Prospects Ramblings – U18, CHL and AHL Playoff Updates

Brayden Olafson

2018-04-26

Brayden Olofson

The quarter-finals have been set for the U18 World Championships in Russia. A tremendous variety of talent has been showcased throughout the round-robin play, featuring top-prospects for the next three NHL entry-drafts; four if you count 15-year-old Frenchman Flavian Dair who won’t be eligible until 2021.

 

The 2019 class has been particularly well represented at the top-end with Jack Hughes [USNDP], Cole Caufield [USNDP], Maxim Cajkovic [Malmö Redhawks, SuperElit], and Kaapo Kakko (say that five times fast) [TPS, Liiga] leading the way for 2001 born players.

 

Alexis Lafreniere, remember the name, has been one of the top Canadians in the tournament. The Rimouski rookie, however, won’t be eligible until the 2020 entry-draft where he is sure to be one of the first names on the big board.

 

As for the more ripened players participating in the tournament, Oliver Wahlstrom may be the player to have made the most significant impact on his draft outlook thus far. Sitting as high as 5th overall on some lists, the 17-year-old forward has lead the offensive charge for the Americans but will be in tough to overtake the names ranked higher than him in this June’s draft. Looking a bit deeper into said draft, a number of European players have made a positive impact on their value as well, and as such could leapfrog a few more high profile names on the list.

 

66th ranked EU skater Oliver Okuliar [HK Dukla Trencin, Slovakia] who plays in the relatively low profile Slovakian U20 circuit could take a significant jump from the mid-late rounds of the draft after contributing four goals and three assists through Slovakia’s four round-robin contests. He’s an excellent skater but hasn’t proven to be an exceptional puck handler – definitely still a project.

 

21st ranked EU skater Niklas Nordgren [HIFK, Liiga] is also making a significant impact on his perceived value heading into the draft. There have been knocks on the small winger’s technical skating in the past, but his skill with the puck is undeniable. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to muck it out in the corners either which should help him translate offense to a smaller ice surface.

 

17th ranked EU skater Kirill Marchenko [Mamonty Yugry, MHL], in my opinion has been an undervalued and under-ranked player even before the success that he’s seen throughout the tournament. He handles the puck extremely well at high speeds, and strikes with a lethal shot from almost anywhere on the ice. His six points through four contests at the U18 tournament is simply confirmation of what Marchenko has never had the opportunity to prove on the international stage in the past.

 

20th ranked EU skater Jakub Lauko [Pirati Chomutov, Czech] was selected by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the second round of the 2017 CHL import draft, however doesn’t appear to be “able” to commit to the Huskies just yet…

 

{Source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">It's great honor for me to be drafted by this great organization <a href="https://twitter.com/HuskiesRn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HuskiesRn</a> ��Big gesture even though you know my situation☝��</p>&mdash; Jakub Lauko (@jakub_lauko) <a href="https://twitter.com/jakub_lauko/status/880353356648206336?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 29, 2017</a></blockquote> https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js{/Source}

 

Despite his mysterious commitment, the 18-year-old Czechs all of the boxes as a future NHLer (I had to). An explosive stride, fair size, weight, strong puck skills, patience and a top-tier hockey IQ, paired with his offensive success in the U18 international circuit make him a prime candidate to jump into the early second-round of the draft.

All three quarter-final matchups will take place today, beginning with the Finn’s and Belarus as well as the Swede’s versus The Slovak’s at 11:30 am EST. The Russian’s and American’s will face-off at 3:30 pm EST, as well as the top-seeded Canadians against the Czech Republic.

***

Back across the pond here in North America, playoffs continue in all three CHL leagues as junior teams push for their chance to compete in Regina for the Memorial Cup.

Tonight, the Hamilton Bulldogs will have their second opportunity to close out their series with the Kingston Frontenac’s. After getting off to a 3-0 series lead, the Bulldogs, led by Robert Thomas [Blues] dropped Game 4 in Kingston by a score of 5-2.

The #1 team in the CHL’s regular season has had a wishy-washy playoff showing, relatively speaking.

