The hockey world is still reeling from the ongoing pandemic that is COVID-19. While the NHL is still persistent that a conclusion of the season in some capacity will be possible, most minor leagues have made the decision to officially cancel their remaining regular season. Somewhat ironically, the CHL leagues have gone as far as to finalize their playoff brackets, all without having much more of a plan going forward.
Without many captivating topics to put sole focus on these days, I’m defaulting to a classic format Prospect Ramblings with the hopes of bringing some valuable analysis to what level of activity there still is in the prospect world.
As mentioned above, the WHL, OHL and the QMJHL have each finalized their official 2020 playoff brackets. The leagues have no official plans to resume play on any specified date, but they’re cocked and loaded for if and when time is right. Players have been sent home to self-isolate with their families and teams have essentially disbanded for the time being.
If by chance play does not resume and playoffs, as well as the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament, are canceled, there are a few teams with plenty of frustration. For example, in the QMJHL alone teams like Chicoutimi and Moncton gave up in excess of six first or second-round draft pick’s each, in addition to some top-ranked 2002-born players in Theo Rochette and William Dufour. These trades netted those teams a handful of players who would’ve undoubtedly helped them to challenge for the Memorial Cup, but will also be graduating from the QMJHL after this season.
While technically the Memorial Cup cannot be played on it’s scheduled dates due to the imposed a ban on gatherings of greater than 50 people in British Columbia until the end of May, the CHL has yet to make an official announcement. As per Bob McKenzie, The Kelowna Rockets have, however, have secured Prospera Arena for the month of June so that in the event the CHL decides to move forward with a delayed tournament, it remains possible.
The downtime has seemingly given way to NHL front-offices getting a jump start on college signings. Since the NCAA was one of the first organizations to altogether kibosh their season, that includes drafted players as well as undrafted free agents. Some of the notable drafted players to sign with their respective organizations include Wisconsin teammates Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings – 5th/2019), and K’Andre Miller (New York Rangers – 22nd/2018) as well as U of Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman (Boston Bruins – 111th/2017).
Turcotte has a very solid shot at cracking the Kings roster next fall. If that hadn’t been the case, he most likely would’ve stuck it out another year at the collegiate level. It also didn’t hurt that the Kings put a heavily bonus laden contract in front of him in order to help lure the 19-year-old into the pro circuit. All of that being said, nothing is guaranteed. Turcotte still needs to perform when given the opportunity to. If everyone is on the same page in LA, the team will almost surely put him in a position to have offensive success as early as October. If AHL resumes play this spring, there’s also a chance that Turcotte gets his feet wet on an Amateur Try-out.
K’andre Miller has more of an outside chance at getting in the Rangers lineup out of camp. While the 20-year-old experienced a bit of a down year in his sophomore season with Wisconsin, he’s paid his dues to some extent. The Blueshirts have a jam-packed blueline that they’ve only begun to address meaning that Miller would need to beat out both Libor Hajek and one of the Ranger’s mainstay’s to find himself in a permanent top-6 role.
As for undrafted free agents, the usual suspects have snapped up some of the readily available talents. Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Boston, and the New York Rangers seem to be the hotbeds for college free agents over the years. Of the dozen or so who are either pending graduation or have forgone the remainder of their degree to pursue a more advanced professional career, here are the ones who could have a fantasy impact someday:
Dartmouth sophomore forward Drew O’Connor will likely find himself in Wilkes Barre/Scranton next fall. The 21-year-old flew under the radar in his draft year, playing alongside Leafs prospect Nicholas Abruzzese in the American Midget/U-18 circuit. After a year of playing tier II Junior in the NCDC, O’Connor found himself at Dartmouth College of the ECAC where he became an immediate factor and leading to this opportunity. At only 21-years-old, and evidently a late bloomer, O’Connor has plenty of runway left to carve out a half-decent pro career.
Michigan State senior and graduate to be Patrick Khodorenko did not fly under the radar in his draft year but was passed over by every NHL team despite being an impact player on the US NTDP U-18 roster.
It’s likely that the 21-year-old forward had interest from NHL teams after his impressive junior season with the Spartans, but chose to pursue his education before diving into the world of pro hockey. Khodorenko seems like the type of player who could make an immediate impact with the Hartford Wolfpack, leapfrogging other Ranger prospects who are stuck in Maine. It will take some time to know for sure, but in the next couple of years, Khodorenko could find himself in a depth NHL role.
Sticking with the NCAA, on a final note, the NCAA has announced the finalists for the 2020 Hobey Baker award. The list includes aforementioned Boston Bruins signee Jeremy Swayman, New York Rangers center prospect Morgan Barron, Predators defense prospect David Farrance, Golden Knights forward Jack Duggan and Blues defense prospect, Scott Perunovich among others. Follow the links to see their DobberProspects profiles and get a sense of how we’ve been on to them for a while already…