The Canadian Hockey League is one the greatest developmental hockey organizations in the entire world. Comprised of the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the CHL and its 60 teams span across nine Canadian provinces as well as four American states.
As arguably the premier route to the NHL for young players, the CHL has long dominated the annual NHL Entry Draft and consistently outcompetes other developmental leagues with respect to the number of its players drafted by NHL organizations. In fact, the 2016 NHL Draft saw an immense 96 players drafted strictly from various CHL teams – the United States Hockey League finished second with 27 players chosen.
However, it is not simply quantity which the CHL produces, but also quality. When looking into the history of the NHL Draft, the CHL had one of its players selected first overall on nine straight occasions, ranging from 2007-15, seven of which hailed from the OHL alone. Amongst these skaters were current NHL stars Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad and, most recently, Connor McDavid.
As such, it goes without saying that the 2017 NHL Draft will be jam-packed with incredibly gifted CHL talent – and, yes, yet another CHL product, this time named Nolan Patrick, is projected to be the first overall selection in June. However, outside of the top-talent present in the CHL are a number of skaters and goaltenders whose names often go unspoken, yet undeservedly so.
Here are five CHL prospects to watch leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft, scheduled to be held on June 23-24th, 2017.
A third-year player with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, Kailer Yamamoto would have been eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, yet he was born 14 days later than the eligibility requirements allowed. As such, he is one of a limited few players eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft who will have three years of CHL experience under their belt.
In his time with Spokane to date, Yamamoto has become a reliable, consistent, and lethal offensive threat. As a 16-year-old rookie, Yamamoto wasted no time acclimating himself to the CHL by scoring an impressive 23 goals and 53 points for Spokane, a point total which placed him second in rookie scoring behind Philadelphia Flyers stud defenseman Ivan Provorov. Come the following season of 2015-16, Yamamoto’s sophomore campaign, the skilled forward upped his output, cranking out 71 points in 57 contests, good for the team lead.
In 2016-17, Yamamoto has once again got off to a hot start and is producing offensively at well over a point per game pace. Well-noted for his incredible work ethic, Yamamoto is so effective because, despite a lack of size, he is a relentless player at both ends of the ice. Having drawn comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau, Yamamoto is a speedy winger with fuel to burn and has the unique ability to use his wide range of skills while at top speed. Gifted with a fantastic set of hands, brilliant hockey sense, and a surprisingly yet wicked shot, Yamamoto could very well fall in the first round, if not the top-10 of the coming Draft.
A 14th overall selection by the Owen Sound Attack in the 2015 OHL Priority Draft, Nick Suzuki enjoyed a breakout rookie season in 2015-16 and has been consistent out of the gate in 2016-17. As a first year player, Suzuki stepped into the OHL and scored 20 goals in his first 63 games played, totaling 38 points in the process. In fact, his 20 goals were good for fifth best amongst all rookie skaters, while his point total ranked 12th.
What makes Suzuki a player to watch ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft is his raw abilities with the puck. A 5’11”, 185-pound center, Suzuki has quick, elusive hands and has no trouble beating opposing defenders one-on-one. His hard, accurate shot has the potential to surprise goaltenders and is a major reason why he hit the 20-goal plateau as a rookie. Further, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that Suzuki is a smart player with exceptional awareness. It is his vision which allows him to dictate play and create offensive opportunities for his teammates, whether it be making a crisp, accurate pass or simply positioning himself appropriately.
Projected to be a first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, Suzuki is on pace to become a solid selection somewhere in the 20-30th overall range. While he likely won’t jump into the NHL come the 2017-18 season, he will be a quality prospect for a given team and has the potential to become a sound player at the NHL level.
A particularly interesting aspect of the 2017 NHL Draft will be the high number of quality goaltending prospects available. In years passed, there have typically been only two to three solid goaltending prospects, however, in 2017, there are arguably five or six, all of which retain serious NHL potential.
One of which is Michael DiPietro, who is no relation to former New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro.
A second-year starter with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, DiPietro has begun his sophomore season right where he left off as a rookie, providing the Spitfires with an opportunity to win on a nightly basis. As a rookie, DiPietro was spectacular, claiming 16 wins in his 29 games played. His 2.45 GAA was fifth best in the OHL and the best of any rookie, while his save percentage of .912% was also the best of any rookie and sixth overall.
