John Tavares (London) and Tyler Seguin (Plymouth).
• Kitchener Rangers: They're loaded with NHL first- rounders -- Radek Faksa (Dallas), Ryan Murphy (Carolina), Matt Puempel (Ottawa) -- proven OHL performers like Tobias Rieder (Edmonton) and Max Iafrate, and they have the league's best 1-2 punch in net with John Gibson (Anaheim) and Franky Palazzese. The trick now is for coach Steve Spott to finally get the perpetually contending Rangers over the hump...all while prepping for his role as head coach of Team Canada for the 2013 World Junior Championship.
• London Knights: The defending OHL champs graduated several key contributors, but with Dale Hunter back behind the bench after a turbulent stint with the Washington Capitals, and a core of young talent, the Knights look as threatening as ever. Pittsburgh Penguins first rounders Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta are game-changing defenders, while energy forward Bo Horvat, a potential 2013 first rounder, and Seth Griffith (Boston) are capable of leading the offense. It's a deep, fast and dangerous group that has a chance to avenge its loss in the 2012 Memorial Cup Final.
• Niagara Ice Dogs: Last season's Eastern champs return 15 players, including CHL defenseman of the year Dougie Hamilton (Boston) and two-way blueliner Brock Beukeboom (Tampa Bay). However, they lost more than a third of their 2011-12 scoring to graduation, meaning players like Ryan Strome (NY Islanders), Brett Ritchie (Dallas) and rookie Anthony DiFruscia (2013 draft eligible) need to step up if they're to remain the class of the conference. If the NHL ever gets its own season rolling, the Ice Dogs are likely to lose both Hamilton and Strome. Can coach/GM Marty Williamson shuffle the pieces to keep his team in contention?
• Plymouth Whalers: The Whalers boast four NHL first rounders up front- -- Stefan Noesen (Ottawa), J.T. Miller (NY Rangers), Tom Wilson (Washington) and Richard Rakell (Anaheim) -- so they won't have any problems scoring. They graduated captain Beau Schmitz (Carolina) from the back end, but Connor Carrick (Washington) and Gianluca Curcuruto (Columbus) will anchor a steady D corps. Coach Mike Velluci has kept the team competitive. Now he needs to get it to the next level.
• RW Tyler Biggs, Oshawa Generals: Projected as a top-six power forward in the NHL, Toronto's 2011 first rounder bailed on Miami University after one season for the chance to skate with his father Don's old junior side in Oshawa.
• C Max Domi, London Knights: He must have inherited those high-end offensive instincts from his mom. Tie's kid is a dancer on the ice -- smooth, creative and hypnotizing, traits not associated with his notorious dad. He'll challenge for the league lead in YouTube highlights.
• D Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts: Any kid who can take the 2012 OHL Rookie of the Year as a 15-year-old defender has to be a special player. He's the prototypical big, mobile defender that every NHL team craves ... but they'll have to wait until the 2014 draft.
• C Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting: A knee injury limited him to just eight games last season, so the third overall pick from last June should benefit from a full season of junior. He has the tools to challenge for the league scoring lead, but the three weeks he'll miss while serving as Team USA's top center at the World Juniors could derail his hopes.
• G John Gibson, Kitchener Rangers: The next great American-born goalie? If Gibson, a second-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, can stay out of the doctor's office he'll rank among the league's best. Look for him to start for Team USA at the World Juniors.
• RWJosh Ho-Sang, Windsor Spitfires: The fifth overall pick in the OHL draft is the leading contender for rookie of the year. He's confident and creative and there may not be a better pair of hands in the league.
• C Connor McDavid, Erie Otters: The first overall pick in the 2012 OHL draft is just the third 15-year-old to be granted early entry into the league. (The other two: Aaron Ekblad in 2011; John Tavares in 2005.) A slick, playmaking center with superstar potential, he'll face a tough challenge from opponents who are as much as five years older.
• CSean Monahan, Ottawa 67s: A classic first-line center, Monahan has size (6-2, 193), is highly-skilled and plays a strong two-way game. At the moment, he's regarded as the OHL's top draft prospect. He may challenge for first overall.
