The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has brought an end to the 2019-20 hockey season across the globe, as we know it. With the abrupt conclusion of nearly every league, several NHL affiliated prospects around the world will have played the final game their respective amateur, collegiate or European squad.
This week’s announcement by the CHL that the 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna will not go forward for the first time in its 100+ year history means that 19 and 20-year-old players from across Canada will have played their final game of Major Junior. In addition, the NCAA has been clear for over a week now that the Frozen Four tournament will not take place. More than a handful of collegiate freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors have already moved forward with signing professional contracts that will prevent them from returning to play in the NCAA. Finally, with the better late than never cancellation of the Gagarin Cup playoffs in the KHL, all European leagues have been frozen as well, and players from various leagues have begun to express interest in coming to North America for the fall.
NCAA signings seem to get a fair amount of press because there is a definitive event that signals a player will be taking a shot at becoming a pro. European players transitions also seem to be covered quite well because they’re typically event-related in the sense that they occur when the player signs an ELC (In some cases, European players with a professional contract in North America will be loaned back to their European club) – you’ll likely see quite a bit of press dedicated to the Jesse Ylonen contract. Contrastly, for CHL players, the transition from major junior to the professional circuit just sort of happens… and it happens in droves. Thus, the coverage on a player-by-player basis isn’t always as available, and it’s why today, that is our focus.
With each unique change, growing pains are inevitable. Every year, however, some players seem to adjust better and quicker than others. It’s not always indicative of how each player will develop long term, but it’s important to know what kind of expectations are appropriate to burden our prospects with, even if it’s just in a fantasy hockey regard.
Cole Fonstad, Montreal Canadiens
The soon-to-be 20-year-old remains unsigned by the Montreal Canadiens despite posting a pretty impressive 74 points through 60 WHL contests this year. The former fifth-round draft-pick was traded from Prince Albert to Everett early in the season and handled the transition well, continuing his greater than point per game clip throughout the remainder of the year. By March, Fonstad led the ‘Tips in assists with 52 and the team, overall, in points per game. It would be a massive surprise to see him hold out on the Canadiens and would mean that he intends on attempting to take the path of underdeveloped Stars prospect Adam Mascherin. Likewise, it would be surprising to see the Habs not offer Fonstad an NHL contract by the time the draft comes around.
If and when he does indeed sign, Fonstad is likely bound for the AHL. Despite a positive conclusion to his junior career, the lefty is still lacking in some of the 200-foot aspects of the game which are required by an effective modern-day NHL forward, at least one who isn’t in the 90th percentile of overall skill.
Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils
The assistant captain of the gold medal-winning Canadians at the 2020 World Junior Ch