The first half of the CHL is in the books with some obvious teams in the running for a top spot in their respective leagues. But there are other teams who are gunning to put their themselves in contention for the Memorial Cup by seasons end. Some will need to make moves to achieve success, and a few will need to dig deep to get a much better effort from every player on the team. So without further ado, here are the teams to look for in the 2nd half of the season.
The Remparts have one of the top young talents in the game today. Mikhail Grigorenko has left an indelible mark on the team leading them in scoring with 58 points in 33 games. Certainly making a case for 1st overall, Grigorenko has amazed fans, opponents and teammates with the skill that he brings. But one player does not make the team. The Remparts have a lot to look forward to with young players like Anthony Duclair, Adam Erne, Nick Sorensen (even with his unfortunate injury) and Francois Brassard in net. Along with veteran talent like Freddy Roy, Mike McNamee and Martin Lefebvre and Phoenix Coyotes prospect netminder, Louis Domingue, Quebec will look to remain atop the QMJHL standings and vie for a spot in the Memorial Cup.
The team playing host to the Memorial Cup this year is the Shawinigan Cataractes. Talk about having something to play for, the Cataractes are pressured to represent the QMJHL in capturing the CHL’s top prize. The top line of the, now disbanded, Lewison Maineiacs has been revived with the addition of Kirill Kabanov in the beginning of the season.
The concerns surrounding Kabanov’s attitude, work ethic, and overall team play have all but been erased, and now he seems to be thriving on a line with Michael Chaput and Pier-Olivier Morin. Fellow Russian Anton Zlobin has almost matched his career high in points with Shawinigan in the first 37 games, and is trying to prove something to himself and NHL GM’s on why he shouldn’t have been skipped in the 2011 NHL draft. Bournival, a team Canada representative in the World Juniors, has built enough of a pedigree to get recognition on the international stage. Other players who were skipped have consistently contributed to the Cataractes like Max Le Sieur and Peter Sakaris.
Alex Dubeau has been Shawinigan’s beacon of hope, backstopping them to a 17-6-3 record with a 2.53 GAA. A ’94 born goalie, Dubeau is looking to throw his name in the mix as one of the first goalies selected in the upcoming draft in Pittsburgh. But right now, if he continues to play stellar between the pipes, Shawinigan’s chances increase by a good margin.
Saint John Sea Dogs
How could you not put them in the hunt for a second straight Memorial Cup title? Their squad oozes with top level talent, and with the addition of Charlie Coyle, the team now boasts four 1st round picks in their lineup. Alongside Phillips and Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu’s play on the blueline has helped the defensive core play beyond it’s potential.
Another standout (and Youtube star), Tomas Jurco has not only relied on his offensive skills, but his two-way game has benefited dramatically. The Detroit Red Wings 2nd round pick hasn’t skipped a beat this season with 21 goals and 24 assists. With those stats, it is clear to see that Jurco is playing a team game and making his teammates that much more dangerous on the ice.
Although they aren’t currently in the 1st spot in the Q, the Sea Dogs are the team to beat. It will be a difficult task for any team to go up against such an offensive powerhouse, especially with Coyle slotted into the top six.
The Whalers have three 1st round picks on their team, all of which are the top three scorers on the team. J.T. Miller, Rickard Rakell, and Stefan Noesen – all 2011 draftees – have played phenomenal up front as the team currently sits in 2nd in the Western Conference. You’d figure their might be some growing pains, but the three youngin’s seem to have fit perfectly into the makeup of the team and adapted to the coaches demands.
Austin Levi, Beau Schmitz and Dario Truttman have kept opponents at bay with their play from the back end. It bodes well for a goalie like Scott Wedgewood who is one of Canada’s two goalies in the World Juniors at the moment. His numbers haven’t been very impressive in the short season, however his simple game allows his team to win, which is ultimately what the team is trying to do.
The diamond in the rough of the group might be Tom Wilson. He had a rough go in his rookie year with injury problems, but has battled back and hopes to hear his name called in the first round in this year’s draft. A big, burly power forward, Wilson finds a way to put the puck in the net and works hard in the corners. His physical presence in front of the net and in the open ice makes him an appealing player. If his play continues to improve, the Whalers might overtake 1st in the Western Conference.
