It’s rare for a major junior player to transition directly into the NHL without a stint in the AHL first, and even more rare for them not to be selected in the top-10 of the NHL Draft. With Nicholas Robertson invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp, I wondered, which drafted CHL players are ready to jump straight to the NHL?
For this article, I am going to ignore players who have already played in the NHL and also ignore players who have yet to be drafted (Byfield, Lafreniere). This article is not a ranked list either, as many externalities can happen between now and next season, and most of these players are on the bubble. With all of those self-defensive qualifiers out of the way, let’s get into our first player!
The last goaltender who jumped from the CHL straight into NHL didn’t have the best debut. Michael DiPietro, who was a star for the Ottawa 67’s in 2018-19, debuted for the Vancouver Canucks and let in 7 goals on 24 shots. Now, this was an exceptional circumstance as he was called up last-minute and Dustin Wolf’s situation will most likely be very different.
Wolf was just nominated as the CHL Goalie of the Year and his statistics this season most certainly show he deserves it. Wolf led all major junior goalies boasting a 1.88 goals-against-average and a .935 save percentage. If that’s not impressive enough, he had nine shutout victories and finished the season tied for second in overall wins. His performance for the Everett Silvertips was incredible, and he ended the season with a 34-10-2-0 record.
Wolf is a Calgary Flames prospect who signed an entry-level-contract last season. At six-foot and only 160 pounds, his size may be the only thing going against him having a breakthrough professional campaign next season. Nonetheless, expect Wolf to be challenging for the backup/third-goalie spot on Calgary’s roster next season.
As Leafs Nation debates endlessly on whether Robertson can influence this season’s playoffs, I believe there’s a more compelling argument that he could make the roster next season. With an ever-impending salary-cap crunch, I think Robertson will be given a shot in the NHL in 2020-21.
There are many reasons Robertson should be given a shot in the NHL next season, but chief amongst those is his scoring. Similar to a young John Tavares, Robertson’s ability to put the puck in the net in any situation makes him stand out from his peers. Robertson’s time on the top-line of the United States World Junior team aided in his development and showed his star power even as his team faltered out of the tournament.
Robertson’s stat’s back up many pundit’s optimism as he led the OHL in goal-scoring with 55 goals in only 46 games. With the right linemates, he can transition into being a scoring threat as soon as next season, but only time will tell on whether or not he fills his potential.
In a relatively quiet season for the Cranbrook, BC native, Bowen Byram was consistent from the blue-line and steadily improved his defensive game. In a strong showing for Team Canada in which they won gold at the World Juniors, Byram’s consistency during the season showed real maturity in his game.
During his (potentially) final season with the Giants, Byram posted solid but not other-worldly numbers. In 50 games during the regular season, he managed to amount 52 points, with 14 of those being goals. This puts him a mediocre seventh in the league for defensive scoring, but his two-way game is what makes him potentially an NHLer right away.
Holding an NHL contract with the Colorado Avalanche, there is almost no team better that Byram could be a rookie defenseman on at the moment. With Calder Trophy favourite Cale Makar starring for the Avs this season, Byram is the natural successor to that path. With his size, defensive IQ and offensive capabilities, there is every chance that he could make an impact at the NHL level next season.
Another Team Canada stand-out, Connor McMichael is another player who could potentially feature in the NHL next season. This is admittedly a long-shot, however, McMichael has shown promising signs of development especially this season with the London Knights.
In the past 2019-20 OHL season, McMichael posted very strong numbers for a steady Knights team. In 52 games, he managed 102 points, and, impressively, he was nearly a goal-per-game player as he got 45 during the regular season.
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For Team Canada, McMichael played in all seven games of the 2020 World Juniors. He performed well with seven points, five of those being goals. He saw time primarily in a depth role, but his strong performances saw him amassing consistently more ice-time throughout the tournament.
McMichael could see some time in a depth role for the Washington Capitals, but expect him to see more time in the AHL/Juniors next season. He has the skill to make a debut next season, but expect to definitely see him in the NHL for the 2021-22 season.
For this fifth selection, I struggled to decide between a bunch of players who in my opinion, are on the bubble of making an NHL impact. I selected Dylan Cozens for his skill, but also the situation of his NHL franchise. The Buffalo Sabres have struggled to find depth at the center to back up star Jack Eichel, but with Cozens, they may have found their guy.
Cozens, like most others on this list, had a strong showing for Team Canada in the World Juniors and his Lethbridge Hurricanes. Of the players on this list, Cozens had the best World Juniors performance, with nine points in the seven games of the tournament.
For his WHL team, he had 85 points in 51 games, due to his Team Canada obligations and the shortened season. Beyond the stat line, Cozens was captain of a solid Lethbridge Hurricanes team. They were in a playoff position at the time of the season cancellation, and it’s unfortunate that we won’t see how far they could have gone with Cozens as captain
Although I would say Cozens is on the bubble, if he does make the NHL due to the aforementioned reasons, he could very well have the largest impact. There is a lot of excitement surrounding Cozens and for good reasons too. Buffalo has a solid prospect here, and with a solid training camp, a roster spot will certainly be his for the taking.
Honourable Mentions: Ty Smith, Adam Beckman, Alexander Khovanov.
Special shoutout to @JoshBell and @RyanS for help with this list!