With the 2018-19 CHL campaign getting underway in Saginaw, Mich., on Wednesday, the Canadian Hockey League released its annual Pre-Season Top 10 Rankings, a list that’s always intriguing to go back and look at when the dust settles in late May.
For what it’s worth, the 2018 Memorial Cup champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan were ranked eighth before action got underway last season while a pair of other teams in the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (6) and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (10) reached the Championship Series of their respective leagues before being eliminated.
Here’s a quick glance at each of the teams on this year’s Pre-season Top 10 and what makes them worthy of consideration before the season gets started.
1. Halifax Mooseheads
2017-18 Record: 43-18-6-1, 93 pts. // 2nd round loss to Charlottetown (4-0)
The first and second overall picks of the 2016 QMJHL Draft, Benoit Olivier-Groulx (Anaheim) and Jared McIsaac (Detroit) enter their third QMJHL seasons after being second round picks in the NHL Draft this past summer. Their positive progress paired with offseason additions in Memorial Cup champions Antoine Morand and Jordan Maher from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan makes the 2018 host Mooseheads a force to be reckoned with in the Maritimes Division. Chicago Blackhawks pick Alexis Gravel gives Halifax stability in the crease, something head coach Eric Veilleiux’s team will need if they hope to be the last team standing.
2. London Knights
2017-18 Record: 39-25-2-2, 82 pts. // 1st round loss to Owen Sound (4-0)
The London Knights dialed things back last season, failing to make it into the second round for the first time since 2011 after unloading veterans at the deadline. With the potential for one of the CHL’s best defence corps led by first round NHL picks Evan Bouchard (Edmonton) and Adam Boqvist (Chicago), the Knights are locked and loaded in front of overage goaltender Joseph Raaymakers. Columbus Blue Jackets first round pick Liam Foudy would form a dangerous duo with potential returnee Alex Formenton (Ottawa) while a potential-packed group of up-and-coming forwards that includes Nathan Dunkley, Connor McMichael and 2018 CHL Import Draft addition Matvey Guskov will provide other scoring options.
3. Lethbridge Hurricanes
2017-18 Record: 33-33-6-0, 72 pts. // Eastern Conference Final loss to Swift Current (4-2)
There’s lots to like in Lethbridge coming into a new season as the Cane Train picks up steam behind captain and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jordy Bellerive. Fellow Pens draftee Calen Addison has developed into one of the league’s premier power play quarterbacks while reigning WHL Rookie of the Year Dylan Cozens returns for a sophomore season after a strong showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. In goal, the Hurricanes have added New Jersey Devils prospect Akira Schmid through the CHL Import Draft, providing them a proven presence in the crease after the club dealt franchise cornerstone Stuart Skinner last season. Brent Kisio’s club will battle it out in a highly competitive Central Division this season.
4. Drummondville Voltigeurs
2017-18 Record: 44-20-3-1, 92 pts. // 2nd round loss to Victoriaville (4-1)
The Drummondville Voltigeurs were well represented at the 2018 NHL Draft as first rounders Joe Veleno (Detroit) and Nicolas Beaudin (Chicago) joined netminder Olivier Rodrigue (Edmonton) and 6-foot-3 blueliner Xavier Bernard (New Jersey) in Dallas for the big day. The talent that caught the attention of NHL teams hits the ice under new head coach Steve Hartley after Dominique Ducharme joined the Montreal Canadiens as an assistant coach. The offseason addition of power winger Maxime Comtois (Anaheim) provides the Volts with more muscle up front as Drummondville chases its first championship since 2009.
5. Niagara IceDogs
2017-18 Record: 35-23-7-3, 80 pts. // 2nd round loss to Hamilton (4-1)
Goals shouldn’t be hard to come by in St. Catharines this season as the Niagara IceDogs turn to a variety of different weapons up front. Russian winger Kirill Maksimov (Edmonton) loves to shoot the puck and he has one of the league’s premier playmakers in Akil Thomas (Los Angeles) to work with. Newly named captain Ben Jones (Vegas) is one of the OHL’s best 200-foot centremen while offseason addition Ivan Lodnia (Minnesota) gives the Dogs speed and experience on the right side. Billy Burke’s club turns to one of the OHL’s longest-serving veterans in overager Stephen Dhillon between the pipes.
