With the 2019-20 campaign concluded, the Canadian Hockey League is reviewing many of this season’s top performers including defencemen who dominated.
Hoefenmayer headlines the back end
Modern defencemen must have the ability to generate offense from the back end. When it comes to Ottawa 67’s fifth-year blue-liner Noel Hoefenmayer, there is no shortage of creativity with the puck.
Skating in 58 contests this season, the 21-year-old set a new career high in notching 82 points to lead all CHL rearguards. Hoefenmayer is also the first 67’s defenceman to score 80 or more points in a season since Brian Campbell wrapped up the 1998-99 campaign with 12 goals and 75 assists. In all, the North York, Ont., native finished this season with 20 more points than a year ago despite skating in 10 fewer contests. Additionally, on 10 occasions this season Hoefenmayer finished with three or more points, including a three-goal effort that counted the overtime winner for a 5-4 victory versus the Hamilton Bulldogs coming in late October.
Across the circuit, other top scoring defencemen included San Jose Sharks first-round pick Ryan Merkley who proved to be a terrific fit with the London Knights as he wrapped up the season with a career high of 76 points. In the WHL, top scoring honours belonged to Lethbridge Hurricanes sophomore Alex Cotton, whose 67-point effort led league rearguards, helping him rank 118th among North American skaters ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft which will be his second year of eligibility. From the QMJHL, leading the way from the back end was Saint John Sea Dogs defender William Villeneuve who scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in finishing with nine goals and 49 assists through 64 appearances. Another 2020 NHL Draft eligible, Villeneuve sits 108th among North American blue-liners.
Regula provides the offense
No blue-liner found the back of the net more often this season than London Knights co-captain Alec Regula, who wrapped up 2019-20 with 27 tallies across 56 appearances.
In all, Regula finished the season with four multi-goal efforts including his first career hat-trick coming in a 5-3 decision versus the Guelph Storm in late February contest. Despite appearing in 10 fewer games than last season, Regula also outpaced last year’s 11-goal finish which when paired with his seven-goal rookie campaign brings him to an impressive 45 goals through 189 career contests in three seasons with the Knights. Originally selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Regula joined the Chicago Blackhawks in late October following a deal that made Niagara IceDogs graduate Brendan Perlini a member of the Red Wings.
Around the CHL, other top goal-scoring rearguards included Ottawa 67’s overager Noel Hoefenmayer who finished one back of Regula in recording 26 goals through 58 contests, while top honours in the WHL belonged to Jake Christiansen of the Everett Silvertips who needed just 38 games on the season to reach 22 goals, ultimately helping the undrafted 20-year-old land a three-year entry-level agreement with the Columbus Blue Jackets. From the QMJHL, 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Jeremie Poirier of the Saint John Sea Dogs impressed with a career high of 20 goals, doing so as a sophomore. Ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft, Poirier ranks 16th among North American skaters per NHL Central Scouting.
Merkley the playmaker
There is no shortage of skill when it comes to Ryan Merkley, the fourth-year OHL blue-liner and former first-overall pick from the 2016 OHL Priority Selection who concluded 2019-20 with 61 assists in only 60 appearances with the London Knights.
This season saw Merkley finish with 20 multi-point appearances as he continued to demonstrate the offensive flair that made him an intriguing first-round selection by the San Jose Sharks in 2018. The talented rearguard also got some time under the national spotlight this year in participating at the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series where he picked up two helpers in as many games representing Team OHL. In all, Merkley wraps up the season with career highs in a handful of major offensive categories including goals (15), assists (61), and points (76), as well as a plus-20 rating and three game-winning tallies.
Merkley’s production outpaced Ottawa 67’s defender Noel Hoefenmayer who finished with 56 assists in 58 games, who ultimately finished among the top two in goals, assists, and points for defencemen. In the WHL, topping the charts was Everett Silvertips fourth-year defenceman Wyatte Wylie, who finished with a career high of 50 assists through 62 contests. A fifth-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, Wylie recently inked an entry-level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. From the QMJHL, another 2020 NHL Draft hopeful in William Villenveuve of the Saint John Sea Dogs pushed the pace offensively with a league-leading 49 assists in 64 games to headline all QMJHL defencemen. The second-year rearguard ranks 108th among North American skaters ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.