The opening round of the CHL playoffs is in the books, which featured some excellent series, a five-overtime thriller and a couple of surprising upsets.
There’s also been some big moves away from the ice. Don Nachbaur and Jarrod Skalde won’t be back behind the bench for the Spokane Chiefs and Guelph Storm respectively, while Ryan Suzuki was the top overall pick in the OHL Draft by the Barrie Colts.
So as the quarter-final round marches towards it’s conclusion, here is another look at the teams that have seen their season coming to an end, starting with the Ontario Hockey League where the Memorial Cup host is now sitting on the sidelines.
Niagara Ice Dogs – 23-35-6-4 – 3rd in Central Division – 8th in Eastern Conference
For a team that I thought would struggle mightily after losing so many pieces from the league runner-up squad a year ago, to see them get into the playoffs with the amount of young talent that they had was impressive, especially after they traded away Graham Knott and Christopher Paquette.
The experience of getting to the playoffs should bode well for the Ice Dogs in the years to come, especially with an exciting young forward group that includes Ben Jones, Oliver Castleman, Kirill Maximov and talented rookie Akil Thomas.
Although they will be losing veteran blueliners Ryan Mantha and Aaron Haydon, there are several interesting younger players that will get key ice time next season on that back end. If they can gel quickly on the back end, this could be a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa 67’s – 26-34-7-1 – 5th in East Division – 7th in Eastern Conference
With a third-straight opening round loss, which follows with two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, it really feels like the 67’s are treading water a bit after their trip to the Eastern Conference final in 2012.
Although they will be losing leading scorer Artur Tyanulin, there will be a nice forward group in Ottawa next season with Travis Barron, Austin Keating, Sasha Chmelevski and Tye Felhaber (who they acquired from Saginaw) all coming back.
The defence will be young but has a couple of nice pieces in Noel Hoefenmayer and Peter Straits, while Leo Lazarev will more than likely be back in goal, so the 67’s should have a better result than seventh place next season.
However, if things end up looking the same in the nation’s capital, it will be interesting to see much how longer Jeff Brown will be in charge of the team.
Sudbury Wolves – 27-34-7-0 – 2nd in Central Division – 6th in Eastern Conference
It’s been a rough few years for the Wolves, but after a couple of years away they returned to the playoffs and they actually gave the Oshawa Generals a pretty tough challenge in their first round series.
As they move forward, the young base of talent should continue to blossom, especially with Dimitri Sokolov, David Levin and MacCauley Carson up front. At the other end of the rink, Jacob McGrath has taken over the reigns at starter and should get better in the coming seasons.
The one weakness the Wolves might face is on defence. It isn’t bad with guys like Reagan O’Grady and Owen Lalonde already set for top minutes, but they will be losing Kyle Capobianco, Aiden Jamieson and Patrick Sanvido, so it will be a much younger and inexperienced group.
Sarnia Sting – 31-30-6-1 – 4th in West Division – 8th in Western Conference
It was unlikely that all three of Jakob Chychrun, Travis Konecny and Pavel Zacha were going to come back to the Sting, but losing all three players to the NHL but the Sting in a tough spot for this year.
The reloading of the picks and assets they gave up in their ill-faded 2015-16 run to a West Division title and a first round exit began when Nikita Korostelev was dealt to the Petes at the trade deadline, but there are still some pieces here that might help the Sting next season.
The offence looks pretty sporting with Jordan Kyrou, Drake Rymsha, Anthony Salinitri and Adam Ruzicka all slated to come back, while the backend might need to improve a little bit if they want to move up the standings.
Mind you, if Sarnia could get any of the highly-touted kids they’ve took in recent years that are slated to take the college route (see Tyler Weiss and Mattias Samuelsson) any pre-season projections could change in a hurry.
Flint Firebirds – 32-28-3-5 – 3rd in West Division – 7th in Western Conference
Given how much of a tire fire their inaugural campaign was, this was a super improvement for the Firebirds as there were no scandals surroundings their sophomore season.
