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CHL offers lots to look forward to in 2018-19

 

Though it seems just yesterday the Acadie-Bathurst Titan were being crowned 100th Memorial Cup champions in Regina, here we are again preparing for a new Canadian Hockey League season.

Last year we saw the QMJHL produce it’s first Memorial Cup champ since 2013, a Hamilton Bulldogs club win an OHL title in just its third year of operation and one of the WHL’s small-town success stories in the Swift Current Broncos capture a league championship for the first time since 1993.

Now it’s time to get the fun started all over again beginning tonight in Saginaw, Mich., when an up-and-coming Spirit team opens the CHL calendar on home ice against the defending Western Conference champion Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The Ontario Hockey League landscape remains somewhat uncertain with the final destinations of league stars such as Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound/Montreal), Robert Thomas (Hamilton/St. Louis) and Alex Formenton (London/Ottawa) hanging in the balance, but early season ice presents fresh opportunities for players eager to make an impression.

After Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips) reigned supreme for three straight seasons in the WHL, Windsor Spitfires netminder Michael DiPietro looks to take the torch as the CHL’s premier netminder, eyeing an opportunity to represent Canada’s World Juniors in Vancouver this Christmas. A third round pick by the Canucks in 2017, DiPietro will get a look from the NHL club after making Canada’s IIHF World Championship roster alongside NHL stars this past May.

While DiPietro looks to backstop a young Spits team to success, their Western Conference rival the London Knights are on the warpath again, potentially boasting two top-10 NHL selections on the blue line in captain Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers) and incoming Swedish talent Adam Boqvist (Chicago Blackhawks). The Knights could also benefit from the return of the aforementioned Formenton while depending on a developing group of high-ceiling forwards up front.

Elsewhere in the OHL, 2018 first overall selection Quinton Byfield comes off an impressive pre-season with the Sudbury Wolves, recording nine points (3-6–9) in five games while playing alongside another former top selection in David Levin.

The Sarnia Sting prepare for life after defending OHL Player of the Year Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues) and embark on their 25th season Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie. The Sting are powered by Hlinka Gretzky Cup standout Jamieson Rees who looks to put forth a strong showing in his draft eligible season. Additionally, the Sting join the Oshawa Generals as one of the OHL’s two hosts for November’s CIBC Canada Russia Series on November 8th and 12th respectively.

It’s a special year in the QMJHL as the defending champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan open the league’s 50th season on home ice Thursday against the Moncton Wildcats.

The Titan said goodbye to a few familiar names in Antoine Morand and Jordan Maher (Halifax Mooseheads) as well as Justin Ducharme (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) over the offseason while graduating leaders in Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, Adam Holwell and Olivier Galipeau have also moved on. New York Islanders prospect Noah Dobson remains with the big club in training camp and it remains to be seen if he’ll start the season in the NHL. Though the lineup on the ice will be markedly different, Titan fans will always remember the tremendous accomplishment as their club will forever be known as 100th Memorial Cup champions.

The man everyone is talking about, Rimouski Oceanic star Alexis Lafreniere returns for a sophomore season after earning QMJHL and CHL Rookie of the Year honours with 80 points (42-38–80) in 60 games as a 16-year-old. He continued his strong play at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer, leading Canada to gold with six points (4-2–6) in five contests. Lafreniere isn’t NHL Draft eligible until 2020 but he has plenty to play for, powering an Oceanic club that is expected to be highly competitive this season.

While things remain eventful off the ice with the unveiling of the brand new QMJHL Foundation that will enable the league to award study grants so players can better pursue higher education, there’s lots to be excited about on the upcoming schedule.

The Sherbrooke Phoenix (Nov. 13) and Drummondville Voltigeurs (Nov. 15) will serve as hosts for the CIBC Canada Russia Series before the QMJHL hosts its third Winter Classic at the St. Tite Fairgrounds on February 8th and 9th. Celebrating their 50th anniversary season, the Shawinigan Cataractes will play host to the Quebec Remparts and Rimouski Oceanic in an event that is highly anticipated throughout the league.

One shouldn’t forget the big dance either. The 2019 Memorial Cup will be held in Halifax, Nova Scotia from May 16-26. The host Mooseheads enter their 25th season and are an early-season favourite to contend for a QMJHL title, boasting NHL prospects in Morand (Anaheim Ducks), Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Anaheim Ducks), Jared McIsaac (Detroit Red Wings) and Jake Ryczek (Chicago Blackhawks) among others.

The Western Hockey League will fire things up on Friday night with eight games on the Opening Night schedule. The defending champion Swift Current Broncos headline the proceedings with their home opener against the Saskatoon Blades as they raise their 2018 WHL Championship banner prior to puck drop.

It’s an exciting year for the WHL ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft as several young names are making waves. The Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold medal core of Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades), Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), Peyton Krebs (Kootenay ICE), Matthew Robertson (Edmonton Oil Kings) and Josh Williams (Medicine Hat Tigers) has insiders talking ahead of the release of NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch List.

Though pre-season results should be treated as a small glimpse of what could be in store, the offensive outbreak of Victoria Royals winger D-Jay Jerome shouldn’t be overlooked. After recording just one assist in 44 games between Prince Albert and Victoria last season, the 18-year-old racked up 10 points (5-5–10) over five games with 18 shots on goal. He joined Seattle Thunderbirds 2018 CHL Import Draft addition Andrej Kukuca (4-5–9), Saskatoon’s Michael Farren (3-6–9) and Calgary’s Mark Kastelic (3-6–9) atop the league leaderboard while Spokane rookie Adam Beckman led in pre-season goals with six in as many games.

Though the WHL produced nine different 100-point scorers last season, several of those names aren’t expected to be back with the likes of Jayden Halbgewachs (San Jose Sharks), Glenn Gawdin (Calgary Flames), Aleksi Heponiemi (Finnish Elite League), Brayden Burke (Arizona Coyotes) and Matthew Phillips (Calgary Flames) moving on. It’s all about the young guns in the ‘W’ this season and that should give fans and NHL scouts plenty to be excited about.

The 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game comes to Red Deer, Alberta on January 23rd. After serving as host of a highly entertaining Memorial Cup in 2016, the Rebels open the doors to a premier Canadian Hockey League event once again as 40 of the top NHL Draft eligible prospects from coast-to-coast give it their all before hundreds of scouts and management staff.

These are just a few of the big events and prominent storylines headed into he 2018-19 CHL campaign getting underway this week. For full coverage of our favourite teams, players and NHL prospects throughout the season, be sure to visit the CHL, OHL, QMJHL and WHL for stories, stats and more!

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