• C Kerby Rychel, Windsor Spitfires: The son of NHL enforcer (and Spits GM/owner) Warren Rychel exploded for 41 goals last season after netting seven as a rookie. That finishing touch, along with his leadership and high compete level, makes him a likely top-10 pick in the next NHL draft.
• GMalcolm Subban, Belleville Bulls: Boston's 2011 first rounder hums along at a lower frequency than brother P.K., but is equally athletic and competitive. He's looking to earn the starting job for Canada at the 2013 World Juniors.
• RWSergei Tolchinsky, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds,: His size (5-foot-7, 155) will dampen NHL draft enthusiasm, but Tolchinsky could turn out to be the O's most exciting player. He was dynamite at last winter's U-17 Hockey Challenge, tallying a hat trick in a gold medal-clinching win over the U.S.
• In Ontario: The OHL Action Pak is available to cable subscribers throughout the province and features more than 250 games per season. Price varies by carrier.
• Elsewhere:Complete season pass for online viewing is $299.99. Other plans allow you to follow a single team or buy games individually or in packs of five or 10.
• Ontario Hockey League
• OHL Writers
• OHL Prospects
• New OHL Open Forum
• Oct. 18, Erie at Windsor: Last year, Connor McDavid and Josh Ho-Sang were teammates on the powerful Toronto Marlboros AAA side. This will be their first meeting since the two were top-five picks in the OHL draft.
• Oct. 28, Plymouth at Kitchener: The teams have staged seven-game playoff battles each of the past two seasons. Safe to say they don't much like each other.
• Nov. 8 and 12, Subway Super Series: The OHL's Guelph Storm and Sarnia Sting host Games 3 and 4 respectively against a touring team of Russian junior all-stars who will play a pair of matches against the best under-20 players from each of the three CHL leagues.
• Dec. 7, Niagara at London: Teams meet for the first time since last season's OHL finals.
• Dec. 29, Windsor at Saginaw; London at Plymouth: An OHL outdoor doubleheader at Detroit's Comerica Park as part of the NHL's Winter Classic festivities (assuming the Classic survives the lockout).
• Jan. 4, Barrie at Erie: Three 15-year-old players in league history have been granted exceptional status for early admission. Two, McDavid and Aaron Ekblad, meet up for the first time in the O (their teams play a week earlier, but both kids could be away at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge).
• Mar. 3, Kitchener at London: Possible preview of the Western Conference final. Or not. Doesn't matter. Intense rivalry ensures that this'll be a good one.
Founded in 1966, the WHL is a 22-team circuit divided into four divisions and two conferences. The Dub is generally regarded as the world's second-best junior circuit and is legendary for toughness and developing big, rangy defenders. Approximately 20 percent of all NHLers hail from the league. Six first-rounders, including five of the first eight, were among the 32 WHLers taken in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
The league draws primarily from western Canadian provinces and states west of the Mississippi, with a recently heavy influx of Californians. Its draft differs from the other two CHL entities in that bantam-aged (13-14) players are selected and added to protected lists. They can take part in up to five games per season until the age of 16, at which point they're eligible to become full-time team members. Each club may also dress up to two overaged 20-year-olds.
The 12 teams in the Eastern Conference are based in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The 10-team Western Conference features five teams from B.C. and five from Oregon and Washington. Each plays a 72-game schedule, the longest in the CHL, with the playoff champion taking home the Ed Chynoweth Cup, named in honor of the league's late commissioner. Notable league alumni include Bobby Clarke (Flin Flon), Joe Sakic (Swift Current), Scott Niedermayer (Kamloops), Marian Hossa (Portland), Carey Price (Tri-City), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer), Jamie Benn (Kelowna) and Zdeno Chara (Prince George).
• Portland Winterhawks: The two-time Western Conference champs are going for three on the backs of a blueline that features five experienced defenders -- including Pittsburgh first rounder Derrick Pouliot and one of this season's most heralded prospects, Seth Jones. Rookies Oliver Bjorkstrand, a Danish import, and Dominic Turgeon, the son of Pierre, bring fresh legs and scoring prowess to a solid group up front.