Heading into the third season in Flint, one of the major building blocks is the offence for the Firebirds. Although Kole Sherwood looks set to join the Columbus Blue Jackets system, Ryan Moore will be back for his overage season along with Dallas Stars prospect Nicholas Caamano. However, one player that will be worth watching on a nightly basis is Ty Dellandrea, as he should have an impressive sophomore season.
With that said, the Firebirds defensive depth and goaltending situation looks slightly worrying. That might need to be addressed if they want to return to the playoffs once again.
Hamilton Bulldogs – 33-27-4-4 – 4th in East Division – 5th in Eastern Conference
Although their dreams of getting the 2018 Memorial Cup didn’t come true, the Bulldogs had a pretty successful second season in Hamilton and almost won their first ever playoff series before falling in overtime to the Kingston Frontenacs in Game 7.
The Bulldogs have a pretty solid base as they move forward. Although Matt Luff may end up joining the Los Angeles Kings system, they will have Will Bitten returning after picking him up in a trade with Flint at the start of the year.
Matthew Strome, Brandon Saigeon, MacKenzie Entwistle and Connor Roberts will also be among the major contributors on offence, while the defence will feature Justin Lemcke and Benjamin Gleason as the main anchors. If Kaden Fulcher can shoulder the load as a starting netminder, this might be one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference next season.
Kitchener Rangers – 36-27-3-2 – 4th in Midwest Division – 6th in Western Conference
I thought this team would be higher up in the standings in the Western Conference but that certainly wasn’t the case, especially after they dealt Jeremy Bracco to the Windsor Spitfires.
Despite that, this is a team that I really think could make some noise next season, although the goaltending position does look to be a bit of a question mark if St. Louis Blues prospect Luke Opilka doesn’t come back for an overage season.
Nevertheless, the amount of firepower the Rangers have is impressive with the likes of Adam Mascherin, Connor Bunnaman, Joseph Garreffa and Greg Meireles. My brother would tell you that their defence is usually swiss cheese, especially after giving up 71 shots to the Owen Sound Attack in the playoffs, but the likes of Connor Hall, Elijah Roberts and Giovanni Vallati should make next year’s blueline a fairly solid one.
Windsor Spitfires – 41-19-5-3 – 2nd in West Division – 5th in Western Conference
Like the Saskatoon Blades in 2013 and the Regina Pats in 2001, the Spitfires will now have to play a waiting game before they take to the ice as the hosts for the Memorial Cup in May, as they were unable to put away the London Knights despite holding a 3-1 series lead.
We will discuss how the Spitfires will fare in that tournament another day, so let’s look at their future. They will be losing a lot of pieces from this year’s squad as Jeremiah Addison, Julius Nattinen, Graham Knott, Jeremy Bracco and Jalen Chatfield are among those graduating at year’s end. They will also have six overage players to try and figure out what to do with, though I expect Aaron Luchuk will be one of the three coming back.
There are some interesting pieces that can return, such as forwards Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi, defencemen Mikhail Sergachev, Sean Day and Logan Stanley plus goaltender Michael DiPietro. However, their overall depth is very worrisome, especially since their last two drafts aren’t look that stellar at the moment.
Let’s now make our way to the QMJHL, which saw one of the division champions get knocked out in rather surprising fashion.
Rimouski Oceanic – 26-35-6-1 – 6th in East Division – 16th in League
The Oceanic are still rebuilding a bit from their run to the league in 2015, with evidence from that coming when they traded captain Simon Bourque to the Saint John Sea Dogs
While they will be losing leading scorers Tyler Boland and Dylan Montcalm, the Oceanic still have a pretty interesting forward group coming back, especially since they were able to win the QMJHL draft lottery and have the chance to take highly touted forward Alexis Lafreniere first overall.
Thanks to the luck of the draw, the future of the Oceanic might have changed in a big way, especially with where they might end up in next year’s playoff picture.
