The 2015-16 Champions Hockey League (CHL) tournament wraps up on Tuesday with a championship game between the Finnish Liiga’s Karpat Oulu and the Swedish league’s Frölunda Gothenburg.
It’s been a dramatic tournament with some incredible stories, but the CHL isn’t quite as popular in North America as Europe, so many aren’t familiar with the tournament that pits the best teams from leagues across Europe against each other.
But there are plenty of reasons that fans of the North American game should be interested in tuning into the game Tuesday at 11:30am ET. Here are five of those reasons.
The game is full of NHL prospects who are likely to be making an appearance in the NHL at some point in the not too distant future. Among the most exciting are Colorado’s Sami Aittokallio. The lanky goaltender has been absolutely phenomenal in the tournament. He entered the semifinals with a goals against average below one and has a .955 save percentage in the tournament currently.
Also appearing for Karpat is Carolina Hurricane prospect Sebastian Aho, who just tore up the World Junior Championship on a line with 2016 draft eligibles Patrik Laine and Karpat teammate Jesse Puljujarvi.
At the other end of the ice, 2015 1st round draft pick Jacob Larsson (Anaheim, 27th overall) mans the blue line and has had a solid tournament. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2013 7th round draft pick Andreas Johnson also plays for Frölunda and has been very good, posting 10 points (3-7-10) in 12 games. It’s not quite as good as the 25 he put up through 12 CHL games last year, but he’s been fun to watch.
Those aren’t the only prospects in the game either. There’s a lot to look see for NHL fans.
2. Free Agents
More and more it seems that NHL teams are interested in scouting European leagues for offensively gifted free agents. While there may not be any of the guys at the top of scouts’ lists in this match, there have been many in the tournament and lots of ex-NHLers looking to reclaim their game, like Devin Setoguchi.
There are a few players who are lighting things up in this year’s tourney and are fun to watch, but are maybe on the small side for the NHL. Among them, California-native Ryan Lasch and Hamilton-native Spencer Abbott.
3. Joni Pitkanen
The former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman shattered his heel racing to an iced puck back in 2013. He hasn’t been able to play a game since.
It’s been a long road to recovery, but he returned to the ice in domestic play on Saturday, playing for Karpat. He logged an impressive 20:04 in the match.
The CHL has deemed him eligible to play in Tuesday’s championship and that’s fantastic. It’s a chance to catch a great defenseman returning to the ice in what is one of the best stories in hockey this year.
4. Inter-league Play
Maybe it’s just me, but it’s always fun to imagine games played between leagues. Could Boston College take the Erie Otters? How would the New York Rangers stack up against CSKA Moscow?
The CHL provides an opportunity to see some of those scenarios play out. The best teams from 12 European leagues collide. It’s good fun and something we hope continues to expand in coming years.
5. 2016 Draft Eligibles
There are a couple 2016 draft eligibles in Tuesday’s game, one of which you’ll be seeing more of in the very near future.
Karpat’s Jesse Puljujarvi is likely to go in the top three picks of the 2016 draft — I think he should go third — and has that special offensive gift that’s instantly recognizable. He’s a fantastic talent, had a record-setting World Juniors performance and is a name you’re going to have to learn how to pronounce very soon.
The other intriguing draft eligible is Antti Kalapudas. He went undrafted in his first draft eligible year, but a strong performance at World Juniors has put him on the radar for a late-round pick. He’s playing in Finland’s top league at 19, which is in itself an impressive feat.