The final series in each of the three CHL circuits are just about here. The Quebec League still has a Game 7 between Blainville-Boisbriand and Charlottetown tonight, but we’re almost there. And lessons have definitely been learned along the way. Kitchener Rangers power forward Givani Smith found that out the hard way. The Detroit Red Wings pick flipped off the Sault Ste. Marie bench after a thrilling OT win in Game 6 and that act got him suspended two games, including the pivotal Game 7 that the Soo ended up winning in double OT. Was it a crass move by Smith? Sure. Did he feel horrible, not being able to help his team in a crucial game? I’m sure he did. And while a lot of folks were upset with Smith, let’s not forget that he just turned 20; he’s still a very young man. No doubt he will move on, as should we.
Meanwhile, Finland knocked off Team USA at the world under-18s, earning gold and going undefeated in the process. The Finns got some key help from underagers in the tourney, so the future is looking great for Suomi once again. Let’s get to some of the key players making noise in the prospect world right now.
Jakub Skarek, G, Dukla Jihlava (Cze.): After playing against men in his home Czech Republic for the past couple years, Skarek is moving on. The 2018 draft prospect has signed with the Lahti Pelicans in Finland, where he will play in the Liiga next year. Skarek is one of the top goalies in the draft this summer, blending size and solid butterfly technique to make stops. NHL arrival: 2021-22
Dylan Strome, C, Tucson Roadrunners (AHL): When a youngster is sent down to the ‘A,’ you want them to perform, and Strome has certainly done that. The big, talented center has followed up an excellent regular season in Tucson with a blistering start to the playoffs: the future Arizona Coyotes pivot has eight points in four games, tops in the league through one round. NHL arrival: 2018-19
Justus Annunen, G, Karpat Oulu (Fin.): Annunen came up big at the world under-18s and a gold medal was his reward. Like Skarek, he’s one of the best goalies available in the 2018 draft. Annunen has size, cool, and great rebound control going for him. He ended the tourney with a 2.00 goals-against average and an undefeated record of 6-0. NHL arrival: 2021-22
Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas (Swe.): After Rasmus Dahlin, there is a cohort of talented defensemen in the 2018 draft class and Boqvist is right in the thick of it. The talented, mobile blueliner was named best defenseman at the world under-18s by the tourney directorate, helping Sweden win bronze over the Czechs. Boqvist notched six points in six games, putting him atop the D-man leaderboard. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat Pori (Fin.): Another star for the Finns at the world under-18s, Kotkaniemi had nine points in seven games while playing as the top-line center. His skating is a work in progress, but the 2018 draft prospect has size, smarts and skill. He’s also seen as a character player. NHL arrival: 2020-21
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL): Wahlstrom was named to the media all-star team at the world under-18s and though he missed a last-second shot that could have tied the gold medal game for Team USA, the kid’s got a very bright future. Few teens can rival the combination of smarts and NHL shot he already possesses. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Jack Kopacka, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): A great finisher with size, Kopacka had the clinching goal in Game 7 for the Hounds, propelling them into the OHL final against Hamilton. An Anaheim Ducks prospect, Kopacka has 15 points through 18 games during the Soo’s run. NHL arrival: 2020-21
Garrett Pilon, C, Everett Silvertips (WHL): With hands, vision and hockey IQ, Pilon has a lot in his playmaking arsenal and the Tips are glad he’s on their side. The Washington Capitals pick helped push Everett into the WHL final against Swift Current with a two-point performance in a Game 6 OT win over Tri-City. NHL arrival: 2020-21
Alexandre Alain, RW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL): Just signed by the Montreal Canadiens as an undrafted free agent, Alain is a skilled player who finds the soft spots in the offensive zone. His offense didn’t kick in until later in his ‘Q’ career, but with 23 points in 15 playoff games, Alain is rolling. NHL arrival: 2019-20
Ben Finkelstein, D, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL): One of the shrewdest pickups of the season, Finkelstein came to Waterloo from St. Lawrence University while he waits to become eligible for Boston College. The offensively-gifted Florida Panthers pick was just named USHL defenseman of the year and his Hawks are still gunning for the title in the USHL. NHL arrival: 2021-22