Top 20 CHL players

About one month into the 2013-14 Canadian Hockey League season, the cream is already rising to the top. Several rookies are showing their talent early, plus there are a few surprises standing out among second- and third-year players. But mostly, the players who have been the best performers in the CHL’s three leagues (Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) are either draft eligible in 2014 or first or second round selections from either the 2012 or 2013 NHL Entry Draft. There are two exceptions: Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid, who is a top player in the CHL right now, but will not be eligible for the NHL draft until 2015, and Mathew Barzal, who will be draft eligible at the same time.

The following list of top 20 players from all three leagues may look a bit different from ones you might see elsewhere, because when looking at the stats for forwards, I have adjusted for “pile-on scoring”, where players continue to add on points, even though the game is no longer a real contest, having analyzed every point each player has posted to determine its importance to his team. Additionally, defensive blueliners have been judged more on skating, positioning, and puck distribution, and goaltenders considered based at least in part on how many shots they are facing each night, as well as the quality of the defense in front of them. Players must have appeared in at least 10 games to be included on this list, and those born in 1993 (almost all of these players are free agents) are not included. This is not an ultimate ranking of who the best and worst future NHL players will be, but a list of which top CHL prospects have gotten off to the best starts through the first month of play.

Statistics are through October 23, 2013

1. Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Reinhart is a consistent scorer on a very mediocre WHL team. Currently fourth in league scoring, he has seven goals and 16 assists in 13 games, posting numbers in every game but two. The go-to playmaker on his team, Reinhart has two game-winning goals, and all but two of his points were posted while the game was still on the line.

2. Connor McDavid, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2015

There are higher scorers in the his league (including teammate Connor Brown), but the cream of the OHL crop is McDavid (five goals, 18 assists in 13 games). He makes the plays on his team, contributes in all situations, and is far and away the player to watch in the 2015 draft. Arguably, McDavid could be number one on this list, but Reinhart has posted a higher effective points per game. Either way, both Reinhart and McDavid are the two outstanding NHL prospects who have played in the CHL this season.

3. Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Ekblad is a defenseman on one of the worst teams in the OHL, yet he has posted decent numbers early this season. His skating, vision, pro shot, and ability to distribute the puck have him fighting for the first overall pick in this coming June’s NHL draft. Through 11 games, Ekblad has posted eight points (four goals, four assists) and is 12th in scoring among OHL defensemen.

4. Emile Poirier, LW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Draft Status: Calgary, first round (#22 overall) 2013

It may be somewhat of a surprise that Poirier is listed this high given some of the other high scorers in the CHL, but Poirier is thus far the most effective player in the Q. He has recorded four game-winning goals in the last three weeks. Poirier plays in all situations (he already has one short-handed goal), and can fight, if necessary. Poirier has posted points in 11 of the 13 games in which he has appeared, including all of the Olympiques October contests, and was recognized by the league as its First Star for the week of September 30th.

5. Anthony Mantha, RW, Val-D’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Draft Status: Detroit, first round (20th overall) 2012

We all know the Red Wings’ record of selecting winners as draft picks, but no one could have predicted Mantha’s start to the 2013-14 season. On pace to a 150-point-plus CHL season, Mantha is pacing the three leagues in points (35 points in 13 games), which led him to be named CHL Player of the Week.

6. Oscar Dansk, G, Erie Otters (OHL)
Draft Status: Columbus, second round (31st overall) 2012

Dansk was the third netminder selected early in the 2012 draft, after Andrey Vasilevski and Malcolm Subban (many teams had him above Subban on their list). Although his 2012-13 rookie CHL season was a difficult one for Dansk, this season, at age 19, he has been very steady, taking the usually bottom-of-the-heap Otters to the top of the OHL standings. With two shutouts and a record of 9-1-1, expect Dansk to lead Erie far into the playoffs and to turn pro next fall.

7. Mathew Barzel, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2015

The Thunderbirds’ leading scorer, rookie WHL center Barzal is expected to be a very high draft pick in 2015. A playmaker extraordinaire, Barzal has top-notch vision, puck skill, and good speed. At 5’11” and still growing, he is very good at both ends of the ice, has posted 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 13 games this season and is expected to be one of the top players in the WHL next year.

8. Darnell Nurse, D, Saulte St. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Draft Status: Edmonton, first round (seventh overall) 2013

Many thought that Nurse might be ready to stay with the big-league Oilers, but prior to the start of the NHL season, he was returned to the Soo. Big, mean, hard to play against, with a pro shot, Nurse should dominate in the OHL. Already off to a noticeable start in his first 11 games (one goal, 10 assists, 20 PIMs), the Greyhounds are expecting a lot from Nurse in his third and likely final major junior season.

