Some series will be slaughters, but others will be classics. And some already have a nice layer of intrigue to them, as our prospect expert breaks down major junior’s first round of playoff action.
The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.
Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.
Kelowna vs. Tri-City
Brandon vs. Edmonton
Victoria vs. Prince George
Everett vs. Spokane
Calgary vs. Kootenay
Medicine Hat vs. Red Deer
Portland vs. Seattle – A clash of Northwestern American rivals comes at a great time. The Winterhawks have been a top WHL team for years now, but Seattle is catching up. In fact, if top-10 NHL draft candidate Matt Barzal hadn’t hurt his knee in a freak accident earlier in the season, maybe the T-Birds would have earned home-ice advantage for this showdown. Either way, Barzal brings fellow 2015ers Ryan Gropp and Ethan Bear with him, while the most accomplished T-Bird is Canadian world junior defenseman Shea Theodore, a top Anaheim prospect.
The Winterhawks still have a ton of firepower though, with the top line of Nic Petan (Winnipeg), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Columbus) and Paul Bittner (2015 draft) standing out. Then there’s two-way center Dominic Turgeon (Detroit) and rookie goalie Adin Hill, who has gone on some impressive win streaks this season.
Oshawa vs. Peterborough
Erie vs. Sarnia
Barrie vs. Belleville
Ottawa vs. Niagara
Sault Ste. Marie vs. Saginaw
London vs. Kitchener
Guelph vs. Owen Sound
North Bay vs. Kingston – The Battalion may have beaten Kingston three games out of four this season, but Calgary Flames top prospect Sam Bennett didn’t play in any of those losses for Kingston – just the one win. The Frontenacs also have top-10 draft prospect Lawson Crouse up front, plus defenseman Roland McKeown, who was drafted by L.A. before a recent trade to Carolina. Historically, the playoffs have been a nightmare for Kingston, with the Fronts consistently losing in the first round.
And North Bay isn’t a fun opener. Coach Stan Butler always brings a tough, responsible team to the ice and a spree before the trade deadline added offensive weapons Nick Moutrey (Columbus) and Ryan Kujawinski (New Jersey) to a cadre that already featured Canadian world junior left winger Nick Paul (Ottawa) and leading scorer Mike Amadio (L.A.). Plus, the Battalion will have home-ice advantage – and the North Bay crowds are definitely intimidating.
Sherbrooke vs. Charlottetown
Baie-Comeau vs. Saint John
Val-d’Or vs. Rouyn-Noranda
Shawinigan vs. Halifax
Blainville-Boisbriand vs. Gatineau
Moncton vs. Chicoutimi
RImouski vs. Victoriaville
Quebec vs. Cape Breton – The Remparts know they’re going to the Memorial Cup, but that doesn’t ease up the pressure. And with the announcement that 2015 draft prospect Callum Booth would be starting in net for Quebec instead of Canadian world junior starter Zach Fucale (Montreal), we already have a goalie controversy on our hands. Throw in the fact that star left winger Anthony Duclair (Arizona) was a healthy scratch at one point and you’ve got a team with some heat lines around it.
The biggest concern over the goalie controversy if you’re a Remparts fan is that Cape Breton comes in with one of the most deadly prospects in the draft, Evgeny Svechnikov. Big, powerful and talented, he can score by the bucket-full, as can fellow Russian import Max Lazarev, who was passed over last summer but could be in the mix this time.