Photo courtesy: Kamloops This Week
As the NHL pre-season continues on, the CHL has officially kicked off the 2019-20 campaign. With the likes of Morgan Frost, Joe Veleno and Cody Glass graduating from the number one NHL-talent producing league in the world, the doors have opened for new players to put their names at the forefront of the hockey prospect world. With all three sub-leagues off to a healthy start, I thought we’d have a look at some of the players who could become “prospect” household names by season-end, or even Christmas. I also thought it would be important to point out that over the first few weeks of the CHL season, there are several teams who are competing without the help of some of their star players. I watched Halifax open their season on Friday night in Saint John – the defending Presidents Cup finalists remain without star forward Benoit Olivier Groulx who remains with the Anaheim Ducks, as well as defenseman Jared McIssac who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery… I digress.
Each of the three leagues is poised to bring something exciting to the season ahead, so let’s have a look at some of the players who will be a part of it!
Alexis Lafreniere, Rimouski Oceanic
Much will be written about the projected number one overall selection at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal. Lafreniere has spoiled Rimouski fans yet again with a pure talent that is reminiscent of the Crosby days. Lafreniere possesses elite determination and instinct that amplifies his offensive prowess when paired with his long powerful stride and creative puck handling ability. He’ll almost certainly make a mockery of his opposition as we make our way to Christmas. The left-winger will be challenged for the first-overall selection by two or three Swedes as well as another forward from the OHL, but make no mistake, he is the worthly favorite.
Justin Barron, Halifax Mooseheads
The younger brother of New York Rangers prospect, Morgan Barron, this Halifax defenseman plays a fun-to-watch game from the blueline that utilizes his size as well as his desire to create offense. He is a risk-taking defenseman who is able to recover consistently, despite the drag of his 6-2, 187lb frame. With 41-points in his D-2 campaign, it will be exciting to see what kind of energy we see in this 2020 draft-eligible defenseman.
Alex Beaucage, Rouyn Noranda Huskies
The Colorado third-round selection from this summer is already off to a hot start with the Rouyn Noranda Huskies. With the Huskies top three scoring players from last year having moved on from the team, Beaucage will be looked to for supplying the majority of the team’s offense. The 18-year-old owns a dangerous shot that seems to be accurate and successful from the shortest of angles. Outside of Lafreniere, Beaucage could be the best pick for a 50-goal year in the league.
Jakob Pelletier, Moncton Wildcats
At 5-9, 161 lb, Jakob Pelletier is a skilled tenacious forward who has yet to return to the Moncton Wildcats from Calgary Flames training camp. The 18-year-old played in his first-ever NHL preseason contest on Sunday night when the Flames dropped their game against Winnipeg by a score of 4-1. Meanwhile, the Wildcats opened their 2019-20 campaign over the weekend, splitting their inter-maritime road trip with a win in Charlottetown and a loss in Saint John. Pelletier provides a new-age offensive touch in highly contested areas of the ice. His imminent return to Moncton should provide the Wildcats with the extra push to contend for the Maritime division title this year.
Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves
The list of traits that make Byfield the ultimate power-forward is seemingly endless. For a teenager who is cast in a 6-4, 214 lb frame the Newmarket, Ontario native moves extremely well and shows no signs whatsoever of having to adjust to his lankiness and overall size. He possesses a powerful first stride that allows him to embarrass defenders before they have the opportunity to change direction. As production goes, Byfield also owns a lethal wrist shot and flawless puck handling. He projects to play a similar style of NHL game to Blake Wheeler, only at a much younger age.
Nicholas Robertson, Peterborough Petes
The Leafs first selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft didn’t come until the middle of the second round where they selected Nicholas Robertson. The Peterborough forward has a motor in him that seems to be at constant redline which allows him to become immersed in the play whenever he’s on the ice. Robertson is already off to a sensational start with the Pete’s, kindling instant chemistry with Liam Kirk and fellow Leafs prospect Semyon Der-Argushintsev. It’s a great sign and something the two will hopefully be able to sustain for a few years when they’ll likely link up again with the Marlies.
Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton Bulldogs
Much has been made of the gaps in Kaliyev’s game in the time leading up to and since the 2019 Entry Draft, however, the fact remains that there are many strengths aside from the obvious to his game that sometimes seems to be overlooked. Kaliyev is an elite goal scorer at the OHL level, that much is very clear. What seems to be forgotten, however, is that Kaliyev is also capable of creating a significant amount of space for himself and his teammates in the offensive zone. It seems as though the conventional red-flags that have been highlighted in Kaliyev’s game, such as his apparent lack of urgency, have entirely overshadowed the strengths that could, in fact, allow him to overcome those shortcomings. There can hardly be questions about the success he’s poised for with Hamilton, the only worry with additional success under his current style of play, however, is the concept of it being negatively reinforced.
Brayden Tracey, Moose Jaw Warriors
The third cog in the WHL’s most dynamic trio from last year will be left to his own devices on a new-look Moose Jaw Warriors squad when he is re-assigned from Anaheim. The 6-0 forward is a player who projects to be able to play up and down an NHL roster four to five years from now. He has a hint of flash to his offense, which is made possible by his determination and the fact that he isn’t afraid to go to the crowded areas of the ice to get the job done. While the Warriors will likely face some challenges in the upcoming campaign, Tracey will certainly be pushing for another productive season to follow up his 81-point draft campaign.
Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Being drafted at seventh-overall is a deceptive fact that now lies on Dylan Cozens bio – in addition to carrying a balanced toolbelt of skill, finesse, and physicality, the Whitehorse native is a leader in every sense of the word. At 6-3, 185 lb, he possesses all of the traits necessary to follow up his draft campaign with an even more dominating performance. The Hurricanes are staged to infuse a large group of rookies that will truly test Cozens leadership potential, but if things go well he could reach for triple-digits.
Logan Stankoven, Kamloops Blazers
The WHL will be home to one of the most exciting rookie classes it’s seen in a few years and 16-year-old Logan Stankoven has already burst onto center stage. Eligible for the 2021 NHL entry draft, the hometown kid in Kamloops already looks like a league veteran. Even at 5-8, he’s already demonstrated game-breaking speed and finishing ability that will make him one of the league’s most exciting players to watch for at least the next two years.
I hope you’re all as excited as I am for this year’s slate of games to finally be off and rolling. I’m hoping to completely immerse myself in the CHL, and in particular, the QMJHL for the next eight months and I can’t wait to keep you updated on how these players and so many others are progressing on their roads to the dance!