9. Shea Theodore, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Draft Status: Anaheim, first round (26th overall) 2013

Another player who had the possibility of staying with his pro team, Theodore is contributing greatly to the Thunderbird offense from the blue line since his return to major junior hockey. In 11 games, Theodore has posted 14 points (five goals, nine assists). A totally different kind of defenseman than Nurse, Theodore is an excellent puck distributor with an offensive touch. With very good vision and a great release, Theodore should be the talk of the WHL as far as defensemen as the season moves along.

10. Michael Dal Colle, LW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

A good-sized winger who can pass, skate, and distribute the puck well, Dal Colle is not afraid of physical contact and is excellent along the boards. Currently first on the Generals in scoring (19 points in 12 games), Dal Colle is likely to be a top-10 selection in this summer’s draft.

11. Leon Draisaitl, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

The Raiders’ leading scorer (19 points in 14 games), Draisaitl is a big reason that Prince Albert is one of the best teams in the WHL. With good power and size, as well as hockey smarts, Draisaitl is expected to be selected in the top half of the first round in Philadelphia this coming June.

12. Roland McKeown, D, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

An excellent defenseman, able to play well in both ends of the ice, McKeown is quickly moving up the NHL teams’ lists of potential draftees for 2014. McKeown has decent size and speed, and excellent positioning, and can contribute to the offense, too. Through 11 games, he has posted nine points (two goals, seven assists) with a plus/minus rating of +21.

13. Brendan Perlini, LW, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Perlini is second overall in OHL scoring with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 12 games. The thing that is so intriguing about Perlini is how he makes those points count. He generally does not score when the game is out of reach, either for or against the Ice Dogs. He makes heady plays and has scored two game-winning goals this month. Not usually mentioned as a first round pick in this coming draft, he is starting to garner more attention. Don’t be surprised if before the spring comes, he sneaks into the top 10 in the scouting services’ rankings.

14. Sergey Tolchinsky, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Draft Status: Signed as a free agent by Carolina, August 2013

Completely passed over in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Tolchinsky, who had an excellent last season, was invited to the New York Rangers development camp and was very impressive there. Tolchinsky moved on to development camp in Carolina, where he wowed them even more and the Hurricanes quickly signed him. The diminutive Tolchinsky has continued to impress back in the OHL, posting 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 12 games.

15. Morgan Klimchuk, LW, Regina Pats (WHL)
Draft Status: Calgary, first round (28th overall) 2013

Klimchuk is not a sexy choice for a top-20 player in the CHL; he does not play on a team that is tearing up the league (Regina is right in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference) and he is not doing anything outstanding. What he does do is solidly contribute to every game. Currently leading the Pats in scoring (six goals, 12 assists in 13 games), Klimchuk is particularly effective on the power play.

16. Nick Ritchie, LW, Peterborough Petes(OHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Not one of the top scorers in the league, Ritchie is, however, an elite level NHL prospect. A big winger (6’3″, 235 pounds), Ritchie plays for the Petes, one of the mid-level OHL teams that has no high-scoring offense-only forward. Expected to be a power forward in the NHL, Ritchie has recorded 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 11 games.

17. Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

A late 1995, Barbashev has put up good numbers (18 points in 14 games) with hard work and offensive opportunism as his best attributes. He needs to work on his faceoffs as well as his defensive zone coverage. However, the good-sized Barbashev has the potential to be a top-six NHL forward.

18. Scott Kasmachuk, RW, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Draft Status: Winnipeg, third round (70th overall) 2012

All players can get hot for a period of time, and Kosmachuk is certainly hot, with at least one goal in each of the Storm’s last five games, including three game winners in the last two weeks. But he is more than that. A scoring winger, who is not afraid to drop the gloves, Kosmachuk’s stock as an NHL prospect has been moving up quickly over the last two months.

19. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current (WHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Currently second among all WHL defensemen in scoring, Honka is a CHL rookie, and was recently named WHL Player of the Week. A speedy blueliner who thinks offense first, Honka is catching the eye of NHL scouts with his 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 15 games on a very mediocre CHL team.

20. Nickolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Draft Status: Draft Eligible 2014

Ehlers is a rookie winger who is making a splash with the Mooseheads early this season. The top-scoring first-year player in the league (18 points in 17 games), as well as on his team, Ehlers is forcing NHL scouts to take a long look at him.

2015 NHL draft-eligible players to watch

In addition to McDavid and Barzal, there are several CHL players to watch who will not be NHL draft eligible until 2015. A short list includes:

Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Fronts (OHL)
Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Nick Merkley, C, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Jeremy Roy, D. Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Matt Spencer, D, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Daniel Sprong, RW, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)

Leslie Treff covers professional and amateur scouting for Hockey Prospectus.

Treff

Follow Leslie on Twitter at @HFNYRangers.

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