• Edmonton Oil Kings: Missing only one key contributor (Mark Pysyk), last season's champs are a strong bet to repeat and should be considered a favorite to win the Memorial Cup. Led by veteran goaltender Laurent Brossoit (Calgary), top scorer Michael St. Croix (Rangers) and elite defender Griffin Reinhart (Islanders), these Oil Kings are tougher, deeper and more experienced after falling in last season's tournament semi-final.
• Calgary Hitmen: A strong side last season returns three of its top-four scorers -- Brady Brassart, Cody Sylvester and Viktor Rask (Carolina), assuming he's sent back from the AHL -- and one of the league's top goaltenders in Chris Driedger (Ottawa). Add in a physical, experienced blueline led by over-ager Spencer Humphries and Kenton Helgesen (Anaheim Ducks) and newly acquired winger Zane Jones (Lanny McDonald's nephew) -- and the Hitmen look to be a top-five team.
• Saskatoon Blades: As hosts for the 2013 Memorial Cup, the Blades were hoping for something better than their 2-4 start, or the controversy that surrounded Colorado Avalanche first rounder Duncan Siemens after he was stripped of the captaincy. Clearly they're feeling the pressure early on, but with newly acquired forwards Brendan Walker and Shane McColgan (NY Rangers) and Russian national goaltender Andrei Makarov in the mix, they have the depth and experience to pull out of this early tailspin.
• G Laurent Brossoit, Edmonton Oil Kings: A sensational playoff run (2.04 GAA and .933 save percentage) established the Calgary Flames' prospect as the league's top stopper and a candidate to start for Canada at the WJC, but his struggles against Russia during the summer challenge series threw that into doubt. He'll be motivated to play himself back into contention and lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup.
• C Alex Forsberg, Prince George Cougars: The first overall pick in the 2010 WHL draft was fine as a rookie, but experience and a summer workout program set this up as his breakthrough season. A 5-11, 185-pound center, he's a gifted playmaker blessed with top-end hockey sense.
• D Seth Jones, Portland Winterhawks: After a brilliant tour with the US National Team Development Program, Jones is being pegged as a franchise defenseman who does it all. He's big (6-4, 206), quick, nasty and has great offensive instincts. He could be the first player taken at next summer's draft.
• D Brenden Kichton, Spokane Chiefs: The over-age defender stacks up as the league's top offensive blueliner. A fifth-round pick by the Isles in 2011, he's out to prove that he deserves an NHL contract.
• C Curtis Lazar, Edmonton Oil Kings: Lazar might not dazzle with high-end offensive talent, but he's the sort of player who does all the little things and does them very well. Scouts expect a jump from the 20 goals he scored last season to the 40 range as he builds his case to be a top-10 NHL pick next summer.
• D Ryan Murray, Everett Silvertips: The second-overall pick (by Columbus) last June is the league's top player, at least until the NHL gets its act together. A smooth all-around defender, his best asset is his ability to control the tempo of a game.
• RW Ty Rattie, Portland Winterhawks: A second-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2011, Rattie added 10 pounds of muscle over the summer. He's still small (5-11, 177), but the extra weight will help as he challenges for the WHL scoring title one year after scoring 57 goals and 121 points. He's expected to earn a top-six role for Team Canada at the 2013 WJC.
• D Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw Warriors: The flashy defender was limited to just 18 games last season due to an ACL injury, but that didn't stop the Maple Leafs from selecting him fifth overall. He needs to prove that Toronto's faith was well placed while he leads a Warriors team ravaged by graduations.
• C Michael St. Croix, Edmonton Oil Kings: Maybe his dad leaked a few union secrets. The son of new Leafs goalie coach Rick St. Croix torched WHL netminders last season for 45 goals and 105 points. He could lead the circuit in scoring this season.
• LW Hunter Shinkaruk, Medicine Hat Tigers: Three years ago, he was a kid posting videos of stickhandling tricks on YouTube. Now, he's a top-10 draft prospect coming off a 49-goal season and drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane. The pressure's on to prove that he can match, or improve on, those numbers without the help of graduated linemate Emerson Etem.