Halifax Mooseheads – 27-35-3-3 – 5th in Maritime Division – 15th in League
With a talented trio of Benoit-Olivier Giroux, Nico Hischier and Jared McIsaac joining the ranks, the Mooseheads got off to a pretty solid start before almost fading out of the playoff mix, though they bounced back nicely by pushing the defending QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a six-game battle in the first round.
This is still a pretty young team with a ton of talent coming into next season, which will be helped by the return of leading scorer Maxime Fortier for his overage campaign. Hischier’s status will be up in the air depending on what happens at the NHL Draft in June, but the pieces are there for the Mooseheads to make some noise next year as they look to be the hosts for the Memorial Cup in 2019.
Baie-Comeau Drakkar – 26-32-6-4 – 5th in East Division – 13th in League
After finishing last in the league a year ago, the Drakkar had a nice bounce-back season in 2016-17, thanks in large part to a number of talented young players.
Thanks to many of their key players returning, mainly leading scorers Ivan Chekhovich, Jordan Martel and D’Artagnan Joly, this is a team that might be a nice middle of the pack sleeper for next season. Also keep an eye out for blueliner Xavier Bouchard, who had 34 points in his rookie campaign and is eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft.
Drummondville Voltigeurs – 28-34-1-5 – 4th in West Division – 12th in League
The first season with Dominque Ducharme in charge of the team saw them in about the same spot that they were a year ago, especially after dealing away some top players in Alex Barre-Coulet, Frederic Aube and Joey Rattelle.
While there are some interesting pieces coming back, such as Mathieu Sevigny and Pavel Koltygin up front along with blueliner Nicolas Beaudin, all signs point for another finish in the teens for the Voltigeurs next year.
Quebec Remparts – 31-30-4-3 – 4th in East Division – 11th in League
Granted, they were probably not going to go all that far after trading away starting goaltender Callum Booth to the Saint John Sea Dogs, but this is the third time in the last four years that the Remparts have been knocked out in the first round. In that time, the only exception to that rule came in 2015 when they lost the league final to Rimouski on their way to a semifinal result as Memorial Cup hosts.
There’s a lot of decent young talent on this team, with two of the stand-out guys for me being forward Philipp Kurashev and goaltender Dereck Baribeau, which puts the Remparts in a good opportunity to make some noise in the coming seasons. I’m not sure if they’ll make it out of the first round next year yet, but they might have home ice advantage if all goes well.
Gatineau Olympiques – 33-3-4-0 – 3rd in West Division – 10th in League
The first half of the Olympiques season wasn’t very good as they got off to a rough start and (coaching change). After that, thing turned around in a hurry for Gatineau as they rocketed up the standings and were an overtime goal away from erasing a 3-0 series deficit against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
At the moment, the Olympiques look to be a team that might struggle a bit next year as they have a fairly young looking team. However, they do a massive trade chip in their back pocket if they happen to struggle, as Columbus Blue Jackets prospect and QMJHL scoring champion Vitali Abramov will be back for his final junior season.
Victoriaville Tigres – 35-25-6-2 – 3rd in East Division – 9th in League
This is the fourth straight playoff loss for the Tigres in the first round, and I was really surprised that they ended up losing in a sweep to Chicoutimi as I expected that series to last a lot longer than it did.
With that said, I think the Tigres should end that streak next season. They have a really strong group of forwards that can come back with James Phelan, Ivan Kosorenkov, Felix Lauzon, Pascal Laberge and potential top-ten pick Maxime Comtois all eligible to return.
The back-end is pretty solid as well, and it might end being strengthened during the course of the campaign, which makes this side one of the teams to watch come next season.
Shawinigan Cataractes – 42-20-4-2 – 1st in East Division – 3rd in League
Despite not getting Anthony Beauvillier back from the New York Islanders, last year’s runner-up finishers had another great campaign and looked set to make some noise in the playoffs, only to be stunned by a Val-d’Or squad that themselves were upset by a much lower seeded Blainville-Boisbriand in the first round 12 months ago.
Although top scorers Alexis D’Aoust and Dennis Yan will both be moving on, the Cataractes to have some good returning pieces coming back, especially in high-scoring blueliner Samuel Girard.