 

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds dominated the OHL from September to March but have shown signs of weakness in each of their first three playoff series’. They’re still hanging around though, and currently tied two games to two in their series against the Kitchener Rangers after a crushing 7-4 loss last night. Despite having one of the most potent offenses in the CHL, the Greyhounds were held off the score-sheet entirely in game three, with their big-guns being relatively underwhelming through the series. They’ve now lost momentum in the series and will have to rely on their top three offensive weapons of Morgan Frost [Flyers], Boris Katchouk [Lightning], and Taylor Raddysh [Lightning] to be dominant on both sides of the puck if they want to have any chance of rebounding in the series.

 

The top remaining teams from both the QMJHL and WHL are in similar positions to the Greyhounds in their respective series. Neither the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, nor the Swift Current Bronco have been able to dominate their lower seeded opponents as expected. The Armada are currently knotted at two games apiece with the Charlottetown Islanders and could use a little more offense out of Alex Barré-Boulet [TAMPA] if they’d like to recover by the weekend. Both of the Islanders’ victories have come in overtime with goaltender Matthew Welsh stealing the show as he has throughout the entire playoffs. Either team will want to end things sooner rather than later if they want any rest before taking on Antoine Morand [Ducks] and the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The Titan have embarrassed their opponents at each stage of the QMJHL playoffs, thanks to a dominant Jeff Truchon-Viel [undrafted] and impenetrable Evan Fitzpatrick [Blues] who just last night completed their semi-final sweep of the Victoriaville Tigers.

 

Both WHL series appear to be destined for seven games – the Tri-City American’s who’ve been dominant until this point in the playoffs have hit a literal wall in Carter Hart and the Everett Silvertips. Everett embarrassed Patrick Dea [undrafted], slipping in 8 goals on 26 shots in game 3, however, still haven’t found a solution for Michael Rasmussen who has goals in all three games thus far. Garrett Pilon [Capitals] has ripped through the Silvertips defense with seven points through the first three contests, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Everett leads the series two games to one and will face-off tonight in Kennewick for game four. In the Eastern Conference, Lethbridge is turning the tides on a Swift Current squad that’s already taken down two of the best teams in the country. The Broncos top line of Tyler Steenbergen [Coyotes], Alexi Heponiemi [Panthers] and Glenn Gawdin [Flames] has almost single-handedly gotten the team to this point in the season, and will need to push hard for another couple of weeks if they want to have anything to show for it. The ‘Canes have dominated the Broncos at home, and due to some unlucky bounces in Speedy Creek have just now come back to tie the series at two. Dramatic storyline here as well, regarding the mid-season trade between the two teams that sent Logan Flodell [undrafted], Logan Barlage [2019 eligible], Owen Blocker [2018 eligible], and Matthew Stanley [undrafted], plus three draft picks to the ‘Canes in exchange for Stuart Skinner [Oilers], Giogio Estephan [Sabres] and Tanner Nagel [undrafted]. Flodell has been a wall at the back end for the ‘Canes and could very well end up being the difference in the series. Skinner on the other hand has struggled mightily for the Broncos. Barlage, the Bronco’s 4th overall selection in 2016 had been limited in terms of opportunity prior to the trade, and has now come back to pile it on with the ‘Canes in this revenge series – we’re in for a wild finish

 

The Texas Stars and Syracuse Crunch are both waiting patiently in the second round of the AHL playoffs for opponents. AHL journeyman goaltender Mike McKenna was a key factor in the Stars knocking out the Ontario Reign. He averaged 39 saves per game, pitching two shut-out’s (although he’ll only get credit for one) and a .950 save percentage.

As per the norm with the Crunch, a win by committee. This is a dangerous squad with weapons all over the ice. Some of the most impressive players in the first round were Matthew Peca (2-6-8), Gabriel Dumont (3-2-5), Alex Volkov (3-2-5), and Mathieu Joseph (2-3-5). Eddie Pasquale and Connor Ingram shared the crease in the series as they have since Pasquale’s arrival.

Three more series could be closed out tonight with the Charlotte Checkers, and Rockford IceHogs and Manitoba Moose poised to eliminate the WBS Penguins, Chicago Wolves and defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins, respectively.

***

That’s all for my very first Ramblings, I hope everyone got what they were looking for. If not, check back tomorrow, and in the meantime follow me on Twitter @olaf1393 for general fantasy and Lightning farm system talk.

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