Prospects News & Rumors: QMJHL, ECHL & Ovchinnikov

The Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL) is dealing with COVID-19 breakout and their hopes of playing a full 2020-21 season might be in trouble. Also, the ECHL has announced a unique return to play that includes the seasons starting in two different waves. Finally, a recent addition to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect pool is tearing it up overseas.

QMJHL Dealing with COVID Surge

The QMJHL’s vision of playing a full season without any delays or setbacks did not last very long. Because Quebec seemed to have COVID-19 under control and with the majority of teams being in close proximity to each other, the Q was the only member of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) to start on time.

COVID has reared its ugly head again and it is having a major effect on the QMJHL. On Wednesday, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada announced they have 18 positive cases. Now, the Sherbrooke Phoenix, who played the Armada last weekend, has confirmed eight members of their organization have tested positive.

All 10 games that were scheduled for Wednesday were postponed. All Phoenix team activities are suspended and players and staff will be in isolation for 14 days.

League commissioner Gilles Courteau released this official statement on Thursday:

This situation will be monitored closely as the league tries to adapt and adjust accordingly. As Courteau said, the QMJHL had to expect something like this, or at least be prepared for it, so how they prevent any further outbreak, going forward, will be important if this season is to be completed.

ECHL Releases 2020-21 Plan

It is not all doom and gloom in North American hockey. The ECHL, a feeder league for the American Hockey League (AHL), announced their plans for the upcoming season, which will start on Dec. 11, 2020, under a “split-season” format.

Under this format, 13 teams will start a 72-game season on Dec. 11. Those teams are the Allen Americans, Florida Everblades, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Indy Fuel, Jacksonville Icemen, Kansas City Mavericks, Rapid City Rush, South Carolina Stingrays, Tulsa Oilers, Utah Grizzlies, Wheeling Nailers and Wichita Thunder.

The remaining teams will begin a 62-game schedule on Jan. 15, 2021, upon “jurisdictional approval.” That excludes the Atlanta Gladiators, who have suspended operations for the 2020-21 season. They plan to return to action in 2021-21 and all their players under ECHL contracts have become free agents.

“The ECHL is excited to be able to confirm the beginning of the 2020-21 Season by working with our local health officials and the PHPA to develop protocols for the safe return of our Players, fans, and employees,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin.  “The ECHL is getting back to hockey, as we all work together to bring live entertainment back to our communities.”

No schedule has been released yet, but the regular season is to conclude by June 6, 2021. League standings will be based on winning percentage since teams will be playing different schedules. A playoff format will be announced at a later date.

Ovchinnikov Off to White Hot Start

The Maple Leafs have added some quality young players to their pipeline over the past couple of days, including first-round pick Rodion Amirov. Fellow countryman and 2020 Maple Leafs draft pick, Dmitri Ovchinnikov is tearing it up in Russia.

The 18-year-old forward’s 2020-21 season is off to a tremendous start. In seven games for Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk of the MHL, Ovchinnikov has five goals and 10 points. He blasted home his fifth goal of the season on Friday, finishing off a slick passing play with his teammates.

Ovchinnikov has dominated the MHL level, which is Russia’s top junior league. Over the past three seasons, he has 31 goals and 72 points in 101 games. He broke out during the 2019-20 season with 24 goals and 55 points, helping him get drafted by Toronto in the fifth round (137th overall) on Thursday. He has appeared in five KHL games with Sibir Novosibirsk, including three this season, but has yet to find the scoresheet in Russia’s professional league.

Scouts have touted Ovchinnikov for his ability to cut through traffic and drive to the net. As shown in the highlight above, he has great awareness on the ice and has a knack to be in the right place at the right time. He is a player who can be tough to play against, which is exactly what the Maple Leafs are trying to add to their roster.

The dust has settled on the 2020 NHL Entry Draft but our coverage has just begun. Be sure to head over to our Prospects page to stay updated on all the lasted news on your favorite team’s up and coming stars of the future.