Each of the three CHL leagues are set to start their league final series this week. The OHL and QMJHL drop the puck on Thursday night, while the WHL gets started on Friday.
Out west, the Prince Albert Raiders and Vancouver Giants square off, while in the OHL the top-ranked Ottawa 67’s faces the Guelph Storm, who have overcome 3-0 and 3-1 deficits on their path to the final. The Memorial Cup host Halifax Mooseheads are still alive in the QMJHL final, so we already know their opponent — the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies — will also be part of major junior’s year-end tournament.
These are big moments for the players and teams involved as it’s the culmination of a long, hard season and, for some players, the conclusion of their junior careers. Some of these players you’ll see in the NHL one day.
With six teams still standing, we decided to highlight those players whose NHL rights are owned by one of the seven Canadian teams.
PRINCE ALBERT RAIDERS
Cole Fonstad, Montreal Canadiens
Drafted in the fifth -round (128th overall) by the Canadiens in 2018, Fonstad matched his 73-point total from last season in five fewer games and scored eight more goals. The playoffs, however, have been a bit more of a struggle for the 19-year-old, who has just one goal and four points in 14 games.
Parker Kelly, Ottawa Senators
Kelly wasn’t drafted into the NHL, but the Ottawa Senators signed him in September of 2017 following an invitation to their summer rookie camp and an amateur tryout to their pre-season rookie camp and main training camp. Kelly’s WHL point totals have risen each year, from 43 to 59 and finally 67 points in 64 games this season, including a career-high 35 goals. In the playoffs, Kelly has four goals and seven points in 16 games, which is tied for seventh-most on the Raiders. Fonstad will turn 20 years old later this month.
Ian Scott, Toronto Maple Leafs
The backup goalie on Canada’s WJC team this season, Scott’s .932 save percentage in the WHL this season was the second-best mark in the league among full-time starters, as was his 1.83 goals-against average. This is the first time in his three-season WHL career that he finished with a save percentage over .900 and he credits growth in his game to the time he spent with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies at the end of last season. Scott was taken in the fourth-round (110th overall) of the 2017 draft by the Leafs and was named the WHL’s goalie of the month in April after posting a 1.88 GAA and .934 save percentage along with three shutouts. He is a finalist for the league’s top goalie award.
Milos Roman, Calgary Flames
After coming up through the Czech development system and playing one season in the second-tier professional league, Roman came to North America in his draft season. As a WHL rookie he put up 32 points in 39 games and the Flames followed up by taking him in the fourth-round (122nd overall) in 2018. More comfortable and fully healthy this year, Roman was the third-highest scoring Giant with 27 goals and 60 points in 59 games and he was a key player for Slovakia at the world juniors, finishing tied for the team lead with three goals. In the WHL playoffs Roman hasn’t had the same success, with two goals and eight points in 15 games in a third line role, but he’s still making a case for the Flames to sign him this summer and add him to the AHL’s Stockton Heat in 2019-20.
Cam Hillis, Montreal Canadiens
Hillis has had some bad injury luck this season, so you won’t actually see him in the OHL Final. An MCL injury in December kept him out of the lineup for the next month and a half and when he returned in February he played just three more games before an awkward hit led to a separated shoulder. That removed him from action for another two months and when he returned in the playoffs, he suffered a broken collarbone in just his second game back. Another centre in Montreal’s suddenly stacked cupboard of them, Hillis is listed at five-foot-11 and 168 pounds and scored just 22 points in 33 games this season, but all the injuries really made it a lost season for him. In his draft year, he was just shy of being a point per game player and was selected in the third round (66th overall) in 2018.
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens
With 31 points in just 18 games, Suzuki is the highest-scoring playoff player across all three CHL leagues so far. His top highlight might be a spin move in Game 6 of the conference final against Saginaw, and helped Guelph to another miraculous recovery — the Storm are in the OHL Final despite trailing a couple of prior series 3-0 and 3-1. Suzuki, selected 13th overall in the 2017 draft by Vegas and traded to Montreal as part of the return for Max Pacioretty, enters the series against Ottawa on a 12-game point streak.
Dmitri Samorukov, Edmonton Oilers
A third-round pick (84th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft, the defenceman has seen his point totals rise in each of his three major junior seasons, finishing with 45 points in 59 games this season to rank 16th among OHL blueliners. He is the highest-scoring blueliner of these playoffs, though, currently tied with Evan Bouchard, who played seven fewer games. Trailing 3-1 in their conference final series against Saginaw, Samorukov came through with a hat trick in Game 5 that started the charge all the way back.
Fedor Gordeev, Toronto Maple Leafs
The towering six-foot-seven, 224-pound defenceman isn’t a big point producer, finishing with a major junior career-high 32 points this season. He was part of Guelph’s bulking up at the trade deadline, coming over from the Flint Firebirds, and he’s a big deterrent for teenaged attackers and — obviously — has immense reach. Gordeev was a fifth-round pick (141st overall) in 2017 and hasn’t yet signed with the Maple Leafs. They have until June 1 to sign him or else lose his rights.
— – Guelph Storm (@Storm_City) April 24, 2019
Michael DiPietro, Vancouver Canucks
Already a Memorial Cup champion from 2017 when he was with the Windsor Spitfires, DiPietro was the featured part of a blockbuster December trade that sent him to Ottawa. The reigning OHL goalie of the year, DiPietro also had the best goals-against average at the world juniors (1.23) for Canada this year and even got into one NHL game in an emergency situation this season — allowing seven goals on a tough 24 shots from the San Jose Sharks. Talk about jumping right into the deep end. This season, his 2.40 goals-against average was the best mark in the OHL, while his .911 save percentage was third.
Joel Teasdale, Montreal
Teasdale was never drafted, but signed an entry-level deal with Montreal last September following an invite to their pre-season camp. The six-foot, 203-pound left winger has gotten better with each passing season, finishing as a point-per-game player last season, and following that up with 80 points in 66 games this season. Teasdale was one of Rouyn-Noranda’s acquisitions as they bulked up for a run, finishing with 42 points in 29 games once coming over from Blainville-Boisbriand. He’s continued that torrid pace in the post-season, and is the second-highest point-getter in the QMJHL with 26 points in 14 playoff games, behind only draft eligible — and projected first-rounder — Raphael Lavoie.
Ostap Safin, Edmonton Oilers
A fourth-round pick (115th overall) in 2017, Safin was looking like a scoring winger prospect who might one day break through for the Oilers. Last season, his first in North America, Safin had 26 goals and 58 points in 61 games, but although he’s still a good prospect in an area of need for Edmonton, he ran into some bad injury luck this season. Safin injured his hip at the summer’s Four Nation U-20 tournament, missed Oilers rookie camp as a result and, after getting into two September games, he was out again until November. Upon his return to the lineup, Safin totalled nine points in six games and then was out of the lineup again due to the hip until returning in mid-March. He has just two points in 17 playoff games, but will look to get back on track next season in the AHL.