Every year I’m amazed at the influx of talent that finds its way into the CHL — and this season is no different.
League scoring races are almost always dominated by veteran players and you can see that in the current league leaders: Alex Barre-Boulet of Drummondville is an overage player, Aaron Luchuk of the Barrie Colts will be 21 in April, and Glen Gawdin of Swift Current is in his fifth WHL season. All three players were signed to NHL contracts as free agents through the season.
Looking into the future, here’s a peek at some of the talented players whose names you will hear over the summer and into next season, most of whom are eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.
9. Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie Colts: The first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, Suzuki is the younger brother of Vegas prospect and current Owen Sound attack star Nick. While the senior Suzuki says the younger one should shoot more, Ryan’s rookie season has gone just fine. Despite just a two-goal February, the Colts prospect has started March with a bang, having put up five points in Barrie’s first three games this month. He thinks the game well, has excellent speed and a high compete level.
8. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver Giants: Whenever he was called-up last year as a 15-year-old, Byram was not only often Jason McKee’s best defenceman — he was often the best player. He stepped into this season with 11 WHL games under his belt and has taken off. He has size, skates well and can really drive the play from the back end. He’s operating at about half-point-per-game pace and has played a big part in Vancouver’s turnaround. Byram’s father, Shawn, is a former Regina Pat who played most of his pro hockey in Europe after getting into just five NHL games in the early-’90s.
7. Blake Murray, C, Sudbury Wolves: The most undercover player on this list, Murray was picked seventh overall in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. He has a chance to hit the 20-goal mark in his rookie season, while being tasked with playing centre and winning half his draws. Murray has seven power play markers and scores them in bunches, with five multi-goal efforts to date.
6. Jakob Pelletier, C, Moncton Wildcats: It’s hard to fathom a rookie accounting for roughly nine per cent of a team’s offence, but that’s what the diminutive Pelletier has done this season. Add to that the pressure of being a centrepiece for a team hoping to host the 2019 Mastercard Memorial Cup and that achievement becomes more impressive. The third overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Pelletier is a slick playmaker with great vision and a dual threat of being an adept goal-scorer.
5. Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes: Made his mark with Lethbridge in the 2017 playoffs after his Yale prep season came to a close. In 12 post-season games, Cozens put up eight points, saw some time on the power play and set the tone for a great rookie campaign. Cozens seems to thrive at this time of year. He has 10 goals and 23 points in Lethbridge’s past 17 games as the Canes push for a Central Division title. Overall, he’s on pace for a point-per-game season. At 6-foot-3, 178 pounds, the Yukon native will be highly coveted come June of 2019.
4. Dustin Wolf, G, Everett Silvertips: A product of the L.A. Junior Kings program, Wolf helped the Silvertips change the course of their season. Everett used five different goalies in their first 14 games, while Carter Hart and Wolf fought through injuries. Wolf debuted on Oct. 27 and made 38 saves in a 3-1 win in Kamloops. He navigated Everett through Hart’s absence at the world juniors and heading into the weekend sits at 13-6-4, 2.29 GAA, .927 SP as the league’s top 2019 draft eligible goalie.
3. Peyton Krebs, LW, Kootneay Ice: The first overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Krebs is the focal point of renewed hope under new ownership in Cranbrook. Krebs, who turned 17 on Jan. 26, is lighting it up with the Ice, having put up 16 goals and 52 points. Only one-third of his points have been accumulated on the power play and he’s played in all situations for coach James Patrick. His name has come up on several occasions in my conversations with NHL scouts.
2. Raphael Lavoie, C, Halifax Mooseheads: He started the season as a 16-year-old, but as a late birthday, Lavoie turned 17 two days later. At 6-foot-3 and 176 pounds, the tall, lanky winger had the benefit of getting into 32 games in the 2016-17 season. That taste helped him prepare to become one of the league’s top youngsters, who should eclipse 30-goal and 60-point plateaus.
1. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs: Born in New York, the dual US/Russian citizen played his minor hockey in the Detroit area. He was Hamilton’s second round pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection and Bulldogs brass figured they could pencil him in for a 20-goal season. With five games left, he has a chance to crack the 30-goal mark to cap off an impactful rookie season on the Eastern Conference’s top team. A quarter of his points have been accumulated on the power play, he has three game-winning snipes and is far and away the OHL’s top 16-year-old goal-getter with 28.