Prospects News & Rumors: Portland Winterhawks, Wallstedt & Chayka

The Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League have decided to release four players to the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt is impressing in the Swedish Hockey League and making his case to go first overall, and 2021 draft-eligible defenseman Daniil Chayka picks up his first KHL goal.

Portland Releases Four Players to USHL

On Friday, the WHL announced that they will have a 24-game regular season. It’s still unknown when the season will start as the league is awaiting approval from local health authorities before proceeding with a date. There has also been no update on a proposed format or division realignment.

Corresponding to this announcement, the Portland Winterhawks have decided to release four players to the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Those players are as follows; Jack O’Brien, James Stefan, Clay Hanus, and Cross Hanas.

In a press release from the team, Winterhawks Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston had this to say about the decision.

With the uncertainty of our start date due to restrictions in Oregon and Washington, we felt the opportunity for these four American players to play significant games could not be passed up.

The USHL season began on Nov. 5 and is scheduled to conclude on Apr. 24. All four players will return to Portland at the conclusion of the 2020-21 USHL season. Whether they get playing time in the WHL or not will depend on the start date for the 24-game regular season. Portland will also be without goaltender Joel Hofer and captain John Ludvig, who are signed NHL prospects by the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers, respectively. They are able to play in the American Hockey League for the upcoming season.

Wallstedt Making Case for First Overall

The last time a goaltender went first overall was back in 2003 when the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Marc-Andre Fleury. The highest drafted netminders since then were Carey Price in 2005, who went fifth overall and Jack Campbell and Yaroslav Askarov, who went 11th overall in 2010 and 2020, respectively. Jesper Wallstedt is making a case to be the first player selected for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

The Luleå HF netminder picked up his eighth win of the season on Tuesday, stopping 21 of 22 shots. He now sits at an 8-2-2 record with a .926 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.88 goals against average (GAA). His SV% and GAA both ranked second in the Swedish Hockey League, trailing only Viktor Fasth. Despite being underutilized, Wallstedt also had an impressive performance at the 2021 World Junior Championship for Sweden. He only played in two games but posted a 2.40 GAA and a .923 SV%.

Internationally he’s pretty much done it all, winning a bronze medal at the U18 World Junior Championship during the 2017-18 season, bronze at the U17 World Hockey Challenge and gold at the U18 World Junior Championships during the 2018-19 seasons, and finally another bronze medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup during the 2019-20 season. Whether he goes first overall remains to be seen, especially after we saw Askarov fall to 11th in 2020. However, it’s safe to say that there will be plenty of hype surrounding the Swedish netminder heading into the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

Chayka Grabs First KHL Goal

Not primarily known for his offensive ability, it has taken Daniil Chayka some time to adjust in his return to Russia. He was loaned there earlier this year with plans to return to the Guelph Storm once the 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season commences. It had been 15 games spread across three divisions of Russian hockey, and Chayka only had one assist to his credit before yesterday’s game against Dinamo Rigo. He grabbed the first KHL goal of his career in CSKA Moskva’s 7-1 victory.

Despite the offensive struggles, Chayka is still one of the top defenseman eligible for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He may not get as much recognition as Owen Power, Luke Hughes and Brandt Clarke, but he’s a bonafide first-round talent, to say the least. He’s an older player among first-year draft-eligibles with an October birthday, but he’s your typical all-situations minute eater. Former THW writer Josh Bell had this to say about Chayka’s abilities in a previous article.

The 6-foot-2 defender is a great skater, who plays massive minutes. He has a smooth, fluid stride with good speed. He’s definitely a pass-first defender who loves to dish the puck out to his teammates. He has an average shot, but he doesn’t use it too often, opting for the pass in most situations. Where Chayka shines is in his own end, which always impresses me for players his age. He’s just so hard to beat, using his body and his long reach to get in lanes, break up plays, and when he needs to, knock attackers off the puck.

– Josh Bell

If the OHL nails down a date for their 2020-21 season, it will be interesting to see the progress Chayka has made translate to the junior level. He should be a dominant defenseman in the OHL, and the Guelph Storm would welcome his return with open arms.

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