As the CHL gets underway, it will be fascinating to watch players from each of its three member leagues progress towards the 2023 NHL Draft. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the CHL, and last year there were a number of limitations still in place.
In the hopes that the pandemic is mostly behind us, things are on track to look more like a typical CHL season in 2022-23. Schedules will return to inter-conference play, while facilities are expected to operate at normal capacity. Playoffs will return to the expanded format we knew before the pandemic. These elements will allow scouts to schedule games regularly and see players in situations they have not been able to witness over the past three seasons.
Last year, the OHL led the way with 35 players selected in the NHL draft, however, only two of them were taken in the first round -- and only one of those, Shane Wright, was Ontario-born. As for the WHL, it was quite the opposite, where six players were taken in round one, and 28 in total. The QMJHL saw only two of its 19 total players selected in round one.
Overall, the 2023 draft class has been highly anticipated for the past two years. It projected as a showdown between Regina’s Connor Bedard and Russia’s Matvey Michkov. However, as time has passed, University of Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli is now part of the conversation. The high-end depth in this draft class should have a lasting impact on the NHL.
It's projecting to be an average year for draft eligibles in the QMJHL, though. There’s always a few import players who are added along the way, and then there’s the re-entry players who are still behind as a result of the pandemic. Having said that, there’s still plenty to be excited about with Hlinka-Gretzky gold medal winner Ethan Gauthier leading the way.
The QMJHL is the first of the CHL’s member leagues to kick off its season. Defending champion Shawinigan will host against Gatineau Thursday, Sept., 22. In the meantime, here’s a look at 10 QMJHL players eligible for the 2023 NHL draft to keep an eye on.
1. Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix: Strong character traits come directly from former NHLer dad, Denis. A team-first player who will adjust his playing style to the task required.
2. Ty Peddle, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs: Started his 16-year-old season with eight goals in his first nine games, but cooled as the year progressed. Goal scoring will be the calling card, but there’s some old school pest in there that will attract scouts.
3. Jan Sprynar, RW, Rimouski Oceanic: Has played less than 100 games over the past three seasons, yet he’s expected to be a top producer for Serge Beausoleil in Rimouski.
4. Mathieu Cataford, RW, Halifax Mooseheads: After a stellar second half in Halifax, he was steady if not unspectacular at the Hlinka-Gretzky. There’s plenty to offer, but consistency will be key.
5. Dylan MacKinnon, D, Halifax Mooseheads: A rear-view mirror type of D, who’s always back to cover up a more adventurous partner. Plays a simple but effective game.
6. Jordan Tourigny, D, Shawinigan Cataractes: Puck moving, mobile defenceman who pivots well and plays with his head up.
7. Etienne Morin, D, Moncton Wildcats: Two-way defenceman who had some success on the power play last season. Defends with a good stick, but could stand to use his body more effectively.
8. Cam Squires, RW, Cape Breton Eagles: Deadly from the dots down with excellent touch around the net.
9. Ty Higgins, D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan: A bit of an unknown after having to sit out 2020-21, but was leading Ontario’s Junior B loop in defencemen scoring before being picked up by Bathurst in January.
10. Alexis Bourque, LW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Good catch and release type player who could be more effective by adding some "meanness" to his game.