6. Spokane Chiefs
2017-18 Record: 41-25-3-3, 88 pts. // 1st round loss to Portland (4-3)
The Chiefs were a good team in a tough division last season, treating fans in the Pacific Northwest to a treat of a first round series against the rival Portland Winterhawks that went the distance. Spokane returns with a pair of the league’s top talents on the depth chart in 91-point scorer Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Los Angeles) and former WHL first overall pick Ty Smith (New Jersey) on the blue line. California kid Jake McGrew (San Jose) looks to take a step forward after registering 38 points as a rookie last season while Czech Filip Kral (Toronto) gives the Chiefs a well-rounded game from the back end.
7. Portland Winterhawks
2017-18 Record: 44-22-1-5, 94 pts. // 2nd round loss to Everett (4-1)
Much like the London Knights mentioned earlier on the list, the Portland Winterhawks have the potential to boast one of the CHL’s top defence units as smooth-skating first rounders Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) and Dennis Cholowski (Detroit) remain with their respective NHL clubs through the pre-season. Should they return, they’ll join Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brendan De Jong on the back end in front of netminder Shane Farkas. Up front, Cody Glass (Vegas) will join Ryan Hughes in leading a young forward group under the watchful eye of two of the WHL’s brilliant coaching minds in Mike Johnston and newly named assistant Don Hay.
8. Saginaw Spirit
2017-18 Record: 29-30-9-0, 67 pts. // 1st round loss to Sault Ste. Marie (4-0)
A team that hasn’t made too many appearances on the Top 10 in recent years, the Saginaw Spirit have caused quite a stir in the OHL following a pair of highly successful offseasons on the recruitment front. General Manager Dave Drinkill has brought in high draft selections in New York Islanders prospects Blade Jenkins and Bode Wilde, a highly-touted 2018 first rounder in Cole Perfetti as well as a point-per-game overage winger in Albert Michnac from the Mississauga Steelheads. Like Lethbridge, Saginaw has bolstered their crease through the CHL Import Draft with the addition of Arizona Coyotes prospect Ivan Prosvetov who backstopped the Youngstown Phantoms to an appearance in the USHL Finals last spring. The Spirit played to a perfect 5-0-0 record in the OHL Pre-Season.
9. Rimouski Oceanic
2017-18 Record: 42-17-6-3, 93 pts. // 1st round loss to Moncton (4-3)
After a disappointing first round exit last spring, the Rimouski Oceanic are back for another crack as first overall phenom and CHL Rookie of the Year Alexis Lafreniere leads his team into a new season. Not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, Lafreniere is already one of the CHL’s big names after recording 80 points (42-38–80) in just 60 games. Russian speedster Dmitry Zavgorodniy (Calgary) provides the ‘Nics with an added scoring punch while big centreman Cedric Pare (Boston) brings balance down the middle. Veterans Charle-Edouard D’Astous and Radim Salda (Tampa Bay) can expect to see big minutes on a young blue line in front of netminder Colten Ellis who won 33 games last season.
10. Ottawa 67’s
2017-18 Record: 30-29-6-3, 69 pts. // 1st round loss to Hamilton (4-1)
It’s been a few years since the Ottawa 67’s were a big factor in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, but their time may be arriving once again. Andre Tourigny’s club took some positive steps last season and has talent spread throughout the roster. Sasha Chmelevski (San Jose) is a dangerous offensive presence while tenacious forwards Mitchell Hoelscher (New Jersey), Kody Clark (Washington) and Austen Keating all bring energy to the ice. Arizona Coyotes prospects Noel Hoefenmayer and Kevin Bahl carry the load on the blue line alongside veteran Hudson Wilson and draft eligible Russian defender Nikita Okhotyuk. The 67’s played to a perfect 5-0-0 record in the OHL Pre-Season.
Other teams to keep an eye on include the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Vancouver Giants and Oshawa Generals, all who received an honourable mention in the pre-season instalment.