Editor's Note: Here is Carl Peelash's first look the Toronto Maple Leafs' prospects in the Canadian Hockey League.
Another CHL regular season has come to an end, so it’s time to recap the performances of Leafs prospects in the
three two leagues within the CHL umbrella. Fun fact: the Leafs have no prospects playing in the WHL. Interesting, when you consider that the Dub is known for its tough, physical play, and that Burke is a fan of that style. We’ll also look at the upcoming playoff matchups that our kids will play in, because contrary to popular believe, you don’t lose that privilege when you’re drafted by the Leafs. First, to the OHL.
Nazem Kadri, C, London Knights – 1st round, 7th overall in 2009
Kadri, as expected, ripped up the OHL this season. His 93 points in 56 games placed him in a tie for 4th in scoring, and one can assume that if he’d played those games that he missed for the World Juniors, he could have come away with the scoring title. There’s no doubt that this kid is our top prospect; he even made his NHL debut this season against the Sharks (which I was lucky enough to be in attendance for) on an emergency call-up. Kadri will lead the Knights against Guelph in the first round, in a 2v7 matchup. London finished 27 points ahead of the Storm in the regular season, and shouldn’t have a problem advancing.
Kenny Ryan, RW, Windsor Spitfires – 2nd round, 50th overall in 2009
Ryan joined the Spits after leaving Boston College early in the season, but the 18-year old hasn’t been a huge factor in Windsor. He’s registered 35 points in 52 games on one of the most talented, and deep, teams in the league. He’s stuck behind players like Greg Nemisz, Zack Kassian, and fellow Leafs prospect Dale Mitchell on the right wing depth chart. His role should expand next season, though, when some of those players go pro, and particularly if Taylor Hall joins the Leafs after they select him high in the entry draft. Err... Windsor plays Erie first round, and you can count on a deep playoff run from them.
Jesse Blacker, D, Owen Sound Attack – 2nd round, 58th overall in 2009
Blacker was flipped to Owen Sound early this season after demanding a trade from Windsor. He was caught in a numbers game; wanting to eat big minutes doesn’t fly on a team whose blueline sports Cam Fowler and Ryan Ellis. He has a penchant for the offensive side of the game, putting up 33 points in 57 games between the Spitfires and Attack. As a result of the trade, he finds himself outside the playoff picture. Just call him Bizarro-Kaberle.
Jamie Devane, LW, Plymouth Whalers – 3rd round, 68th overall in 2009
Devane’s offensive prowess is not his calling card for the Whalers, as his 14 points in 51 games would indicate. The 6’5, 210-pounder is a scrapper, taking part in eight dances this season according to hockeyfights.com. For additional viewing, Devane and another pugilist in the Leafs system, Richard Greenop, show that the Leafs’ future is solid in the truculence department. Devane can be found defending Tyler Seguin’s honour in the first round against Sault Ste. Marie.
Dale Mitchell, RW, Windsor Spitfires – 3rd round, 74th overall in 2007
Mitchell started the season with the Marlies, but was shortly sent back to Windsor to play out his overage year. He’s had quite a season, too: 43 points in 32 games since returning. The soon-to-be 21-year old should be a factor in the playoffs again this year. He picked up 14 goals and 29 points in 20 games in last year’s OHL playoffs, to go with 5 goals in 6 games en route to a Memorial Cup victory. We can only hope the porn ‘stache makes a return, too.
Now on to the QMJHL...
Philippe Paradis, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes – 1st round, 27th overall in 2009 (CAR)
Paradis seems to be a bit of a forgotten man in the Leafs system. He was acquired from Carolina for Jiri Tlusty earlier in the season, and while not an offensive dynamo, he has upside. He managed 44 points in 63 games, including 24 goals, but his physical dominance is what defines his game. He’s listed at 6’2, 204 pounds on the Q website, but he plays like he has an extra 20 lbs on his frame. When he was traded to the Leafs, I was disappointed that he wouldn’t be in Halifax to play the Mooseheads again this season, until I realized there was a cancelled game that had yet to be played. Who said swine flu never did anything good? Paradis is a beast on the boards and in front of the net. He really knows how to use his size to protect the puck and get in position. His skating needs work, but he seems destined for at least a third line role, with a power forward playing style. He’s not afraid to throw his weight around, either, finishing 4th among Q forwards with 166 hits. One more interesting stat: his 8 GWG put him in a tie for 4th place in the league, meaning that one in every three of his goals is a game-winner. You can see why Burke wanted this guy. Shawinigan plays Victoriaville in the first round.
