Each year so much focus lands on the first-year draft eligible players in the CHL and, this year in particular, that rings true. However, several teams have benefitted from the play of rookies as well. Some are still too young to even be NHL draft eligible, but in some cases, these rookies are older European players who’ve landed in the CHL to further their careers.
Here’s a list of the top 10 CHL rookies to watch as the season progresses.
10. Samuel Hlavaj, G, Sherbrooke Phoenix: A team that used five goalies last season — including three who played 1000-plus minutes — looks to have settled with the Slovak import in goal. At 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, Hlavaj covers a lot of net and the stability he provides has allowed Sherbrooke to maintain solid standing in the CHL’s top 10 all season.
9. Matthew Savoie, F, Winnipeg Ice: A coup for Winnipeg GM Matt Cockell to secure Savoie’s rights. Just 15 years old, he isn’t eligible to play the full season for the Ice, but they will work him in as best as possible in his first year. Long-touted for the 2022 draft, the numbers may not pop this year, but keep an eye on this budding star.
8. Bryan Thomson, G, Lethbridge Hurricanes: Played in at least one game in each of the final three months of the 2018-19 season, and has battled incumbent Carl Tetachuk for prime minutes so far in 2019-20. The right-catching keeper is an ’02 birthday standing at 6-foot-4.
7. Isaac Belliveau, D, Rimouski Oceanic: Will need to work on strength in order to defend at this level, but has no problems attempting difficult plays and has poise with the puck on his stick.
6. Logan Stankoven, F, Kamloops Blazers: Has already played in a tiebreaker and his first WHL goal came in the 2019 playoffs. The gifted 16-year-old playmaker was a fifth overall pick from his bantam draft year.
5. Francesco Pinelli, F, Kitchener Rangers: Pinelli wore the “C” and put up 114 points for the perennial powerhouse Toronto Red Wings minor midgets a year ago. He’s stepped right into Kitchener’s lineup and has been able to score goals in five of his first seven OHL games.
4. Cole Sillinger, F, Medicine Hat Tigers: One of ex-NHLer Mike’s sons has had a seamless transition to the WHL. The 11th overall pick in the 2018 Bantam Draft has proven to be a sniper and a key asset on the Tigers’ power play.
3. Ilya Solovyov, D, Saginaw Spirit: The 19-year old Belarussian rookie has wasted no time making his mark on Saginaw’s coaching staff. The 53rd overall pick in the 2019 Import Draft has been lighting it up on the Spirit blue line, where he has contributed with four multi-point efforts through the Spirit’s first nine games.
2. Shane Wright, F, Kingston Frontenacs: Entering the OHL with exceptional player status, Wright will be a must-see for years to come. In his first year with the Fronts, he’ll be up against the opponents’ best every night. Wright is talented and mature enough to handle the pressure and still produce.
1. Zachary L’Heureux, F, Moncton Wildcats: Was a star for Team Quebec winning gold at the 2019 Canada Winter Games and thinks he’s still playing amongst his peers. The 16-year-old Wildcats winger is well over a point per game in his first month in the ‘Q’.