The 2020 NHL draft is good, but wait until you see the talent from the 2022 draft.
Shane Wright and Matthew Savoie are already two of the most hyped prospects we've seen since Connor McDavid, and it's not even close. Jack Hughes and Alexis Lafreniere are both incredible young talents, but Wright and Savoie look capable of changing a franchise.
Why? Wright became the fifth player to receive exceptional status to the OHL after scoring 66 goals and 150 points in 72 games with the Don Mills Flyers last year, falling eight points shy of John Tavares’ offensive output as an underage player in minor midget. Savoie, who was declined the opportunity to become the first player to earn exceptional status in the WHL, has put an absolute beating on the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (based in Western Canada), scoring seven goals and 20 points in seven games to go along with a league-leading 2.86 points-per-game average with Rink Hockey Academy. Last year, Savoie, a Winnipeg ICE prospect, put himself on the map with a 71-point bantam campaign, beating Dylan Guenther for the scoring title by 13 points to become the most impactful U-15 player in CSSHL history.
Together, Wright and Savoie will make their national team debuts at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, an eight-team tournament taking place in Swift Current, Sask., and Medicine Hat, Alta., from Nov. 2-9. In fact, they're the first underage players to skate for Canada since Joe Veleno did so in 2015 after his exceptional status bid was approved by the QMJHL. Wright and Savoie will spend the next few years battling it out with Finnish star Brad Lambert to see who'll be the top prospect for the 2022 NHL draft, one that's shaping up to be just as impressive as the 2020 edition.
As always, Canada will send three teams to the event: Canada Black (Wright's team), Canada White (Savoie's team) and Canada Red. On paper, Canada Black is the strongest team in the tournament, with top prospects across all three Canadian junior leagues filling crucial roles. The United States will also be a scary-good team, bringing over the USA Hockey National Team Development Program roster that competes in the USHL. The Americans shouldn't find themselves in last place like last year thanks to more depth at every position and an overall better talent base.
In the second part of our World Under-17 Hockey Challenge preview, we took a look at the top players from the two North American nations, including many top 2021 and 2022 draft prospects:
Brandt Clarke, D (Canada Black)
Having Clarke play with Wright once again is a perfect pairing for GTHL fans. The Don Mills Flyers minor midget AAA club were a dream team last season, winning over 70 games in what can only be described as one of the greatest youth hockey teams of all-time. Clarke was a huge reason for that: his smooth skating and slick, puck-moving style made him the best defenseman in his age group. Clarke shows great patience with the puck and seems to have a magnetic ability that draws wingers towards him before finding a way to get the puck on net. The OHL Barrie Colts have a star on their hands, and it's almost a no-brainer that he'll be a top-five pick at the 2021 draft.
Zachary L'Heureux, C (Canada Black)
Yeah, because Canada Black needed more talent. At the Canada Winter Games last year, L'Heureux scored 10 goals and 13 points en route to Quebec winning gold before getting selected No. 3 by the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL draft. He currently leads all QMJHL rookies with 18 points in 15 games, so expect him to challenge for the scoring lead on a Canadian team stacked with skill. At 5-foot-11, L’Heureux has the ability to administer big hits and spends a lot of time creating havoc in front of the net, with and without the puck. He isn’t the most consistent player, but scoring and running a power play is like second nature to him.
Benjamin Gaudreau, G (Canada Black)
Gaudreau's stats might not look pretty in Sarnia this season, but a 49-save victory in his first OHL start was enough to get people excited. Gaudreau was the consensus No. 1 goalie prospect last season after dominating major midget, playing against older competition (the North Bay Trappers went 36-0-0) before having a standout performance at the Canada Winter Games with Ontario to win silver. Gaudreau has solid size for his age at 6-foot-2 and is calm, cool and collected, rarely letting a bad goal or game get to him. The 2021 draft will have a handful of impressive goalies, but he'll challenge Jesper Wallstedt and Tristan Lennox to be the first netminder selected.