After clinching 1st place in the East Division last season, the 67’s have shot right back to the top of the standings. Tyler Toffoli, one of the premier goal scorers in the OHL, is back on his torrid scoring streak. He is already on pace to eclipse his point total from last season with 30 goals in 32 games for Ottawa. Shane Prince has also done pretty well for himself this year, but the player to pay particular attention to isn’t even getting picked in 2012.
Sean Monahan, a late ’94, is right on Toffoli’s tale in the scoring race and has already garnered talk about a possible top 5 pick in 2013. With a respectable frame for a 16 year old, Monahan has slotted into the top role quite nicely alongside Toffoli. Monahan and Toffoli will likely continue their stellar offensive play for the 67’s this year and make them serious contenders for the OHL.
Cody Ceci is slowly, but surely, moving his way up the draft rankings with his great point production and defensive play. A natural two-way defenseman, Ceci has provided a fantastic balance of size, grit, and skill, setting him apart from the other defenders on the team. Not to say the others haven’t played up to snuff, but Ceci’s play has been that much better. Ottawa is looking to show that last year was not a fluke and they deserve to be talked amongst the best in the OHL.
I had expected the Knights to do pretty well this year, but not THIS good. Much of their success has been due to the youngsters on the team. The acquisitions of Max Domi, Bo Horvat, and Olli Maata have done wonders for the team, as they have the best record in the league. Seth Griffith, who leads the team in scoring, and Vladislav Namestnikov have lead the team in the offensive department while players like Jarred Tinordi and Scott Harrington hold the fort for the defensemen.
The player that needs to kick it up a notch in the 2nd half of the season is Andreas Athanasiou. His claim to fame was his R&D camp goal that wowed hockey fans for weeks. But his play on the ice has not shown all the untapped potential he possesses. His best asset is his speed, but that alone will not get him much recognition if he wants to be picked in the 1st round.
The Knights have no reason to fall in the rankings as they have played some terrific hockey going into the break. Although, as Mia Hamm once said, “It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.”
Medicine Hat Tigers
Emerson Etem burst onto the scene scoring goal after goal after goal. He has since tapered off a bit, but he is still top three in scoring in the Dub. Representing Team USA as we speak, if Etem continues his pace, he will shatter his point total from last year. It still baffles me why Etem was not selected to the Anaheim Ducks or their minor league affiliate, Syracuse Crunch, but I guess if those are the cards you’re dealt, then you have to play them. Looks to me as if Etem has been dealt a royal flush.
Hunter Shinkaruk is another name to keep an eye on. The 2013 draft eligible forward is still a fair margin away from equalling Etem’s totals, but he has posted the same amount of goals this year (30). With his effortless skating, Shinkaruk easily breaks away from defenders and has some of the best hands in the entire league. Able to stickhandle between defenders, his game-breaking potential has sparked talk of sneaking into the top 5 for 2013.
With a capable goalie like Tyler Bunz, who was snubbed from Team Canada, the Tigers can easily fight their way back from 4th in the Eastern Conference to 1st.
With the departures of Ryan Johansen and El Nino, the future for the Winterhawks was looking bleak. Thanks to Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie, the offense is back to where it was. The wingers have accounted for a combined 116 points between and have taken some of the pressure off of the other lines. Both are also in the top 10 in scoring in the Dub.
The Pittsburgh Penguins 1st rounder, Joseph Morrow, has kept up his solid play and helped youngster, Derrick Pouliot, to develop in time for June’s draft. Pouliot has become an offensive powerhouse. His vision up the ice and his ability to quarterback the powerplay has him highly talked among defenseman in a draft where the skill of blueliners is one of the main focal points going into this season.
In part to leadership from its older players, Tri-City leaped into the top spot in the WHL going into break. Adam Hughesman has upped the ante with 59 points so far. The team also has a few players who are trying to boost their draft stock such as Malte Stromwall, Connor Rankin and Riley Guenther, but the team’s best player hasn’t been up front.
Zach Yuen leads the team in plus minus with a +23. His physical presence helps him shield off players, as well as knocking opponents from the puck. The Winnipeg Jets got themselves a defensive stalwart on the backend, however his offensive skills are vastly underrated.
Ty Rimmer and Eric Comrie have shared duties in net, and both have done admirably when called upon. As a rookie, Comrie is 12-3 with 2.62 GAA. Rimmer has been spectacular, posting a 15-4 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .929 save percentage. If the goalies hold up, Yuen and his defense play their all-around game, Hughesman posts even better numbers, and the supporting cast picks up play, the Tri-City Americans will be a tough team to battle in the grueling tournament.
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