As a CHL Analyst, it’s especially fun at this time of year.
The season is just a couple of weeks old, teams begin to establish themselves, and everyone around the game is anxiously awaiting the start of the NHL season, when opening night lineups are announced. For CHL teams it’s a bittersweet day where the hope of getting a great player back on your roster is combatted by the satisfaction and pure joy of watching that player crack an NHL roster.
As the NHL gets younger and salary cap numbers remain a key consideration, it’s becoming more popular for CHL players to jump right to the league. This week’s power rankings check-in on the top 10 CHL players to be named to NHL ppening night rosters one season after gracing junior barns.
10. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes: There is no surprise here, with Svechnikov being the “consolation prize” in the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound winger can play the game any way that is required. He has speed, but can pace. He’s got a dynamite shot, but is equally a threat to pass. Svechnikov has good reach that works on both sides of the puck and has no problem going into dirty areas on the ice. He’ll fit right in with Carolina’s young group. With a penchant for the gym, it won’t take long for new head coach Rod Brind’Amour to have the confidence to put Svechnikov out in key situations.
9. Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers: It was no secret the Oilers needed help on the back end, especially on the right side. Bouchard thinks the game well beyond his years. He grew steadily in his time in London and was named captain the second half of last season. Being a late birthday has given him three years of junior hockey to hone his game. A 25-goal, 87-point season from a year ago speaks to what he can bring offensively. Bouchard possesses a big, heavy shot that should lead to some PP time. He will have to adjust to playing fewer minutes and defending more than he’s used to in order to stick past the nine-game mark.
8. Maxime Comtois, Anaheim Ducks: His game really changed last season, becoming more complete and less selfish. The role he played at the world juniors forced Comtois to utilize his big frame. Being heavy on the forecheck, going to the net and playing a key role on the PK showed the versatility in his game. He realized that he could have an impact on the game without always having to be a point producer. The 50th overall pick in 2017 fits well into Anaheim’s sizeable lineup. An injury to Corey Perry surely played a part, but NHL players take advantage of every opportunity afforded to them.
7. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, L.A. Kings: Makes this list purely as the most surprising player to jump from junior to the NHL. It’s not that he’s not a good player, but oftentimes second-round picks have to bide their time and pay their dues. Having said that, Anderson-Dolan is as fierce a competitor as there is. His strong junior numbers play as well. He’s scored 79 goals in his past two seasons with Spokane while putting up more than a point-per-game average. He’s exhibited durability having missed just two games in that two-year stretch.
6. Juuso Valimaki, Calgary Flames: A standout the past three seasons in Tri-City, the 16th overall pick from 2017 showed he was ready for the jump despite only playing 43 regular season games last year. He had a monster playoff, an even better summer and the fearless, skilled, puck-moving/rushing defenceman is a big part of the shift in Calgary’s philosophy to move towards youth that exhibits speed and skill. He has a winning pedigree having won world junior gold with Finland in 2016, which is also a nice piece on the resume.
5. Alex Formenton, Ottawa Senators: It had to go his way this year after a brief one-game audition last year. Formenton played well in his one game, but the Senators also were playing well at first, which prevented him getting back in the lineup and ultimately lead Formenton going back to London. His speed sticks out even at the NHL level. With the Sens in full rebuild mode, Formenton gets a chance to be part of the solution.
4. Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks: There is no doubt his MVP performance in the 2018 Memorial Cup helped his cause. For the first time in three years Steel had the entire summer to train injury-free. Steel is smart enough to keep his ears open and mouth closed in order to hasten the learning process at the NHL level. It is those smarts that may allow him to play some on the wing in order to maintain his spot on the big club.
3. Dennis Cholowski, Detroit Red Wings: Another team in rebuild mode, the Wings have plenty of prospects with which to move forward. Cholowski was a bit of a surprise pick going 20th overall in 2016. He was just 5-foot-5, 125 pounds in his WHL Bantam draft year (2013), but the now-6-foot defenceman has experienced a plethora of activity in recent seasons. He was in the BCHL for the 2015-16 season, attended St. Cloud St. a year later, got signed by the Red Wings, and then played one game in the AHL to wrap up 2017. Last year he started with WHL Prince George before being dealt to Portland. Played one playoff game with Grand Rapids once Portland was eliminated and now he’s on Detroit’s opening night roster.
2. Brett Howden, New York Rangers: With a deep prospect pool and an organization that likes to see its young players develop in the AHL, it might’ve taken a while for Brett Howden to earn a spot with Tampa Bay. Howden was one of the main pieces coveted by the Rangers when making the Ryan McDonagh-JT Miller trade, though, and now he finds himself on an NHL roster. Howden’s game is understated, yet highly responsible. He doesn’t dazzle in any one area, but he’s a big centreman, and has plenty of character. Those key elements are essential in the Jeff Gorton rebuild.
1. Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues: The 2018 OHL Playoff MVP gutted his way through the Memorial Cup playing at well less than 100 per cent. Not being able to play up to his capabilities brought uncharacteristic frustration out in his game, so much so that his antics put doubt in the minds of some as to whether or not he could make the jump this season. He battled back in just enough time to make an impression in camp that it looks like his junior days could be over. His game is new-aged — he makes plays quickly and is able to turn on a dime to shoot the puck, so it’s easy to see how he could make an impact in the near future.