The NHL playoffs began last night, but in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), we've already narrowed the field to a final four in each league - the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL. Below, some of the NHL prospects who stood out from a fantasy perspective. Because it's never too early to start salivating over the next fantasy hockey draft.
Western Hockey League (WHL)
The Medicine Hat Tigers emerged from game seven last night with a 4-1 victory over the Kootenay Ice. Unfortunately, that means Sam Reinhart (2014) is finished. He was held pointless and posted a minus-3 rating in the game, but he presently sits first in the league with 23 points in 13 playoff games. That won't last long though.
The final four is set: the Kelowna Rockets face the stacked Portland Winterhawks, while the Tigers take on the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Winterhawks currently boast four of the top 10 playoff scorers, including defenceman Derrick Pouliot (Penguins).
Both series commence Friday, April 18.
Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
Guelph ousted London 4-1, so the Storm boast an 8-2 record through two playoff rounds. They'll move on to play Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters (8-1 record) starting on Thursday. Guelph's leading scorer is Zack Mitchell (5+10=15 through 10 games). He's ancient by CHL standards (21) and shouldn't be on your fantasy radar, although he did sign a contract with the Wild in March, so good for him.
One Storm player who potentially should be on your radar is Scott Kosmachuk (6+6=12). He was the 70th pick in 2012 by the Winnipeg Jets, but this season his numbers took a huge jump. His 101 points placed him third in the OHL, and 49 goals made him the second-deadliest sniper, after Dane Fox of the Otters. Kosmachuk is 20 years old.
Another Storm player to watch is Robby Fabri (2014). Just named player of the week, Fabri has 5+4=9 in six games. Those numbers are right in line with the second-year centre's regular season totals (45+42=87 in 68). He's ranked 21st on CSS's final rankings of North American skaters.
I won't devote any space this week to the Otters stars: Fox, Brown, Gaunce, McDavid and Burakovsky - I expect to write a lot about them over the next few weeks. Needless to say, it should be a great series.
The other semi-final is between undefeated-in-the-playoffs Oshawa and 8-5 North Bay. I have a feeling the Generals are going to steamroll this one. North Bay doesn't have a lot of star power (correct me if I'm wrong), and I'm looking forward to seeing Oshawa's Michael Dal Colle maintain his strong play (5+11=16 in eight games).
Another Oshawa guy to watch is Hunter Smith (2014), a 6'7", 220 lb., 18-year-old right wing. Out of nowhere he had 40 points in 64 games this year after just two points in his previous two seasons (45 games combined), so I guess he learned how to move his giant legs or something. He moved up from 140th to 39th on Central Scouting's rankings between January and now -- the largest jump of any player. He has 11 points in eight playoff games so far. Guys with that size and a reasonable skill set are highly coveted in the NHL.
One more OHL note: although the London Knights were eliminated, they are hosting the Memorial Cup tournament, so they have a bye to the final four where they will join the winners of the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL playoffs.
Erie and Guelph kick things off Thursday, while North Bay and Oshawa face off Friday.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)
If you were waiting for Anthony Mantha (Red Wings) to show us the sniper form he usually displays in the regular season, you just had to wait until the second round. He's now tied for the league lead in playoff goals with 10 in 10 games (right on pace with his 57 in 57 regular season games - remarkably consistent), and his Val-d'Or Foreurs are moving on to face Halifax in the semi-final. The 20th pick in 2013, Mantha led all QMJHL players in goals and points (120). Although he is the highest-drafted Red Wing prospect in a while, I would expect him to cut his teeth with their AHL affiliate for at least next season, if not the next eight years per Detroit's usual prospect development plan.
The other player with 10 goals so far is Frédérick Gaudreau of the Drummondville Voltigeurs. I don't know whether he is related to Calgary Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau (anybody?), but his regular season numbers aren't overly impressive so this may have been simply an aberration. Anyway, his team was eliminated.
It goes without saying that Jonathan Drouin (Lightining) is tearing it up: nine goals and 18 assists in nine games for the Mooseheads. Teammate Nikolaj Ehlers (2014) is second in league scoring with 20 points. Ehlers was ranked 22nd at the mid-term and shot up to 13th in the final rankings. He hails from Denmark and had a fantastic rookie season, putting up 104 points. I guess the knock on him is he's not really big at 5'11". But I feel sometimes scouts put an arbitrary and artificial bisection at the 6'0" mark -- anyone above is "big," anyone below is "small." What's the difference between 5'11" and 6'0", really?
The other semi-final will feature the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL team names... could they make them any tougher for anglophones?). Charles Hudon (Canadiens) is pacing the Drakkar with 6+6=12 through eight games. I never understood his inclusion on Team Canada at the Word Juniors in 2013 over guys like Max Domi (QMJHL representation?). His numbers aren't impressive from a fantasy perspective - maybe he brings other qualities like "heart."
Both series get underway Friday, April 18.
I will pop in with another update either mid-way through the series or when they wrap up, before the finals.