Finding yourself in a growing fear of an impending NHL work stoppage? Yes most hockey fans certainly are, but just because you might not be able to watch your favourite NHL teams for a while, doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your hockey craving.
In the Canadian Hockey League there is never a threat of a lockout and players from the OHL, QMJHL and the WHL may very well have a much brighter spotlight shining on them as they embark on a new season.Here are 10 CHL players whose talents will make a lack of NHL hockey a little easier to swallow:
*Keep in mind that several of these players could make their respective NHL clubs should a lockout indeed be avoided.
10. Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw Warriors (Toronto Maple Leafs)
The 18-year-old Rielly cracks the list mainly due to the fact that he is the highest first-round pick of the Maple Leafs since Luke Schenn in 2008. As a fifth-overall selection by the NHL’s most scrutinized team, Rielly will be expected to be an impact player sooner rather than later while pleasing the so-called “Toronto fish bowl” at the same time. The good news for Leafs fans is that Rielly has shown himself to possess a very similar style to that of Jake Gardiner, the club’s standout rookie blueliner from a year ago.
A gifted skater, Rielly should easily be one of the WHL’s top contributors from the back-end, and after an impressive performance at the Canada-Russia Challenge, he will have good chance to grab a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior roster.
9. Ty Rattie, Portland Winterhawks (St. Louis Blues)
A high-scoring forward for the Portland Winterhawks, Rattie is coming off a monstrous season in which he finished third in the WHL with 57 goals and 121 points. The 19-year-old right-winger has enjoyed playing with some talented teammates such as Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Sven Bartschi, and Brad Ross throughout his junior career and it has allowed him to become an absolute force as an offensive player.
A pure goal-scorer who can find the back of the net through speed and skill as well as hard work and determination, Rattie is a sure-fire candidate to win the WHL scoring title as well as a contender for Player of the Year honours.
8. Seth Jones, Portland Winterhawks (Draft Eligible in 2013)
One of Rattie’s newest teammates will be highly-touted American prospect Seth Jones. Preparing to play his first season in the WHL after playing with the U.S National Development Program for two years, Jones will bring his impressive combination of size and raw ahtletic ability to the Portland Winterhawks after the team acquired his rights from the Everett Silvertips.
Still just 17-years-old and already standing 6’3 and weighing 200 pounds, it will be intriguing to see how Jones adjusts to a new league and a much lengthier season. With his ability to play with size, speed and strength, it shouldn’t take long for him to settle in and show why he is considered to be one of the top two prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft.
7. Dougie Hamilton, Niagara IceDogs (Boston Bruins)
The only reason Hamilton comes in so low on this list is because his dominance at the junior level has almost become old-hat. Without the lockout Hamilton would be a contender to crack the Boston Bruins top 6 as he is widely considered to be one of the top defensive prospects in hockey. The OHL’s leading scorer among defenceman a year ago with 72 points in just 50 games, the 19-year-old possesses all of the attributes of a future NHL All-Star defenceman.
As a junior he is simply a dominant player who makes the game look easy with his size, skill and tremendous intelligence with and without the puck. Look for him to repeat as the OHL’s Defenceman of the Year as well being one of Canada’s leaders at the World Juniors.
6. Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec Remparts (Buffalo Sabres)
The talented Russian forward became somewhat of an enigma throughout his first junior season in North America. Often considered the second best 2012 draft prospect behind Nail Yakupov, Grigorenko slipped in the rankings and ended being selected 12th overall by the Buffalo Sabres. Despite pacing the Quebec Remparts offensive attack with 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games, Grigorenko’s desire and compete-level often came under fire as he didn’t always seem to be giving a full effort.
When at his best however there can be no disputing the 6’3, 200 pound centre’s ability. With a style that is often compared to Vincent Lecavalier, the 18-year-old will be out to dominate the QMJHL and prove that he indeed should have been a much higher draft pick.
5. Ryan Strome, Niagara IceDogs (New York Islanders)
Unlike his Niagara teammate Dougie Hamilton, Strome still has plenty to prove in terms of his status as a top notch NHL prospect. The Islanders 5th overall pick in 2011, Strome is a dazzling offensive player whose speed and slight frame are really the only questions when determining whether or not he can be a high-scorer in the NHL.
