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CHL graduates making memories in the NHL

 

The 2018-19 NHL season is a week old, but already we’ve seen recent CHL graduates making their mark in the big show.

A total of 13 players who skated in the Canadian Hockey League last year have made their NHL debut, seven of which would be eligible to return to the CHL ranks this season without occupying an overage spot.

With the NHL getting seemingly younger and faster with each passing season, doors have opened up for some of the CHL’s high-end grads to make the jump to the pro ranks even sooner than they had before.

In Anaheim, former Victoriaville Tigres forward Maxime Comtois has helped the Ducks battle through an injury to fellow CHL grad Corey Perry (London Knights) while they also remain without the services of winger Nick Ritchie (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) who is at an impasse with the club on contract negotiations.

Comtois, who was acquired by the Drummondville Voltigeurs this past summer, scored in his NHL debut last Wednesday. The power winger helped Anaheim defeat San Jose 5-2 and scored the lone goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Arizona. He picked up an assist and seven hits in Monday’s 3-2 win over Detroit.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if you said that to me before the game,” Comtois told the Orange County Register’s Elliott Teaford following his NHL debut that netted him his first goal. “I’m really happy to get this one out of the way and it’s good for the confidence.”

Also impressive, Barrie Colts graduate Andrei Svechnikov, the second overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, has four points (2-2–4) in as many games with the Carolina Hurricanes.

After being held pointless in his debut, Svechnikov has found the scoresheet in each of his last three games, picking up a goal and an assist in an 8-5 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday before striking for a goal in Monday’s 5-3 victory over Vancouver.

Svechnikov’s first career goal on Sunday made him the first 2000-born player to ever score a goal in the NHL.

“I wait for this my whole life,” said the smiling Russian winger after the game. “That’s my dream, to score first goal in the NHL.”

On the blue line, a pair of former Portland Winterhawks made a big splash this past week. Dennis Cholowski scored in his NHL debut for the Detroit Red Wings. The former first round pick lit the lamp last Thursday against Columbus and tacked on two assists in Sunday’s loss to Los Angeles.

Cholowski, who is playing in Detroit alongside a fellow U.S. Division graduate in Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City Americans), has seen regular minutes on a young blue line, playing roughly 20 minutes in each of his three contests.

“It’s good for young guys to be in the game, to get to experience the NHL level,” Cholowski said of his debut experience alongside a host of other first-timers. “It was fun, there were lots of us out there buzzing around having fun.

“It was a little bit quicker than a pre-season. It’s regular season and everybody wants to win now.”

Henri Jokiharju has taken the Windy City by storm. The Finnish blueliner who earned Player of the Game honours at the 2017 Sherwin Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game has five assists in three contests. The 19-year-old collected two helpers in Saturday’s 5-4 win over St. Louis before picking up three assists in Sunday’s 7-6 loss to Toronto.

Jokiharju, who is eligible to return to the CHL this season, has made a favourable impression on Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.

“I like his competitiveness. I like his poise and patience for a youngster,” Quenneville said following Saturday’s win over St. Louis. “He’s only going to get better in how he’s going to read situations, play around his net in his own end. But I like how he wants the puck. He really has good patience and good play-recognition.”

Another name that was prominent in the WHL over the past few seasons, former Moose Jaw Warriors captain Brett Howden scored his first NHL marker on Saturday. The New York Rangers forward added an assist in Sunday’s 8-5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Other players from the 2017-18 CHL season to make their NHL debuts this past week have included Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Los Angeles Kings/Spokane Chiefs), Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers/London Knights), Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames/Kelowna Rockets), Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues/Sarnia Sting), Michael Rasmussen (Detroit Red Wings/Tri-City Americans), Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks/Regina Pats), Robert Thomas (St. Louis Blues/Hamilton Bulldogs) and Juuso Valimaki (Calgary Flames/Tri-City Americans). Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton (London Knights) and Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane Chiefs) made their pro debuts last season bringing the total number of 2018 CHL grads to 15 who are currently in the NHL.

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