It’s hard to believe we’re watching CHL players who were born in 2002. We’re witnessing the future of the NHL before our eyes.
This group of players won’t be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, which is already being heralded as the Alexis Lafreniere draft. Lafreniere, the Rimouski sensation, isn’t eligible for this list as he’s a late-2001 birthday, but for reference sake Lafreniere had 42 goals and 80 points to lead all 16 year-old CHL players in the 2017-18 season.
Here’s a list of the top 10 players still 16 years old in the CHL. Keep in mind, in both the OHL and QMJHL, 16-year-olds are given ample opportunity and are oftentimes key parts to their respective teams. In the WHL, a lot of the 16 year-olds have seen game action as affiliate players in their 15-year-old seasons. Having to adjust to the travel and a slightly more braun brand of hockey result in young WHLers often taking an extra year to develop into prominent players.
10. Charles-Antoine Lavallee (Moncton Wildcats): You wouldn’t normally find goalies on this list as they rarely play significant minutes at 16, but Lavallee has earned his place with seven wins on a top-ten CHL team. Take away two rough appearances from this past weekend and his save percentage is up over .900 and goals against is down to 2.95. Lavallee has been most effective in the shootout, where he’s stopped five of six over two games, earning wins in both.
9. Ben King (Swift Current Broncos): With a rebuilding team, King has been given ample opportunity to play big minutes for the Broncos. The 13th overall pick from the 2017 bantam draft, King has five goals and eight assists for 13 points in 25 games. His minus-2 is the best amongst Swift Current’s regular forwards. He’s had a November to remember with eight points over nine November games.
8. Will Cuylle (Windsor Spitfires): Cuylle was highly regarded for his solid two-way game playing for the Toronto Marlies in minor midget. The Peterborough Petes used the third overall pick to select Cuylle, but an offer from Spitfires GM Warren Rychel was too good to pass up, and the power forward was sent to Windsor for a basket full of draft picks. Through his first 21 games, he has amassed six goals and six assists with a plus-4 rating for a rebuilding Windsor squad.
7. Hendrix Lapierre (Chicoutimi Sagueneens): A 6-foot, 166-pound centre, Lapierre was the first overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft. He has struggled of late, with 11 of his 14 points having been accumulated during the first 11 games of the season. Two of his three goals have been game-winners.
6. Jake Neighbours (Edmonton Oil Kings): From Airdrie, AB., Neighbours is anything but friendly to his opponents. At 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, he packs a lot of punch, and isn’t afraid to throw them either. Through his first 23 games, the Oil Kings forward has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points, with an even rating. His benchmark performance took place in a 6-3 win over Lethbridge in which he scored the game-tying and game-winning goals, while assisting on the insurance marker.
5. Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit): Joining another Vaughn Kings alumnus (Nicolas Porco) in Michigan, the fifth overall pick in 2018 got off to a blazing start in his first OHL game, scoring twice in a 5-2 win over defending Western Conference Champion Sault Ste. Marie. Overall, his 11 snipes lead all 16-year-old CHLers. Another player who made a significant mark on scouts at the U-17, where his seven assists helped him to finish second in tournament scoring with nine points.
4. Mavrik Bourque (Shawinigan Cataractes): With a first name normally reserved for WHLers, Bourque has blown the doors off the QMJHL with 10 goals in his first 21 games. A six-game November point streak has accounted for 11 of his 18 points. With a shooting percentage of 26.3 and a face-off win percentage of 44.8, Bourque is well on his way to stardom for the Cats.
3. Jacob Perreault (Sarnia Sting): The son of former NHLer Yanic went 19th overall in the OHL Priority Selection and, until recently, hasn’t garnered the same attention as those who went well ahead of him. Perreault netted two goals in his first ever OHL game, a 6-2 win in Saginaw. Having won a title with the Chicago Mission program a year earlier, Perreault has nine goals for 17 points, with a plus-4 rating through his first 21 OHL games.
2. Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves): The first overall pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, Byfield could not have been more appreciative to GM Rob Papineau for how he treated Byfield’s entire family. The warm welcome has paid huge dividends for the Wolves as Byfield is playing big-time minutes in big-time situations. He’s rewarded the Wolves with 15 points through his first 21 OHL games. Byfield has been solid in the dot with a faceoff percentage at 47. The 6-foot-5 centre recorded six points in his first five OHL games.
1. Connor McClennon (Kootenay Ice): The second overall pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, McLennon burst on to the scene with a two-goal performance in his first game of the season, including the game-winner on the power play in a 5-3 win over Calgary. McClennon made his biggest mark, however, in Saint John, N.B. with a scintillating eight-goal, 11-point effort for Team White at the Under-17 Challenge. The leading scorer in the event was recognized as a tournament All-Star.