It’s shaping up to be a decent year for top 30 prospects in the CHL as per usual, and several of the more notable players got off to strong offensive starts as the season got underway in all three leagues last weekend.
While there is not a lot of depth in the WHL this season, especially at the forward position, there are a handful of intriguing defensive prospects that will keep the crossover scouts booking western trips for a look-see as the season goes on, and three of them already are making an impression offensively.
Moose Jaw blueliner Jett Woo scored a pair of goals in his two matches and added an assist as he looks to build on his solid showing at last spring’s U-18 championships where he held his own as an underager. The absence of Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Josh Brook for three months due to injury means Woo will be asked to step into the main offensive role in Moose Jaw, and if the first weekend was any indication he looks ready to do so.
Ty Smith was even more impressive at the U-18’s last spring, and his start to the season is already turning some heads as he picked up first- and second-star honours and a goal and three assists in his opening two games of the season. He may be a bit undersized, but Smith has excellent smarts and puck skills and should be in the mix for a top-ten selection in next June’s draft.
Alexander Alexeyev to a certain extent has been the forgotten defenceman out west entering the season as he was out of sight out of mind in the big scouting events. Alexeyev did not compete in the U-18’s last spring as he was injured in late January and never returned to the Rebels, and since he’s a late birthday was not eligible to play in the Ivan Hlinka.
A 6-3 defenceman with plenty of offensive skill, Alexeyev served notice that he should be in the discussion for the top half of the first round by starting the season with four assists in his first two contests. If he shows progression on the defensive side of the puck this season he will most certainly be a coveted player in June.
Notable WHL Stats:
Jett Woo MJ 2GP 2g 1a
Ty Smith SPO 2GP 1g 3a +4 1st and 2nd star
Luka Burzan MJ 2GP 2a
Alexander Alexeyev RD 2GP 4a
Andrei Pavlenko EDM 2g
Michael King KOO 2GP 2g
Cole Reinhardt BRA 2GP 2g
The early-season breakout players in the OHL are Oshawa linemates Serron Noel and Allan McShane after their scintillating start in a pair of weekend contests.
McShane must have taken being cut by Canada’s Ivan Hlinka team personally as he has burst out of the gates with seven assists to lead all scorers in the OHL after the first week of play. A crafty center with strong puck skills and elite vision, if he keeps putting up eye-popping numbers in Oshawa scouts will have no choice but to look at him seriously as a first-round candidate, perhaps even top 20.
Noel showed plenty of improvement in his overall game at the Ivan Hlinka, and has carried on that momentum with a sensational start to his OHL campaign, scoring four goals on the weekend, including a hat-trick versus Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday. A rangy 6-4 winger with strong skating skills and an all-around game, Noel stock continues to rise as he vies for a spot in the top ten of the draft.
Barrie Colts winger and first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft Andrei Svechnikov was dynamic in his OHL debut, indicating to scouts that he will adapt quickly to the OHL in the offensive zone as he notched a pair of goals in an 11-2 pasting of Ottawa. A highly skilled winger with elite hands and skating ability, Svechnikov will only have to round out his defensive game to be a serious contender to be selected first or second overall in the draft.
Early indications are that he will still need work in that regard, however, as despite the Colts being plus six through two games Svechnikov still managed to be -2 on the scoresheet. His defensive game is a work in progress.
Svechnikov’s linemate Kirill Nizhnikov looks ready to start fulfilling the great promise Barrie saw in the Russian-born winger when they traded 10 draft picks to Mississauga for his rights last summer. Nizhnikov compiled 19 points as an OHL rookie last season, but after starting this campaign off with four assists on a “Russian super line” with Svechnikov and Alexey Lipanov the talented playmaker appears poised to have an offensive breakthrough in his all-important draft-eligible season.
Mississauga center Ryan McLeod had a breakout performance in last year’s OHL playoffs as he collected 20 points in the Steelheads’ run to the OHL finals, and after two games there are no signs of him letting up offensively as he managed a pair of markers and an assist to start the season. An elite skater with solid two-way abilities and above-average hockey sense, if McLeod can put up more than a point-per-game this OHL season he is a good bet to be selected in the top ten in the 2018 draft.
Ryan Merkley continues to show off his offensive talents in Guelph after scoring a goal and adding an assist through two games. With the man advantage, there may not be a more dangerous defenceman in the CHL as when he is given room and the green light to roam in the offensive zone he is almost impossible to stop with his quickness, lateral mobility and puck skills.
Merkley has tremendous playmaking skills as well, and the offensive package will be tough to pass up in the draft after the top five picks even if there are serious concerns about his defensive play at this point. Everyone knows about the offensive talent…Merkley will have to refine his all-around game this season, and if that happens he will push for a top-five spot in the draft.
Notable OHL Stats:
Andrei Svechnikov BAR 2GP 2g -2
Kirill Nizhnikov BAR 2GP 4a
Kody Clark OTT 3GP 1g 1a
Ryan McLeod MISS 2GP 2g 1a
Serron Noel OSH 2GP 4g
Allan McShane OSH 2GP 7a
Ty Dellandrea FLI 2GP 2g
Adam Liska KIT 2GP 1g
Ryan Merkley GUE 2GP 1g 1a
Barrett Hayton SSM 2GP 1g 1a
Scouts will undoubtedly be flocking to Halifax this season as there are four legitimate first-round candidates on the team, more than any other team not only in the CHL but on the planet.
Two of those four got off to notable starts in multi-skilled winger Filip Zadina and goaltender Alexis Gravel.
Zadina may prove to be a steal as the tenth overall pick in the CHL Import Draft as he is going to help Halifax win a pile of games over the next season or two thanks to his all-around game and tremendous skill.
Zadina uses his big body and soft hands to shield the puck well, and his smarts and vision enable him to make a ton of plays. He may well give Svechnikov a run for his money as the top forward selected in the draft, especially if he puts up similar numbers as he is a more well-rounded and consistent player.
Gravel may have lost his starting job at the Ivan Hlinka tournament to fellow QMJHLer Olivier Rodrigue because of one bad game, but scouts will soon forget that performance and focus on what he does over 50-plus games this season in Halifax.
Just like in the summer, however, you can’t get overly excited one way or another over one game, so his first-star performance and .969 SP after Game 1 of the season may have impressed the scouts, but he’ll need to show consistency this season if he hopes to be selected in the first round of the draft as many are expecting. Certainly, Gravel at this point is considered the best goalie prospect in the draft given his size, athleticism and terrific work last season as Halifax’s starting goalie at the tender age of 16.
Noah Dobson was perhaps the most underappreciated part of a solid Canadian defence corps at the Ivan Hlinka as he was asked to play a shutdown role and wasn’t really able to demonstrate the offensive skills he also possesses in his two-way game.
Such will not be the case on Acadie-Bathurst’s blueline, however, as he is already the main man in all situations. He looks ready to be a dominant force in the Q at 17 years of age, and beginning the season with three helpers in his first two games while remaining a solid defensive presence is an encouraging signal that Dobson will stake his claim for a top-ten selection in next June’s draft.
Notable QMJHL Stats:
Filip Zadina HFX 2GP 1G 2a
Alexis Gravel 1GP 1st star .969 SP
Noah Dobson A-B 2GP 3a
Anderson MacDonald MON 2GP 2g -4
Gabriel Fortier 2GP 1g
Justin Bergeron R-N 1GP 1g
Phil Kurashev 2GP 2g 2a