2020-21 Team: Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
Date of Birth: May 5, 2003
Place of Birth: Regina, Saskatchewan
Ht: 6-foot-2 Wt: 196 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 14th (amongst NA skaters)
- McKeen’s Hockey: 25th
- Future Considerations: 11th
- Andrew Forbes, THW: 22nd
- Matthew Zator, THW: 34th
- Peter Baracchini, THW: 27th
- DobberProspects: 42nd
The Canadian Junior A hockey leagues, which include the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), are often overlooked when it comes to the NHL draft. Whereas many players from the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) can transition successfully to the professional ranks, Junior A players often go to college first before turning pro, since they would be ineligible to go to the NCAA if they played for a CHL team. It’s painted the league as weaker developmentally and the players as being underdeveloped, which has resulted in few players becoming first-round NHL picks.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t talented prospects playing there. In 2017, the Colorado Avalanche spent their fourth-overall pick on Cale Makar, who was playing with the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits. He helped his team claim the league championship, then went on to play for the University of Massachusetts Amherst for two seasons where he won the Hobey Baker Trophy as the NCAA’s top player, as well as a U20 gold medal with Team Canada. When he broke into the NHL in 2019-20, he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, scoring 50 points in 57 games.
Makar’s success turned more eyes towards the AJHL, and this season another player has caught the attention of scouts due to the similarities between him and the Avalanche’s defender. That would be Corson Ceulemans, who also plays defense for the Bandits. In 2019-20, his first full season with the team, he was second among the defense with 35 points in 43 games. This season, despite the severely shortened schedule, he stepped up his production, leading the defense with four goals and 11 points in just eight games.
It’s hard not to see the similarities between the two players. Both Ceulemans and Makar play a fast, offense-first style that emphasizes puck handling and out-thinking their opponents. Ceulemans also helped the Bandits claim their fifth league title in 2018-19, scoring two goals in the playoffs and adding an assist in the Junior A Doyle Cup Tournament. He’s now committed to going to the University of Wisconsin, where former AJHL star and 2019 first-round pick Dylan Holloway played for the last two seasons before inking his entry-level deal with the Edmonton Oilers this spring.
However, fans should hesitate before they label Ceulemans as the next-coming of Makar, who was a generational talent that the AJHL had never seen before and won’t see again for some time. Ceulemans isn’t as sound defensively as his counterpart, and his struggles have been magnified by the fact that the AJHL is not known as a great development league, further deepening the divide between the two. He also can be too aggressive on the offense, and though his vision is top-notch, his decision-making isn’t always the best, and it can create turnovers.
But that doesn’t mean that Ceulemans isn’t talented. Although his defensive game isn’t strong, his offensive awareness is excellent. He is the best when he is carrying the puck, able to drive the play and deliver quick, crisp passes in order to create scoring opportunities. That skillset makes him a top power-play quarterback. He also has a physical side to his game and can provide pressure on opponents to force them off the puck. So, while he likely won’t be the next Makar, Ceulemans is without a doubt a top talent at the 2021 NHL Draft.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Corson Ceulemans – NHL Draft Projection
Ceulemans’ upside is incredibly high, which prompted Craig Button to claim before the AJHL season began, “I have no doubt he’s a top-10 player — none whatsoever in my mind — in the draft. And I don’t care if he plays another game. I’ve had the benefit of watching him play for a number of years, and I think he’s that good.” (from ‘Corson Ceulemans is bringing his top-10 NHL draft potential to the Badgers hockey team’, Wisconsin State Journal – 7/01/21) That, of course, was before the rise of Luke Hughes and Simon Edvinsson, among others, who likely have pushed him out of the top-10. He also wasn’t as effective when the AJHL returned as many would have hoped he would be, so that likely pushed him back a bit further.
The upcoming U18 World Championship in Texas will be an important tournament for many of 2021’s top prospects, but especially for Ceulemans, who will be representing Canada. With just eight games under his belt this season, he will need to prove that he is worth a first-round pick. His skill set is still very raw and will need a couple of seasons at least in the NCAA to hone his talents, but if he can break out at the tournament, he’ll remain a first-round pick, likely within the 15-25 range. If he’s quiet, then he may fall into the second round.
“Ceulemans has the potential to become a top-four NHL defenseman able to play big minutes in all situations.” Mike Morreale, NHL.com
“Presents leadership qualities and has the tools to play in all areas. Asserting himself physically in the defensive zone is a work in progress.” Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
“When the puck is on his stick in the OZ or an offensive opportunity presents itself, Ceulemans’ eyes light up. He’s not afraid to sprint to join offensive rushes, nor is he shy about initiating the rush himself. He’s a volume shooter, but an effective one. Ceulemans doesn’t just settle for point shots. He gets a ton of pucks on net from lower in the offensive zone thanks to his ability to evade defenders and manufacture space for himself, utilize the offensive zone funnel, and sneak down weak side OZ lanes for seam passes.” Josh Mallory, FCHockey
“He is a powerful skater with good size and plays an aggressive offensive game, constantly pushing the pace for his team. Ceulemans often acts as a one-man breakout and his ability to carry the puck up ice stands out. His aggressiveness can sometimes get the better of him though, and his decision-making can leave you shaking your head all too often. He plays a physical game and has the requisite skills to be an effective defender but he hasn’t been able to put it together on that side of the puck to this point. Perhaps the biggest concern is that these problems are apparent in the AJHL and it is safe to assume that they will only become more glaring as he moves on to playing against higher quality competition. A bit of a risk/reward bet, Ceulemans could develop into an exciting offensive defenceman if he ends up in the right system.” Nick Richard, DobberProspects
- Ability to drive play and control pace
- Puck-carrying skills
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Defensive consistency
Ceulemans is a much rawer player than Makar was at his age, which has some scouts concerned over his long-term potential. Defensive issues and play off the puck have many worried that he won’t be able to transition well into the professional ranks. He has the potential to become a top-pairing offensive, rushing defenseman, but at this point, is more likely to become a middle-pairing defender who can run a power play.
Risk – 4/5, Reward – 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 8/10, Defense – 6/10
Won a bronze medal with Team Alberta at the 2019 Canada Winter Games, scoring a goal and four assists. The same season, he also claimed the AJHL Championship with the Bandits, appearing in three playoff games and adding two goals. He also was selected to Team Canada at the 2021 U18 World Championship.
Corson Ceulemans Statistics
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.