CHL Season Preview
It is no secret that the Canadian Hockey League is the foremost breeding ground for NHL talent. In the 2005 NHL Entry draft, 17 players from the CHL were taken in the 1st round alone. In the top ten draft selections, 7 came from the CHL including the top prospect in the world, Sidney Crosby. Thankfully, the NHL and hockey fans will see more great talent to come from this very entertaining league.For those who are unfamiliar with the CHL, it is divided up into 3 separate leagues. The Ontario Hockey League, The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. For Americans who think that they cannot see this type of hockey, you need to go no further then the Erie Otters of Pennsylvania, Plymouth Whalers of Michigan, Lewiston MAINEiacs of Maine, Tri-City Americans of Kennewick Washington, Spokane Chiefs of Washington, Seattle Thunderbirds of Washington, Everett Silvertips of Washington and Portland Winter-Hawks of Oregon.
Here is a look at the teams and players to watch in their respective leagues this year.
Ontario Hockey League
Team to watch: Kitchener Rangers
Even with the losses of Mike Richards to the Philadelphia Flyers and overage player Andre Benoit, they still have numerous NHL draftees that will make the Rangers the team to beat in the OHL. Goalie Dan Turple (ATL), defenseman Borin Valabik (ATL), Jakub Kindle (DET), Matt Lashoff (BOS), Mark Fraser (NJ), forwards Evan McGrath (DET), Patrick Davis (NJ), Jean Michel Rizk (MIN) and Ryan Donally (CAL) round out a team that boasts strength, size, speed and a very impressive defense corps. Another bonus is the London Knights powerhouse lost a lot of spark due to departures by Corey Perry (ANA) Danny Svret (EDM) Dan Fritche (CLB) and Marc Methot (CLB).
Player to watch: John Taveres, Oshawa Generals
Drafted first overall pick by the Oshawa Generals in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection Draft, the Oakville native measures a bulky 6’1”, 180lbs and just recently turned 15. The OHL actually made an exception for Tavares to enter the draft as an exceptional player as the OHL prefers to draft 15 year olds or older at draft time. The seed of high expectation has already been planted on Tavares’ shoulders to become the savior of the Generals and the next big prospect since Sidney Crosby.
After a stellar season with the minor midget Toronto Marlboros (GTHL) scoring 91 goals, 67 assists for 158 points and 62 penalty minutes in 72 games, it was quite evident that Tavares was in a league of his own. He then went on and played with the tier 2 Junior A Milton IceHawks playing with 17 and 18 year olds scoring 13 goals and 15 assists in 20 games. This young player has already been compared to Mike Bossy. He will see plenty of ice team on a team that finished last in the league in 2004-2005.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Team to Watch: Chicoutimi Sagueneens
With the departure of Sidney Crosby (PIT), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (EDM), Dany Roussin (LA) and Dany Stewart (MTL(in doubt)), Rimouski will be pressed to compete leaving the door open for the Saugueneens. Top QMJHL goalie Alexandre Vincent (VAN) will backstop a mediocre defense but will allow Marek Zagrappan (BUF) and Haitian born Maxime Boisclair to outshoot and out score the competition on a very offensive team. Of note, Chicoutimi was the only team that gave Crosby’s Oceanic any real opposition last year. Lewiston MAINEacs and Moncton Wildcats will also contend.
Player to Watch: Guillaume Latendresse, Drummondville Voltguers
Sorry Hab fans. I really don’t think this talented prospect will make the team based on his age alone. He may deserve a spot but Gainey will surely like to see him play a lot of minutes back in Drummondville. He is a prolific power forward that will likely up is point a game average. The 6’2 222 lbs machine will play in his last season in the QMJHL and likely make the jump to the NHL if he continues with his progress.
Western Hockey League
Team to Watch: Kelowna Rockets
The winner of the WHL title last year looks poised to conquer the WHL this year in an extremely competitive B.C. division. Defense is the soul of this team and Matt Card (BUF) and Kyle *****iskey (COL) will anchor a solid defense rounded out by Alex Edler (VAN) and Tysen Dowzak. Goaltending once again will be solid with Kristofer Westblom (MIN) battling it out with Derek Yeomans for the number one role. Prince Albert Raiders, Saskatoon Blades and the Brandon Wheat Kings will all be strong contenders.
Player to Watch: Tyler Plante, Brandon Wheat Kings
This Florida draft pick played a stellar rookie season winning the rookie of the year and leading the Wheat Kings to their 3rd Eastern Division title in four years. Look for him to improve on his league best 2.58 GAA and battle Cary Price for the Del Wilson Trophy (top goaltender). Plante will be looked upon to lead the Wheat kings back into the playoffs for a run at the memorial cup.
The greatest aspect of the CHL is its extreme difficulty to tell which team will do really well or very poor. Just because a team may have a lot of rookies on a team, does not make it a rebuilding team in a league that has such a huge turnover in players. Anyone who can see a CHL game, I strongly encourage you to do so. For around $15 Cdn, you can get excellent seats and watch the future talent of hockey competing for a scout’s favor.