Of good size at 6′, 195 pounds, DiPietro is a true, star, goaltending prospect, and is such due to his excellent positional abilities. DiPietro challenges shooters, and as a result looks unbeatable on any given night, while his ability to fight through traffic and remain square to shooters allows him to make difficult attempts look simple.
Although he is projected to be a late-first, early second round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, it should come as no surprise to see him selected higher, especially so if he continues to play consistently at such a spectacular level.
The Ottawa 67’s have a long and storied history of player development. The likes of Mike Peca, Gary Roberts, Brian Campbell, Tyler Toffoli, Logan Couture, and, most recently, Travis Konecny, have all plied their trade in the Canadian capital. Currently, the 67’s are again loaded with elite young talent, with arguably the most lethal of which being center Austen Keating, a top prospect ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft.
A 16th overall pick of Ottawa in the 2015 OHL Priority Draft, Keating enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in 2015-16, scoring 13 goals and 32 points in 50 games, good for 16th in OHL rookie scoring. In 2016-17, Keating exploded out of the gate, on pace to shatter his rookie totals and produce at greater than a point per game rate.
Standing 6′ tall and weighing in at 170 pounds, Keating, a center, is a player who is by no means afraid to go to the net and possesses great hands in close, a skill set which makes him incredibly valuable down low and on the powerplay. Gifted with great on-ice hockey sense alongside the ability to dish the puck, Keating can shoot, score, and set up teammates in high percentage scoring situations. While he is fairly limber, Keating would do well to add muscle to his frame, yet, at such a young age, this will surely come in time, and when it does, Keating will be a solid all-around threat.
Projected to be a late first to mid-second round pick, Keating’s draft stock will be an interesting one to watch.
A relatively unheard of player, Marian Studenic is a first-year winger with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL who is oozing with raw talent. Selected by the Bulldogs 11th overall in 2016 CHL Import Draft, Studenic, a Slovakian national, spent the 2015-16 season playing with a number of European Elite hockey teams throughout the Slovakian Extraleague.
In his first year in North America, Studenic has become an immediate impact player for Hamilton, and projects to become an elite level scoring winger, given adequate time to develop and hone his game. Known for his blazing speed and ability to create offensive opportunities, Studenic possesses a solid shot and above average playmaking abilities. Further, the creative winger is a driven force and one that is motivated to be a consistent force on a nightly basis.
Due to the fact that 2016-17 is Studenic’s first season in North America, and there is limited scouting readily available regarding his game, it is difficult to accurately project where Studenic could fall in the 2017 NHL Draft. Realistically, his selection will rely heavily on his play in Hamilton this season. However, given the fact that he was able to score frequently in a league playing against men often twice his age, Studenic should face little to no difficulties acclimating his game to the OHL level.
A truly interesting case, Studenic’s season, and his progression as a player leading up to the 2017 NHL Draft, will be fascinating to watch unfold.
- Matthew Strome
The younger brother of Ryan (NYI) and Dylan (ARZ), Matthew Strome has traits similar to his brothers, possessing solid size and playmaking abilities. Projected to fall in the first round, Strome is a teammate of Studenic in Hamilton.
- Stuart Skinner
One of the top goaltending prospects available in 2017, alongside DiPietro, Skinner is a sizeable goaltender at 6’3″, 210 pounds and is a workhorse for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Consistency has hampered Skinner’s individual statistics, but should he find it, he could become a dependable NHL netminder.
- Jaret Anderson-Dolan
A first round pick of the Spokane Chiefs in 2014, Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a slick goal-scorer and teammate of Yamamoto. An appearance in the U-17 World Hockey Championship capped off a solid 2015-16 season for Anderson-Dolan.
- Jake Oettinger
Yet another massive goaltender at 6’4″, 205 pounds, Jake Oettinger could fall in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft. A Freshman with Boston University in 2016-17, Oettinger could be the most talented netminder available in 2017.
- Jason Robertson
A fourth-round pick of the Kingston Frontenacs in 2014, Robertson shattered all expectations when he scored 32 points in 54 games as a rookie in 2015-16. Now, with heightened expectations on his shoulders and projected to fall in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Robertson is looking to prove that last season was no fluke.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at email@example.com.