• LW Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen: The top pick in the 2011 WHL draft is set to become an everyday player for a Calgary team that has aspirations for a deep playoff run. Bantam scouts rated his skating and shot as pro caliber when he was 15. He could go early in the first round in the 2014 NHL draft.
• In Western Canada: Shaw Communications will deliver 32 WHL games on channel 299 this season, along with a full series from each of the four rounds during the league playoffs.
• Elsewhere: A variety of online options are available at http:whl.neulion.com/whl. A season pass can be had for $319.95, with team passes going for $199.95. Other packages are also available.
• Western Hockey League
• WHL From Above
• Oct. 12, Calgary at Edmonton: Nine games into the season, this will be their third meeting. Think they'll be a bit tired of seeing each other?
• Nov. 14-15 Subway Super Series: The 2012 Subway Super Series pitting the WHL's best against Team Russia winds down in Vancouver and Victoria.
• Nov. 17, Medicine Hat at Portland: The only regular-season meeting of the league's top-two draft prospects, Jones and Shinkaruk.
• Nov. 24, Spokane at Tri City: Tensions in one of the league's best rivalries -- they've met in each of the past two postseasons -- should be at their peak on the second night of a home-and-home series.
• Dec. 1, Lethbridge at Medicine Hat: A Saturday night in The Hat should bring out the best in these southern Alberta rivals.
• Feb. 27, Edmonton at Portland: The Oil Kings captured the title in a tough seven-game series last spring. This final meeting of the regular season could set up the rematch.
• Mar. 12, Saskatoon at Edmonton: The Blades already have their ticket punched to the Memorial Cup. The Oil Kings are expected to join them. They'll meet one last time before the playoffs in the season's final week.
• Mar. 16, Portland at Seattle: Doesn't matter where these teams are in the standings. The I-5 Rivalry is sure to bring out the best in both clubs as they battle for the second consecutive night.
Founded in 1969, the 18-team, three-division Q is generally regarded as the third best junior circuit in the world. Teams are stocked with players ages 16-20 (the vast majority are 17-19) from Quebec, the Maritimes and the American East Coast. Each team is allowed to dress up to three 20-year-olds. Once a goalie factory, the league now primarily produces offensive-minded skaters. One first-round selection (forward Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres) was among the 19 players taken in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft who were trained there.
The 12 clubs in the Telus East and West divisions are based on Quebec. The Maritimes division features three from New Brunswick, two from Nova Scotia and one from Prince Edward Island. Each team plays a 68-game schedule, with the playoff champion taking home the President's Cup. Notable league alumni include Patrick Roy (Granby), Mario Lemieux (Laval), Luc Robitaille (Hull), Martin Brodeur (Saint-Hyacinthe), Sidney Crosby (Rimouski), Marc-Andre Fleury (Cape Breton) and Claude Giroux (Gatineau).
• Quebec Remparts: Coach and GM Patrick Roy has assembled a deep and talented squad that starts the season at the top of the CHL rankings. Mikhail Grigorenko is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Remparts will rely heavily on a trio of watch-worthy 2013 draft prospects: Anthony Duclair (see below), American power forward Adam Erne, and skilled Danish winger Nick Sorensen. Tampa prospect Nikita Kucherov will be an interesting chip once he recovers from shoulder surgery.
• Halifax Mooseheads: As a nickname it lacks the je ne sais quoi of Trio Grande, but The Big Three sounds just fine to fans of the Herd. With two likely top-five picks in high-scoring forwards Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin (and another first rounder in goaltender Zachary Fucale), Halifax will be the home-away-from-home for NHL scouts this season and a challenger for the league title.
• Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Coming off a surprise division title in 2011-12, the Armada should compete for the championship with a defense led by Xavier Ouellet (Detroit) and Samuel Carriere (Washington). Veteran Etienne Marcoux gives them a high-end solution in net when healthy. When Marcoux is out, keep any eye on 2014 draft-eligible Storm Phaneuf.