I suspect there will be a bit of a drop-off after the last couple of seasons, but Shawinigan might be able to get some assets to help them out thanks to an abundance of overage players on the roster.
To finish things out, we head to the Western Hockey League where a team that made a major splash with trades during the regular season sputtered out of the post-season mix much earlier than they would have hoped.
Calgary Hitmen – 30-32-8-2 – 4th in Central Division – 8th in Eastern Conference
At the start of the season, I thought this team would struggled a bit on defence while scoring a lot of goals. While they did have a tough time slowing down other offences, the Hitmen had a harder time finding the back of the net and that proved to be a major problem.
While it’s unclear if Matteo Gennaro (who had an excellent second half) will be moving on to the Winnipeg Jets organization, there are still a number of strong forwards that will be back. Beck Malenstyn, Jake Kryski and Mark Kastelic should lead the way, while there is also a chance that Jakob Stukel could return before moving on to the Vancouver Canucks system.
However, the defensive side of things really worries me. If things don’t go well there and Calgary is scratching and clawing to try and make the playoffs again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they deal away Carolina Hurricanes first round pick Jake Bean at the trade deadline.
Brandon Wheat Kings – 31-31-7-3 – 4th in East Division – 7th in Eastern Conference
It was a new era off the ice for the defending WHL champions as Kelly McCrimmon joined the Las Vegas Golden Knights, but it was also a much different season on the ice as well as Ivan Provorov made the Philadelphia Flyers, Jordan Papirny was dealt to the Swift Current Broncos and Nolan Patrick missed a ton of time due to injuries.
While the Wheat Kings will be losing Reid Duke to the Golden Knights and Patrick’s status won’t really be known until after he’s drafted, they still have a number of good weapons on offence with Ty Lewis, Tanner Kaspick and Stelio Mattheos leading the way. Kale Clague will again lead the way on defence, although he might be another name bandied about in trade deadline chats.
One thing that is worth keeping an eye on however is in goal. The Wheat Kings have two overagers in Travis Child and Logan Thompson that will look to be the starter, while a number of prospects are waiting in the wings for the other spot on the team.
Victoria Royals – 37-29-5-1 – 4th in BC Division – 8th in Western Conference
While I’m sure everyone’s still recovering from their quintuple overtime loss to Everett in Game 6, the Royals did a pretty good job in a tough BC Division this year, especially when losing guys like Joe Hicketts and Coleman Volrath to graduation
Once again, the Royals should have a really dynamic forward group, even if Tyler Soy ends up making the Anaheim Ducks system. Matthew Phillips will be the headline attraction, but guys like Dante Hannoun and Ryan Peckford will also do some damage.
I’m not totally convinced on the defence as of yet, but Griffen Outhouse should have another solid season in goal as the Royals try to make some noise in what looks to be another tightly contested battle out West.
Red Deer Rebels – 30-29-9-4 – 3rd in Central Division – 6th in Eastern Conference
Shortly after their big blockbuster trade deadline deal that saw Josh Mahura head to the Regina Pats, the Rebels just about fell off a cliff and nearly missed out on making the playoffs before just about upsetting the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round. Hockey sure is a strange sport.
Last year’s Memorial Cup hosts will be losing quite a bit from this year’s squad, as Michael Spacek, Evan Polei and Adam Musil are all moving on. However, they had a pretty solid one-two punch coming back on offence in Brandon Hagel and Lane Zablocki, who was the key piece coming back in the Mahura trade.
I suspect the Rebels will strengthen their overagers before the season begins, but they also have some nice younger pieces coming back. If they all mesh well, they might be in the wild card mix in the Eastern Conference.
Tri-City Americans – 41-28-3-0 – 3rd in US Division – 6th in Western Conference
The Americans were right in the mix in the US Division and probably were deserving of a better fate in the playoffs, especially with losing Michael Rasmussen due to an injury in the final weeks of the regular season.
Although they will lose Tyler Sandhu, Parker Wotherspoon and Rylan Parenteau, this is a team that I’m really high on when it comes to the 2017-18 season, especially when it comes to their forwards.