Joshua Roy, C (Canada Red)
There were questions leading up to the QMJHL draft as to who was the true No. 1 prospect: Roy or Justin Robidas. Roy went No. 1 to Saint John and through 16 games, he's currently tied with Robidas with eight points, good for fifth among U-17 prospects in the 'Q.' Roy's 88-point campaign in Quebec AAA last season was the best output by a U-16 player in Quebec midget action over the past 20 years, beating out 2020 No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere by five points, so scoring comes naturally for him. Roy will be important for Canada Red, a team that's missing the top-end skill of Canada Black, but with some of the best all-around depth at the tournament. If Roy thrives, so will the rest of the team.
Cole Sillinger, C (Canada White)
The son of former NHL journeyman Mike Sillinger, it's going to be tough for Cole to live up to his dad's junior career that saw him record 50 goals and over 100 points during three of his four years of junior hockey. Still, the younger Sillinger is off to a hot start with 17 points in 14 games with Medicine Hat, good for first among WHL rookies. Sillinger was named the Saskatchewan midget MVP last year after posting 76 points as a rookie, 11 points clear of his next closest competitor. Sillinger is an explosive skater with high-end scoring ability and a knack for making his teammates play better. His defensive play is his weak point, but he'll be a first-round pick in 2021 regardless.
Dylan Guenther, LW (Canada White)
Perhaps Canada White's best winger, Guenther is one of the better natural goal-scorers at the tournament which is exactly why the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings took him No. 1 in 2018. In bantam, Guenther's 56 goals were 28 more than Savoie for the Northern Albert prep team lead and Guenther is the only player to break the 100-point barrier in the CSSHL (bantam). Guenther has a good mix of size, speed and skill and can absolutely wire any wrist or slapshot he takes, but he's forced to do a lot of the damage for a weak Edmonton squad. If you like comparisons, Tyler Seguin isn't a bad one.
Chaz Lucius, C (USA)
One of the top 2003-born players in the United States, Lucius is a complete player for at his age. So smart with and without the puck, Lucius always seems to be exactly where he needs to be, making him able to find passes and teammates quite easily. Lucius doesn't lose many 1-on-1 puck battles and his speed makes him dangerous. Lucius currently leads the U.S. NTDP with a whopping 15 goals and 18 points in 15 games, and he had a goal and an assist in USA's 7-6 shootout victory over Canada Red during Thursday's exhibition contest. You want to see a special American talent? You have it in Chaz Lucius.
Sasha Pastujov, RW (USA)
Few kids his age can pass a puck like Pastujov. Set to join the University of Notre Dame after finishing his junior career, Pastujov is smart when distributing the puck, using his body to shield himself from attackers and he's also adept at finding lanes to pass off to his teammates. A momentum skater, Pastujov has 12 assists and 17 points in 15 games with the U-17 U.S. NTDP and should have no issue holding a point-per-game mark for the rest of the season before joining older brother Nick as an NHL draft pick.
Luke Hughes, D (USA)
Like his older brothers, Jack and Quinn, Luke is an incredible young talent that won't take long to get drafted when he's eligible in 2021. Like Quinn, Luke is noted for his power-play dominance and he isn’t afraid to join rushes and help the offense. Hughes is one of the best skaters on the U.S. NTDP and he's mobile enough to get where he needs to be at all times. He also doesn't fall victim to traps played by skilled forwards, something he likely developed after practicing against Jack all this time. Also, no, the Jack Hughes on USA's roster is not related to Luke, despite the hilarious coincidence.
Ty Gallagher, D (USA)
At 5-foot-11, Gallagher doesn't yet have size you'd like to see out of a prototypical defenseman, but like Hughes, Gallagher is all about speed. He also plays a physical game and doesn't lose many battles along the boards, even against bigger competition. Gallagher's wrist shot is similar to Cam York's, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect and a graduate of the U.S. NTDP last season, in the way that it's nearly always on target and is fired at a high rate of speed. He looks mature for his age, and the program has to be happy with his eight games in 15 contests. It only gets better from here.
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