• Val D'or Foreurs: The Drillers are a darkhorse title contender at best, but with two top-10 picks in last summer's QMJHL draft -- forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel and defender Carl Neill -- this is a side with a very bright future. Pittsburgh Penguins pick Anton Zlobin and power forward Anthony Mantha will provide the fireworks this season.
• C Daniel Audette, Sherbrooke Phoenix: Expectations are high for the son of former Sabres star Donald Audette after he was taken first overall by the expansion Phoenix in the Q's 2012 midget draft. Small (5-8, 165) but speedy, he'll be the offensive focus for a team that could dress as many as 12 rookies some nights.
• C Philip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres: The Chicago Blackhawks' 2011 first rounder (26th overall) got off to a hot start with nine goals in his first seven games and is a favorite to win the scoring title. His defensive play, especially on the PK, should earn him a role on Team Canada after being among the final cuts last year.
• LW Jonathan Drouin, Halifax Mooseheads: He was brilliant in the playoffs last spring, scoring 26 points in 17 games, including the Game 7 OT clincher against Quebec, and he's kept up the pace this season. An explosive finisher who always seems to be in the mix, he'll be a top pick next summer.
• LW Anthony Duclair, Quebec Remparts: Dynamic winger catches your attention every time he hits the ice. Coming off a point-per-game rookie season, he could double that total with first line and power play duties for the powerhouse Remparts.
• G Zachary Fucale, Halifax Mooseheads: Fucale was Central Scouting's only A-rated goalie after setting a Q record of 32 wins as a rookie in 2011-12 and leading Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. With Team Canada's goaltending situation up in the air for the WJC, there's a chance he'll beat out some more experienced stoppers to snag the backup role.
• C Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec Remparts: The only Q prospect selected in the first round last summer (Buffalo, 12th), Grigorenko teased more often than he delivered. An immense talent, he has the potential to lead the Remparts to the Memorial Cup...if he stays focused.
• C Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs: Florida's 2011 first rounder (third overall) would be breaking into the NHL now if not for the lockout. The 2011 Memorial Cup MVP has nothing left to prove in junior, so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Does he coast while skating with a diminished lineup or does he light up lesser competition?
• C Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads: The latest sensation from Cole Harbour is ready to follow in Sidney Crosby's footsteps and go first overall in the next draft. A tremendous skater with an explosive first step and world-class vision, he's expected to guide the Herd deep into the playoffs.
• RW Anthony Mantha, Val D'Or Foreur: He's not on everyone's draft radar just yet, but the 6-3 200-pound power forward could emerge as one of the season's big movers. His 21-goal rookie season, along with a strong performance at the Hlinka tournament, hint at a breakthrough campaign.
• LW Stefan Matteau, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: A surprise first round selection by the New Jersey Devils last summer, Matteau is a power forward with a mean streak. He'll have to make an adjustment coming from the USHL, where he finished second on the US U-18 team with 93 penalty minutes.
• D Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: A second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2011, Ouellet will captain a team from which a lengthy playoff run is expected. He's the best puck-moving defenseman in the circuit.
•Online webcasts: A complete season pass for online viewing is $199.95. Other plans allow you to follow a single team ($149.95) or buy single games live or through the archive.
• Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
• Oct. 17, Saint John at Quebec: The league's top-two drafted stars, Huberdeau and Grigorenko, face off.
• Oct. 17, Blainville-Boisbriand at Rimouski: No love lost between these two sides after a tense, seven-game series in 2012.
• Nov. 5-7, Subway Super Series: The league's top players take on the touring Russian junior team at Blainville-Broisbriand and Val D'or.
• Dec. 2, Rimouski at Saint John: Rematch of last spring's title series that saw the Sea Dogs romp.
• Dec. 7, Baie-Comeau at Chicoutimi: Two teams that don't much like each other.
• Dec. 31, Moncton at Saint John: The Rivalry Cup contested between the Q's two New Brunswick-based teams heats up with the second-half of a home-and-home series.
• Jan. 26, Quebec at Halifax: Final meeting of the season between the top two contenders for the Q crown.
• Mar. 13, Victoriaville at Drummondville: Might not mean much in the standings, but these matchups are always entertaining.