The CHL playoffs have reached the conference finals, and there are still three teams with four Maple Leafs prospects left playing. Those four would be (in order of quality prospect): Fraser Minten, Ty Voit, Brandon Lisowsky and Josh Pillar. In theory, all four prospects could make the Memorial Cup. It would involve Minten making it as part of the host team, Lisowsky and Pillar's team winning the WHL championship, and Ty Voit's team winning the OHL championship.
As we'll get to below, that's going to be unlikely.
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All that said, let's get into the meat and potatoes!
Kamloops Blazers (2) vs Seattle Thunderbirds (1)
Fraser Minten and the Kamloops Blazers will be in tough against one of the top teams in the CHL. Seattle was already in the conversation for best in the WHL, and then at the deadline they loaded up. They added Dylan Guenther (9th overall NHL pick), and Brad Lambert (30th overall NHL pick) to a team that already had:
- Kevin Korchinski (7th overall)
- Reid Schaefer (32nd overall)
- Nolan Allan (32nd overall)
- Colton Dach (62nd overall)
- Jordan Gustafson (79th overall)
- Jared Davidson (130th overall)
- Lucas Ciona (173rd overall)
They also have Gracyn Sawchyn, a potential first round pick in the 2023 NHL draft, and Nico Myatovic who is a potential 2nd or 3rd round pick. So for those keeping count, that is 5 prospects who were picked in the first round of the NHL draft, 9 NHL drafted prospects overall, and two others who will be this year.
Kamloops has the same amount of NHL prospects, but not necessarily the same quality – at least, not if you determine the quality of a prospect by when they were picked. They have no first rounders, but they have two pretty noteworthy guys who likely fell because they're smaller: Stankoven and Zellweger. The reasons for questioning the upside of a 5'8" forward or a defenseman well under 6'0" as an NHL player has some logic to it, but that doesn't matter in the CHL. Both are top WHL players who are tied for the WHL playoff lead in points, despite only playing in 8 games (two sweeps).
So this match will really be two heavyweights duking it out. Minten will be anchoring the Blazers' third line and will likely be tasked with trying to shut down some of Seattle's top offensive players. He missed the first round with an injury, but since returning has 2 goals and 3 points in 4 games.
Minten has shown some real growth this season in a few areas. He has dramatically improved his shot, as shown off in the goal clip above.
Sarnia Sting (3) vs London Knights (2)
Ty Voit and the Sting will take on Elseldo's favourite team.
Sarnia, like Kamloops, loaded up at the trade deadline to make a deep playoff run. They traded for top OHLers like Sasha Pastujov, Luca Del Bel Belluz, Christian Kyrou, and Ethan Del Mastro. Those were added to the likes of Ty Voit, Nolan Burke, Ryan Mast and Ben Gaudreau. That gives Sarnia 9 players drafted by NHL teams, but none were taken in the first round. They also have one player who has already signed a pro contract with an NHL team, but was never drafted.
The Knights, a perennialy competitive and wealthy team by OHL standards, also has a deep roster – though they didn't make as many big trades. They have 7 players who have been drafted by NHL teams, but only one of them was a (late) first round pick. It's the infamous Logan Mailloux, taken by Montreal despite the controversy around Mailloux's crime committed in Sweden during the pandemic season.
Both teams have had pretty easy paths to the conference finals, losing only 1 game (London) and 2 games (Sarnia) through the first two rounds. Though London finished as a higher seed, they were only one point ahead of Sarnia in the standings. So by any measure, this should be a very close matchup.
For Leafs fans, we are of course most interested in Sarnia and Ty Voit doing well. So far he is tied for 2nd on the team in points with 11 in 10 games. Like usual, most of his points are assists (9 of 11). He's his usual play-making self, and it would be great to see him and Sarnia win the OHL championship and give us two teams to root for in the Memorial Cup.
Saskatoon Blades (3) vs Winnipeg ICE (1)
Brandon Lisowsky and Josh Pillar will take on the top WHL seed in the league. Saskatoon has had a hell of a roller coaster these playoffs, going down 2-0 as the favourite against Regina in round one before coming back and winning in 7 games. Then going down 3-0 against Red Deer and pulling off the reverse sweep for an even better comeback.
And their reward is to face the powerhouse Winnipeg team that has 3 first round picks on their roster (Matthew Savoie, Conor Geekie, Carson Lambos) and another who may go in the top 5 in this year's draft (Zach Benson). In the regular season, Winnipeg had the most goals scored and the third lowest goals against.
Sasktoon finished with the 5th best record in the WHL, behind Kamloops and Seattle. But the Blades have perhaps the worst "on paper" roster, especially when it comes to star power. They only have four players drafted by NHL teams, and none before the fourth round. Their best player is either the undrafted Egor Sidorov (who should probably be taken with a later pick this year) at forward, or the 2023 draft eligible Tanner Molendyk on defense – who I wrote about as a possible Toronto target if they trade down into the 2nd or 3rd rounds.
One of Saskatoon's top offensive producers this year has been Brandon Lisowsky, who was third on the team in total points and 2nd in goals behind Sidorov. But he only has 3 goals and 10 points in their 14 games these playoffs. He'll have to go off against Winnipeg if Saskatoon wants any shot at winning this series.
Josh Pillar has mostly played a depth role on the team, mostly because he missed the majority of this season with an injury. Lacking any stars, Saskatoon has relied on being more of a deep team that shuts things down (2nd fewest goals against) and capitalizes on the chances they can get.
Needless to say, I'm not going to be placing any bets on Saskatoon here. But they may put up a fight and make Winnipeg work hard for it.