Playoffs are a critical juncture for a draft eligible player. Usually the competition and physical play are ratcheted up. Achieving team success is paramount, but for most of these young men individual accomplishment usually goes hand-in-hand with that.
Managing the pressure of playoff hockey with all the NHL draft buzz in the background can be a huge challenge. Taken from our March rankings, here are a few players to watch and how a strong playoff showing may benefit their final draft status.
Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes, No. 4 overall: Cozens’ WHL career essentially started in the 2017 playoffs. Upon completion of his season at Yale Academy, Cozens immediately made an impact with Lethbridge, picking up eight points in 12 games and helping the Hurricanes make a run to the Eastern Conference final.
After a successful rookie season, Cozens once again played a lead role in the 2018 playoffs, with seven goals and 13 points in 16 games as Lethbridge went to the conference final for a second year in a row. Now, an 84-point draft-eligible season has the Yukon-born speedster cemented inside the top 10. How high he goes in June could very well be determined by how well he performs in the post-season. He has four points in three games so far.
Bowen Byram, Vancouver Giants, No. 6 overall: His 26 regular season goals led all CHL defencemen and he was incredibly clutch, too. Byram finished with nine game-winning markers, which was also the most among all CHL blueliners. Playing a heavy team like Seattle in Round 1 will help scouts realize Byram can handle that style of play while still being a bit contributor on offence. He’ll no doubt be a marked man and fighting through that adversity will add another layer of trust into the minds of scouts. He has five points through three games.
Kirby Dach, Saskatoon Blades, No. 9 overall: He’s been projected to go anywhere from third to 10th overall on most draft lists. A big body (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) who can get to the net, Dach is tailor-made for playoff hockey. The Blades are back on track and Dach has been the centrepiece of a lengthy rebuild.
He has the entire package at his disposal and how he applies that skill set when things are difficult will be a key factor in his final ranking. He could stand to be more selfish by shooting more often. Dach is off to a good start with points in all three games in his first-round series, while winning more than his fair share of faceoffs.
Thomas Harley, Mississauga Steelheads, No. 10 overall: Harley’s rise to prominence has coincided with a Mississauga team that has gotten younger in the hopes of finding future success. As high-end veterans were moved away, Harley’s play became more important to the Steelheads. A brilliant skater with good size (6-foot-3, 183 pounds), Harley has risk in his game, but a lot of that is because of how many minutes he plays and how much Mississauga needs him to produce. He’ll have to be at the top of his game if the Steelheads have any chance of coming back from down 3-0 to Sudbury.
Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton Bulldogs, No. 14: The most polarizing player in this draft may only see the minimum number of playoff games. A year removed from an OHL championship, Hamilton is in tough against the highest-ranked CHL team the OHL has to offer in the Ottawa 67’s.
One thing is for certain. Kaliyev’s 31 goals last season as a 16-year-old followed up by the rare 51-goal performance in his draft eligible season will give a lot of teams pause for thought. Outside of the playoffs, Kaliyev will have to perform well both physically and in his interviews at the NHL combine to make a solid final impression. He has game-changing ability, but his play away from the puck needs to be more consistent.
— Hamilton Bulldogs (@BulldogsOHL) March 27, 2019
Connor McMichael, London Knights, No. 16: Solid frame and a good skater with good edges, McMichael also possesses soft hands that make him a multi-faceted threat. He’s on a team that is expected to have an extended playoff run and that could really benefit McMichael, who will have to fight hard for high leverage minutes with the likes of Kevin Hancock, Alex Formenton and Liam Foudy, who are all healthy and playing well. McMichael can make hay at 5-on-5 and is difficult to play against. In the regular season, 52 of McMichael’s 72 points came at even strength.
Raphael Lavoie, Halifax Mooseheads, No. 21: Born 10 days after the 2018 draft cut-off date, Lavoie is one of the oldest players available in this draft class. He is experiencing his third playoff run, which is a rarity for first-year draft eligible players. Lavoie is one of the most interesting prospects in this class as well. Not many have the rangy length and strength he possesses.
On his best nights, he can be the most dominant player on the ice. He skates and protects the puck well, can handle it at high speed and shoots it a ton. But can he consistently elevate his play? So far, with five points in three games, he’s done just that in the post-season. Lavoie will benefit from high leverage looks as Halifax will play host to the 2019 Memorial Cup.
Brett Leason, Prince Albert Raiders, No. 23: A magical first half to the season culminated in earning a spot on Canada’s world junior team. He slowed down in the second half, but still managed to average a point per game from Jan. 4 to the end of the season, but the points came in less consistent fashion. He’s 19, having already been passed over at the draft once, and because some are still concerned about his skating, a lengthy playoff run and individual success will determine whether or not Leason ends up going in the first round. There’s no player with more on the line in the CHL playoffs than Leason.
Jakob Pelletier, Moncton Wildcats, No. 25: A player definitely in need of the extra attention that comes with playing against top-notched playoff competition, Pelletier is currently injured and is unlikely to play the next game. Having said that, the series is guaranteed to go at least five games, which may allow Pelletier at least one more playoff look. The Wildcats centre recently turned 18 and plays with great passion, skill and vision. Should Moncton fail to advance beyond Round 1, Pelletier will be a key piece on Canada’s U18 World Championship team.
Philip Tomasino, Niagara IceDogs, No. 26: One of the players who stands to most benefit from playoff competition. Tomasino has been on a steady upward trend in the second half of the season. He’s versatile, thinks the game well and is a fine skater. He’s played on different lines and has been effective on the wing where he can use his speed to work off the rush or on the forecheck.
The U-18’s are a nice fallback position, but this is the year the Dogs have chosen to go all-in and anything less than a conference final would be disappointing. Tomasino is expected to play a key part in Niagara’s run, and after being held pointless in Games 1 and 2, he came through with two goals and an assist in Game 3 to earn first star honours.