Morgan Geekie, Kyle Olson, Jordan Topping and Rasmussen all had over 50 points in scoring, while Parker Aucoin, Carson Focht and incoming prospect Sasha Mutala will all be key cogs in the offence.
The defence has an excellent one-two punch in Juuso Valimaki and Dylan Coghlan, while either Evan Sarthou or Beck Warm can get the job done in goal. Their might need to be some extra depth on defence to be a legit title threat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Tri-City ends up being my pick to win the US Division prior to the start of the campaign.
Kamloops Blazers – 42-24-2-4 – 3rd in BC Division – 5th in Western Conference
Speaking of teams that were in crazy good divisions, the Blazers just about finished at the top of standings in BC but ended up having some tough luck again against the Kelowna Rockets in the opening round.
There will be a number of key players moving on, such as Devan Sideroff and Colin Shirley, but the biggest loss will be Connor Ingram who had yet another great campaign for the Blazers and also won a silver medal at the World Juniors for Canada.
Dylan Ferguson, who got a lot of time in goal while Ingram wasn’t in the lineup this year, will help to shoulder that load as the Blazers still have some key veterans coming back in Garrett Pilon and Joe Gatenby that will help to lead the way.
The emergence of the younger players on the Blazers roster, which includes Jackson Shepard and Luke Zazula, will be a key part in helping the team keep up their recent strong results in the standings. Another player that may help in that is 2016 first round pick Massimo Rizzo, though it appears the highly-touted forward is slated to suit up for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees next fall.
Moose Jaw Warriors – 42-21-8-1 – 2nd in East Division – 4th in Eastern Conference
Even with Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point moving on, the Warriors put together another solid season this year and kept pace with the Regina Pats throughout the campaign before falling in a tightly-contest seven game series to the Swift Current Broncos, which was a much earlier exit than the team had hoped for given some of the moves they had made.
The overage situation is worth keeping an eye on as forwards Jayden Halbgewachs, Brayden Burke and Tanner Jeannot can all come back, along with starting netminder Zach Sawchenko. A lot of this may depend on if any of them, in particular Sawchenko, gets selected at the NHL Draft in June, but this will be interesting to see how that will play out going forward.
The Warriors have a pretty solid group of guys that will be coming back next season, with Brett Howden and Noah Gregor being the key cogs on offence in addition to potential breakout players Justin Almedia and Luka Burzan. Josh Brook and Jett Woo are an excellent young one-two punch on the blueline, while Sawchenko or Brody Willms will have good numbers as the starting goaltender depending on how things play out.
With the extra hunger of an early first round exit, the Warriors should be among the pre-season favourites in the East, but how they fare may depend on what their archrivals in Regina do as they prepare to host the Memorial Cup.
Prince George Cougars – 45-21-3-3 – 1st in BC Division – 2nd in Western Conference
Speaking of strong seasons that ended earlier than hoped, the Cougars campaign will be one that will be long talked about. After an excellent start that saw them beat the Pats at home and earn the number one ranking in the country, the Cougars made what felt like a million trades to strength their side, but instead they struggled at times in the second half before an opening round loss to the Portland Winterhawks.
After going all-in, the Cougars will be losing quite a lot of big guns to graduation as Jansen Harkins, Jesse Gabrielle, Colby McAuley, Radovan Bondra, Brendan Guhle, Sam Ruopp and Ty Edmond are all moving on. That’s not even mentioning the six 1997-born players that they’ll have to whittle down to three before next season, and that number could move up to eight if Brad Morrison and Tate Olson don’t turn pro.
Despite all that, there will still be some good pieces that the Cougars will have on their roster next season. Nick McBride will more than likely be the overage starter in goal with top prospect Taylor Gauthier waiting in the wings and there’s a good trio of 1998-born forwards that can return in Nikita Popugaev, Kody McDonald and Josh Curtis.
With that said, a big drop-off is coming for the Cougars as they will have a lot of holes to fill, so it might be a little while before they have a legit chance to contend once again.