With the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) playoffs now underway, I thought it would be wise to give you all a look into how the road to the Memorial Cup is going. Since the CHL (a parent organization that oversees all three of Canada’s major junior hockey leagues) was founded in 1975, it has always been thought to be a world-renowned prospect hotbed, that cultivates talent the likes of teams can build a franchise around.
This is a belief that still holds true today. No matter if teams decide to look to the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) to find future NHL talent, they have always been able to rely on the fact that every year there is at least a couple players from within the CHL that have the ability to become the next face of their franchise.
Connor Bedard- Regina Pats
Take the WHL, for instance. As I’m sure you have all heard by now, the consensus number-one overall pick in this upcoming draft, Connor Bedard, has been taking the hockey world by storm this season while playing for the Regina Pats. So much so that he finished the regular season with an incredible 71 goals and 72 assists for a total of 143 points in only 57 games played! Folks, if you do the math, that means Connor worked the rest of the WHL for an average of 2.69 points a game during the regular season.
So why would we expect anything less from him in the playoffs? Through just three games played in the playoffs, where his Pats have been taking on the Saskatoon Blades, Connor has scored six goals and five assists for 11 points. Talk about taking it to another level once the regular season is over. Guys, with those numbers, that means Bedard is not only averaging two goals a game right now, but he’s accumulating an unheard-of 3.67 points per game in the postseason. With that kind of production, it would surprise me if this young phenom is not leading his NHL club next season in pretty much all statical categories.
Dylan Ernst- Kamloops Blazers
Another prospect whose play this season has most likely gained him some exposure is goaltender Dylan Ernst of the Kamloops Blazers. During the regular season for the Blazers, Ernst was relied upon to be a workhorse. Playing in 53 games this year, Dylan was able to not only maintain a 2.69 goals against average and a 0.906 save percentage, but he was able to record a league-leading 38 wins as well.
And with Ernst used to carrying the Blazers on his back for most of the year, he saw no need to stop once they reached the postseason. Through three games played thus far against the Vancouver Giants, Dylan has won two by way of a shutout. Meaning through three games (where he has faced a combined 58 shots), he has only managed to let in one goal! This leaves him with a minuscule 0.33 goals against average right now, which he currently pairs with a 0.983 save percentage. WOW! Now, I don’t know how long his dominance will last, seeing that the Blazers are one of four undefeated teams right now who lead their opponents 3-0 in their respective series, but it should be entertaining to find out nonetheless.
Brandt Clarke- Barrie Colts
As exciting as the WHL has been to watch this year, we now turn our focus to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Where it, too, currently has four different clubs asserting their dominance over their first-round opponents. Yes, the Kitchener Rangers, the Sarnia Sting, the London Knights, and the Peterborough Petes all look destined to advance to the next round of the J. Ross Robinson Cup (OHL Championship). However, one player from the Barrie Colts, a team that is presently tied 2-2 right now in their series against last year’s champs, the Hamilton Bulldogs, has managed to stand out above anyone else playing in the OHL right now.
That player is none other than Brandt Clarke, an L.A. Kings first-round selection from back in 2021. Clarke is a highly coveted right-shot defender who is currently proving to be just as effective in the offensive zone as he is in the defensive. To prove that, you might be interested to know that Brandt is leading all playoff-caliber prospects in the OHL this postseason in assists with eight and total points with eleven (one of those points even being from him pulling off a successful Michigan goal). Not to mention that defensively Clarke is leading the league in plus-minus as well, with him being able to maintain a +8 average to this point.
Brandt, who is 20 years old, has already spent time this season playing in both the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League levels before being sent back down to Barrie. So, one would think with his age and the way he is playing currently, he will no doubt be turning pro next year. The only question is will it be with the Kings or their AHL affiliate, the Regin?
Alexis Gendron- Gatineau Olympiques
Last but certainly not least, we have the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), where three teams currently sit with a dominant 3-0 lead in their respective series. But, if you watch these matchups, you’ll notice one particular player that stands out above all the rest. His name is Alexis Gendron, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect who, believe it or not, was not taken until the seventh round last summer. What sparked his unexpected vault into becoming one of the elites of his league this season has left me confuddled, especially since he was nothing more than average the previous year. Still, I’m sure the fans of both the Olympiques and the Flyers right now aren’t questioning it too much, anyway. Scoring an astonishing 55 goals this season, as well as 35 more points than he did the season before, Gendron has undoubtedly made everyone involved sit up and take notice.
But Alexis is showing that he is not letting his newfound success go to his head as he leads all players in the QMJHL playoffs right now with five goals scored in just three games. Now, that is impressive, but what’s more amazing is that he has only had 14 shots on goal in those three games, so if you do the math, that means his shooting percentage right now is over 35%.
If Gendron keeps this kind of production up throughout the rest of the playoffs, there is no doubt in this writers’ mind that the Flyers’ new interim general manager Danny Briere will be waiting for him in his team’s locker room the minute they get off the ice for the final time this season with an entry-level contract in hand.
I know it’s still early in teams’ quest for the CHL’s Memorial Cup, but by reading this, I hope that I have sparked your interest in watching some of the great games going on right now throughout Canada’s major providences. For within every one of these playoff-caliber teams, you’ll find one, if not multiple, players that will soon be suiting up for an NHL franchise near you. So, why not get acquainted with them now?