Much like his future Isalnders teammate John Tavares, Strome’s speed and quickness has been questioned, but like Tavares, his puck-skills and creativty certainly make up for it. The 19-year-old would have had a shot to make the Islanders this year but another big season in Niagara will go a long way in cementing his status if and when the NHL schedule resumes.
4. Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting (Montreal Canadiens)
Despite playing in just eight total games with the Sarnia Sting last year because of a knee injury, the Montreal Canadiens still made Galchenyuk their first-round, third-overall pick in 2012 NHL Draft. That alone should tell you all you need to know about the ability and potential of the 18-year-old center. A dynamic offensive player with elite individual and playmaking skills, Galchenyuk will be experiencing his first taste of life on the ice without superstar teammate Nail Yakupov.
On top of proving that his star will continue to shine bright even without Yakupov, he will also look to leave little doubt that he is fully recovered from the knee injury and will return to being one of the OHL’s best and most exciting players. Something that would certainly whip Habs fans into a frenzy at the thought of him wearing the bleu, blanche et rouge in the near future.
3. Connor McDavid, Erie Otters (Draft Eligible in 2015)
If you aren’t immediately familar with the name Connor McDavid don’t worry you will be very soon. The 15-year-old wunderkind became just the third player ever to be allowed to enter the OHL a year early when he was granted the “Exceptional Status” tag and then selected 1st overall by the Erie Otters in 2012 OHL Priority Draft. Joining John Tavares (2005) and Aaron Ekblad (2011) as the only three to ever be given such status, McDavid’s dominance at the midget-AAA level despite being a year younger than his peers, as well as his maturity level both on and off the ice is what allowed him entry into the league.
Already considered to be a player who possesses “generational” talent, McDavid’s exploits during the season will be one of the biggest storylines throughout the year. There is no doubt that he will put up points, but how he handles himself in the spotlight as such a young player on a rebuilding team will be most telling.
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs (Florida Panthers)
In a perfect world Huberdeau would likely be a member of the Florida Panthers and a strong contender for the Calder Trophy for the upcoming season. As we continue to learn however, the world of the National Hockey League is far from perfect and Panthers fans and fans throughout the league may have to wait a little longer to see this tremendously talented player perform in NHL arenas.
A sensational offensive player with gamebreaking skills, the 19-year-old’s possible return to the Saint John Sea Dogs will be a nightmare for his competition in the QMJHL. Perhaps the most NHL-ready forward in all of the CHL, Huberdeau has accomplished just about everything there is to achieve as a junior player, but the potential for him to raise his game to an even higher level remains a likely scenario.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Moosehead (Draft Eligible in 2013)
Considered to be the top prospect entering his draft year, MacKinnon has become a household name through his exceptional ability and his likeness to Sidney Crosby. Compared to Crosby because of sharing the same hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, MacKinnon is a much different player and probably not quite at the same level that Crosby was at the same age. However just or unjust the comparisons are, simply being mentioned in the company of Sidney Crosby is a testament to the potential that the 17-year-old possesses.
Coming off a 31 goal, 78 point performance in the regular season and then spearheading a lengthy playoff run with the Halifax Moosehead, MacKinnon should easily improve upon the numbers he posted as a rookie. Fresh off of leading Canada to a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, MacKinnon is a CHL POTY candidate and is the frontrunner to be the first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Others to Keep An Eye On: Ryan Murphy-Kitchener Rangers, Mark Scheifele-Barrie Colts, Aaron Ekblad-Barrie Colts, Matthew Dumba-Red Deer Rebels, Cody Ceci-Ottawa 67′s, Sean Monahan-Ottawa 67′s, Malcolm Subban-Belleville Bulls, Charles Hudon-Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Max Domi-London Knights, Hunter Shinkaruk-Medicine Hat Tigers, Derrick Pouliot-Portland Winterhawks, Curtis Lazar-Edmonton Oil Kings, Anthony Duclair-Quebec Remparts