Difference Wiki

NHL vs. AHL: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 25, 2024
NHL (National Hockey League) is the premier professional ice hockey league in North America, whereas AHL (American Hockey League) serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL.

Key Differences

The NHL, established in 1917, is a prestigious professional ice hockey league in North America, featuring the highest level of competition and talent. In contrast, the AHL, founded in 1936, functions primarily as a developmental league for the NHL, nurturing upcoming talents.
NHL teams are major franchises located in both the United States and Canada, attracting global talent and a wide fan base. On the other hand, AHL teams, while professional, are more regionally focused and often affiliated with NHL teams to develop their prospects.
The level of play in the NHL is considered the highest in the world, with players often having international experience. Conversely, the AHL serves as a stepping stone for players aspiring to reach the NHL, offering a competitive but developmental environment.
Financially, the NHL is a more lucrative league, with higher salaries and larger revenue streams, including substantial broadcasting rights. The AHL, while professional, operates with smaller budgets and primarily focuses on player development rather than profit.
In terms of rules and gameplay, the NHL and AHL are similar but with minor differences, often with the AHL experimenting with rule changes before they are implemented in the NHL.

Comparison Chart

Full Name

National Hockey League
American Hockey League



Level of Play

Highest professional level
Developmental professional level

Global Recognition

Internationally recognized
Recognized primarily in North America

Primary Objective

Elite competition
Development of players for NHL

NHL and AHL Definitions


NHL, comprising 32 teams from the United States and Canada.
He dreamed of playing for a team in the NHL.


AHL, a professional ice hockey league serving as the developmental league for the NHL.
Many players start their careers in the AHL before advancing to the NHL.


NHL, known for its high level of competition and skill.
The NHL playoffs are a showcase of intense hockey action.


AHL, known for nurturing upcoming hockey talent in North America.
The AHL plays a crucial role in the development of future NHL stars.


NHL, a major influencer in the world of ice hockey.
NHL rules often set standards for other hockey leagues.


AHL, playing a key role in the hockey ecosystem by bridging junior hockey and the NHL.
The transition from junior hockey to the NHL often includes a stint in the AHL.


NHL, the premier professional ice hockey league in North America.
The Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize in the NHL.


AHL, consisting of teams affiliated with NHL franchises.
AHL teams often develop young talent for their NHL affiliates.


NHL, a significant contributor to the growth of ice hockey globally.
International players frequently aspire to join the NHL.


AHL, providing competitive professional hockey with a focus on player development.
Players in the AHL work hard to improve their skills and make it to the NHL.


How many teams are in the NHL?

The NHL consists of 32 teams from the United States and Canada.

How many teams are in the AHL?

The AHL comprises 31 teams, each affiliated with an NHL team.

What is the main goal of the AHL?

The AHL primarily focuses on developing players for the NHL.

What is the NHL?

The NHL is the premier professional ice hockey league in North America.

What is the relationship between NHL and AHL teams?

AHL teams are often affiliated with NHL teams, developing players for the latter.

What is the AHL?

The AHL is the American Hockey League, serving as the primary developmental league for the NHL.

Can players move between the NHL and AHL?

Yes, players can be called up to the NHL or sent down to the AHL.

How does the competition level of the NHL and AHL differ?

The NHL offers the highest level of competition, while the AHL is more developmental.

How long is the NHL season compared to the AHL?

Both seasons run roughly parallel, but the NHL plays more games.

Are the rules the same in NHL and AHL?

The rules are largely similar, but the AHL sometimes tests new rules.

Do NHL and AHL teams play against each other?

No, NHL and AHL teams do not compete against each other.

What is the Stanley Cup?

The Stanley Cup is the championship trophy awarded to the NHL playoff winner.

Can international players play in the NHL and AHL?

Yes, both leagues feature players from around the world.

What is the fan following like for NHL vs. AHL?

The NHL has a larger, more global fan base compared to the more regionally focused AHL.

Do NHL players start their careers in the AHL?

Many do, using the AHL as a stepping stone to the NHL.

How are players drafted into the NHL and AHL?

Players are drafted into the NHL, while AHL teams typically sign players affiliated with their NHL teams.

Does the AHL have a championship?

Yes, the Calder Cup is awarded to the AHL playoff champion.

What is the average salary in the NHL vs. AHL?

NHL players earn significantly more than AHL players.

Do NHL and AHL teams have the same owners?

Sometimes, but not always. Ownership varies.

Are there any famous players who moved from the AHL to the NHL?

Yes, many famous NHL players started their careers in the AHL and developed their skills there before making it to the NHL.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons