The start of the CHL playoffs marks the beginning of the end of scouting season.
The books have been closed on players whose teams failed to make the playoffs, except for those chosen to play at the upcoming World Under-18 Championships in April. As for those who are still playing, an opportunity exists to dramatically improve their draft stock.
While there is a relative certainty to those players who we expect to go in the first round of the NHL draft, here’s a list of 10 players who can seize the opportunity of extra viewings to make their way up draft lists. For the purpose of this article, players listed in the top 31 of NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings are not eligible.
10. Luke Boka (Windsor Spitfires), NHL Central Scouting Ranking #211
Boka is a hard-working, stocky forward who plays on Windsor’s third line. He’s been a PK specialist all season for head coach Rocky Thompson. Scouts will keep an eye on Boka’s effectiveness in five-on-five situations. He shoots it well and has no issues going to the dirty areas on the ice. Regardless of Windsor’s playoff success, Boka will benefit by getting a few extra looks at the Mastercard Memorial Cup, which Windsor is hosting.
9. Kevin Hancock (Owen Sound Attack), #148
A slightly undersized forward, 19-year-old Hancock more than doubled his goal total (30) and tripled his point totals (85) from a year ago. Hancock rarely takes a shift off and is a double threat with excellent vision and passing skills and he is a sniper. Watching him on a regular basis would indicate that 40 goals wasn’t out of reach with more refined finish. He should benefit from several extra viewings as the Attack is expected to play deep into the spring.
8. Zachary Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies), #164
The younger brother of Bruins prospect and teammate Jeremy, Zachary Lauzon is a rough and tumble physical defenceman who moves the puck well. He’s adept at defending the front of the net. Lauzon benefitted from the fact his brother, Flyers prospect Philippe Myers and incumbent Jacob Neveu combined to play just 94 games, allowing him more minutes in some high-leverage situations. Rouyn-Noranda’s ability to remain near the top of the ‘Q’ standings all season had a lot to do with its ability to defend and Lauzon was a big part of that.
7. Zach Gallant (Peterborough Petes), #71
Gallant does everything well. Some question his skating ability, but he makes up for that slight deficiency with well above average hockey sense. He’s a throwback in that he appreciates old-school body contact and is not afraid to throw his body around in open ice. Gallant is as reliable as the sun coming up every morning. He’s got sneaky skill and toughness. Gallant’s Petes are expected to play for an Eastern Conference title in the OHL and in order to get there, he’ll have to maintain his solid 200-foot game. He’s already a draft sleeper.
6. Brendan De Jong (Portland Winterhawks), #109
The Winterhawks were deadly down the stretch winning eight of their last 10, but fell one victory short of third place in the US Division. As a result, they drew Prince George in the first round, a heavy team that gets in on the forecheck, which will test De Jong’s ability to move pucks under pressure while repelling heavy physical play. The Cougars’ smothering style should also test De Jong’s decision-making skills. He’s got height at 6-foot-5, but has a slight frame. Having said that, when he does fill out he should be able to add an element of physical play to his toolbox. At times, he’s been guilty of being too casual in his play, but the urgency should increase in the playoffs. De Jong does have offensive upside.
5. Scott Walford (Victoria Royals), #153
It takes a lot to wear a letter for a Dave Lowry-coached team and even more so when you’re in your draft-eligible season. Walford has a wide variety of tools at his disposal, but his greatest asset is a pro mentality. He takes his leadership role seriously and is a pro’s pro when it comes to taking care of himself away from the rink. He exhibits a tireless work ethic and has excellent practice habits. Walford is a prototypical two-way defenceman whose current ranking does not reflect where his final ranking will end up.
4. Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current Broncos), #138
It’s impossible to overlook a 51-goal season, just ask Erie’s Alex DeBrincat. Steenbergen, 19, reached the mark as an undersized, highly skilled forward whose goal-scoring prowess helped push the Broncos into the post-season. Playoff goals hold more value than regular season goals as teams bare down on the opposition’s best and overall team defence improves. If Steenbergen can continue to score at a torrid pace in the post-season, he will not get overlooked in this draft as he did a year ago.
3. Macauley Carson (Sudbury Wolves), #183
Carson picked up his 30th regular season goal into an empty net in Sudbury’s final game of the season, a re-scheduled game, on March 21. With versatility at both centre and wing this season, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of Midhurst, Ontario will play top six minutes for the underdog Sudbury Wolves in their opening round series against Oshawa. He’s got “undercover skill” according to Wolves bench boss Dave Matsos.
2. Shawn Boudrias (Gatineau Olympiques), #103
Boudrias is a big body whose skill improves daily. Instead of sulking after being traded from Charlottetown to Gatineau, Boudrias has taken full advantage of the opportunity to play more minutes on a team I believe is poised to make some noise as a lower half seed in the QMJHL playoffs. Boudrias is the oldest player eligible in the draft — he missed being 2016 eligible by two days.
1.Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders), #42
The Islanders re-made half their team with several moves over the QMJHL’s Christmas trading period, but Joseph was one player they were not going to part with. He showed well at the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospects game not just on-ice, but in his interviews off-ice. He’s got an outgoing personality with the perfect amount of hockey player confidence. Joseph is an athlete first who can do everything required of an NHL defenceman. Playoff looks will be important, as he may go from second or third round consideration, to possible first round consideration.