TORONTO — Vancouver Giants goaltender Trent Miner was only supposed to be taking notes this season.
The 18-year-old rookie, who played the majority of last season in triple-A before a January callup to the Western Hockey League, was pegged as Vancouver’s backup for 2018-19.
Miner had different ideas though, and opened the campaign by winning WHL goaltender of the week twice in October. He eventually forced head coach Michael Dyck to give him more starts over veteran David Tendeck and had the Giants one win away from advancing to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2007 heading into play on Thursday night.
"We sort of had a mindset that it would be David to start, [Miner] was gonna be the heir apparent, come in at 17, step in (next season) when David moved on, but he played well enough and the rotation went well enough that it almost became 50-50," said Dyck ahead of Thursday’s Game 4 second-round matchup with the Victoria Royals.
"That’s how it played out and a big part of that is how well Trent played."
The six-foot-one, 179-pound Miner, made 32 appearances in the regular season and finished amongst the league leaders in most statistics, going 24-5-3 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
The Brandon, Man., native, who is eligible for this year’s NHL draft, started the year as Central Scouting’s ninth-ranked North American goalie. But he elevated himself to No. 6 on the mid-term rankings and could be higher when the season’s final rankings come out on Monday.
"We knew he was a very good, young goaltender … he’s a quality kid, good student, works extremely hard and he’s poised," said Dyck. "His work ethic is very good, his attention to detail and habits are very good and that’s what makes him a very good goaltender."
Vancouver allowed the third least amount of goals among the 22 WHL teams this season. Miner and Tendeck, an Arizona Coyotes prospect, got some help from Bowen Byram, who is expected to be the first North American defenceman taken at June’s draft in Vancouver
The 17-year-old Byram, six foot one and 192 pounds, led all WHL blue-liners with 26 goals and finished with 71 points in 67 games in his second full WHL season.
The Cranbrook, B.C., native is the No. 4-ranked skater and is showing why as he currently sits second in post-season scoring with 12 points in nine games while also being used to shut down the opposition’s top lines.
"Both of them are grounded kids, they put the team ahead of themselves and that’s been a real good thing for us," said Dyck.
Byram says that draft talk between him and Miner is for the summer, with the attention right now being on advancing in the playoffs.
"Both of us try and keep it off our minds, we’re focused on helping the team win and that’s pretty much the only conversation that goes on," said Byram.
Just over a dozen of the Canadian Hockey League’s 60 teams remain in contention as the playoffs wind down, with the three league’s conference finals set to begin next week.
Here are five other players using the CHL playoffs to make scouts take notice for the upcoming NHL draft.
1. Halifax Mooseheads forward Raphael Lavoie (Regular season: 62 GP, 32 G, 73 Pts.)
The six-foot-three, 193-pound Lavoie leads all CHL players in playoff scoring with 13 goals and 20 points in 11 games. He was on a 10-game point streak before being held off the scoresheet in Halifax’s Game 4 win over the Moncton Wildcats on Wednesday that pushed the Mooseheads into the third round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs. The Chambly, Que., native, was ranked No. 13 on the NHL Central Scouting mid-term list of North American skaters and recently won the Michael Bossy Trophy winner as the QMJHL’s top prospect.
2. Saskatoon Blades forward Kirby Dach (62 GP, 25 G, 73 Pts.)
Dach is the top-ranked prospect in the CHL and No. 2 overall, behind American forward Jack Hughes, and is attempting to push the Prince Albert Raiders to the limit in Saskatoon’s WHL second-round matchup. He has five goals and seven points in eight games and scored the biggest goal of the season for Saskatoon on Tuesday — an overtime winner in Game 3 against the Raiders for the first of back-to-back wins to even the series 2-2. The six-foot-four 195-pounder from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., was a team captain at this year’s Top Prospects Game.
3. London Knights forward Connor McMichael (67 GP, 36 G, 72 Pts.)
McMichael has stepped up for London in his second full season in the league and has given the Knights some much-needed scoring depth behind their top guns, especially when injuries hit early in the year. The six-foot 170-pound centre from Ajax, Ont., produced seven multi-goal games before the Christmas break alone before cooling off down the stretch. McMichael, ranked No. 28 by Central Scouting, was acquired at last season’s trade deadline and has four points in eight post-season contests, with London leading the Guelph Storm 3-1 in their Ontario Hockey League second-round series.
4. Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason (55 GP, 36 G, 89 Pts.)
The 19-year-old Leason was looked over twice before at the NHL draft, but he put himself on the radar with a strong start to the season that included a 30-game point streak — the longest of any player this year in the CHL — and is currently ranked No. 17 by Central Scouting after never cracking the top 200 in years past. The six-foot-four, 199-pound winger from Calgary, who represented Canada at the world juniors, has three goals and seven points in eight post-season games.
5. Niagara IceDogs forward Philip Tomasino (67 GP, 34 G, 72 Pts.) No. 24
Tomasino doesn’t get much recognition with the IceDogs because of their firepower up front from their veterans, but the 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., played a major role in getting Niagara into the playoffs as the second seed in the OHL East. He has four goals and seven points in eight post-season games. The six-foot, 180-pound winger came up huge in the IceDogs’ first-round series against the North Bay Battalion with back-to-back three-point performances in Games 3 and 4 to take the series in five games. His IceDogs were up 2-1 on the Oshawa Generals in their second-round series ahead of Thursday’s Game 4.