Mikhail Stefanovich, RW, Quebec Remparts – 4th round, 98th overall in 2008
Maddeningly inconsistent, Mikhail "Grabovski" Stefanovich didn’t do a whole lot this season to silence his critics. His 68 points in 53 games is solid enough, but nothing outstanding from a kid who scored 66 in 62 in his rookie year, and 76 in 56 last season. The distribution of his points is what boggles the mind even further; last season, he put up a whopping 49 goals, nearly a goal per game. This year it was like his playing style totally flipped, with only 25 goals. His rookie year saw him score only two fewer goals than assists. You can understand why there are concerns that he’ll never pan out. He was sent back to Quebec in a shocking move, as he could have spent this season with the Marlies. He didn’t excel as a 20-year old playing junior, so it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. His ceiling is sky high, and if he puts it all together he could be a huge steal in the 4th round, but it's not looking so great right now for those things to happen. Quebec should have an easy first round series against Acadie-Bathurst.
Joel Champagne, C, Victoriaville Tigres – 5th round, 129th overall in 2008
This kid is looking more and more like a gem with every game he plays. After a mid-season trade from PEI, he ended up with 79 points in 65 games, which puts him in a tie for 11th place in the Q. While he had a great and somewhat surprising offensive campaign this year, it’s not likely to be where his future lies. Champagne has all the tools to become a great third line centerman. He has great size, standing at 6’4 and 220 pounds, but his faceoff skills are what could really propel him to an NHL job. He took 1,579 draws this season, 4th most in the QMJHL, and won 58.5% of them. Throw in 70 hits and you’ve got the recipe for a solid shutdown guy. Not bad for a 5th round pick. He’ll play against Paradis and the Cataractes in the first round.
Chris DiDomenico, LW, Drummondville Voltigeurs – 6th round, 164th overall in 2007
DiDomenico’s story over the last year and a half has been an incredible one. He played a big role in Canada’s 2009 World Junior gold medal, and went to Drummondville from Saint John in a mid-season trade. He had an incredible post-season, racking up 35 points in just 15 games en route to the Q-League finals. It was that series where he collided with another player and crashed into the end boards, breaking his femur. He missed the Memorial Cup as a result. That was May 5th. DiDomenico was sent back to the Q after training camp for his overage year, despite being eligible to play with the Marlies, so he could ease back into competition when he returned. While the competition may have been easier, DiDomenico certainly did not relax, as he blistered the opposition for 22 points in 12 games after returning to action on February 17th, more than 9 months after his injury. The addition of DiDomenico to Drummondville’s lineup could push them over the top, as they roll into the playoffs as the Q’s hottest team, complete with a 16-game winning streak. They’ve averaged nearly 6 goals per game since DiDomenico returned, and could easily capture a second straight President’s Cup despite Saint John being the top dogs most of the season. In related news, DiDo seems well on his way to being a fan favourite. The Voltigeurs play Lewiston first round.
And that’s a wrap. As I’m sure you can tell, I’m more of a QMJHL guy than anything. Now that I’ve made my return to Cape Breton on a full-time basis, I’ll likely attend some Eagles playoff games. If they manage to take down Moncton in the first round and match up against a team with a Leafs prospect, I might be able to offer some more insight.
I hope to keep doing these updates on a weekly basis. Now that the season review/playoff preview is out of the way, I’ll keep them shorter than Jason Blake’s average shift length, relatively speaking, from now on. Until next time, you can follow me on Twitter if you just can’t wait a week for your DiDo fix.