CHL Trade Deadlines Pass; Playoff Push Begins For Habs Prospects

Hudon Gregoire

Left: Charles Hudon. Right: Jérémy Grégoire.

All three Canadian Hockey League trade deadlines have passed and the playoff push is on. It was incredibly eventful in the days leading up to the trade deadlines, with many deals occurring. While only two Montreal Canadiens prospects were traded, nearly all of them saw large additions to their teams, bolstering their line ups. All three of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Hockey League’s playoffs begin in just three months. Many of the Canadiens nine junior prospects will be instrumental in their team’s success down the stretch.

The Ontario Hockey League saw a handful of massive deals, such as Canucks first round pick Brendan Gaunce being shipped to the powerhouse Erie Otters, or Blue Jackets first rounder, Kerby Rychel and Kings pick, Nick Ebert being sent to the Guelph Storm. All three of Connor Crisp, Michael McCarron, and Brady Vail stayed put on their respective teams.

The MasterCard Memorial Cup host London Knights only made one deal leading up to the trade deadline. The Knights picked up Stars draft pick and energetic goalscorer, Gemel Smith, in exchange for Kyle Platzer (EDM ’13) and Santino Centorame (2014), two talented young players that were unable to make a significant impact in their line up. Kyle Platzer was a frequent linemate of Canadiens 2013 first round selection, Michael McCarron. The addition of Smith will certainly have a drastic effect on the 6’6″ rookie, as he will be pushed further down the depth chart if he doesn’t improve his play. The star-studded line up of the Knights features ten NHL draft picks, including Max Domi (PHX ’13), Bo Horvat (VAN ’13), Anthony Stolarz (PHI ’12), and Nikita Zadorov (BUF ’13). Since the Smith deal, McCarron has been lucky to remain on the third line, with rookie sensation Mitchell Marner (2015) being (rather undeservedly) demoted to the fourth line. McCarron appeared to be improving his play, but a tough performance last week could force him into a highly limited fourth line role. The Knights will also be in for a tough go, as division rivals–namely, the Guelph Storm and the Erie Otters–made deals to strengthen their already strong rosters.

Connor Crisp will be relied upon heavily down the stretch. Photo: Terry Wilson, OHL Images

Connor Crisp will be relied upon heavily down the stretch.
Photo: Terry Wilson, OHL Images

The situation for fourth round pick Connor Crisp is the opposite of McCarron’s. The Sudbury Wolves shocked everyone when they acquired dynamic two-way defenceman Trevor Carrick (CAR ’12), prospect Bradley Bell (2014), and a fifth round pick in return for rookie defenceman Stefan LeBlanc (2014), three second round picks, and a conditional third. Just a few hours later, the Wolves followed one blockbuster deal with another, winning the Radek Faksa (DAL ’12) sweepstakes for Dominik Kubalik (LAK ’13) and a pair of second round picks. With the two deals, the Wolves propelled themselves from the being a benefactor of playing the weakest division of the OHL to a legitimate J. Ross Robertson Cup contender. The decision to make these massive additions were helped by the recent emergence of depth scoring by Connor Crisp, Ray Huether, and the return of highly skilled forward Dominik Kahun. The additions will certainly help Connor Crisp, who has been a staple in the Wolves’ top six all season. The line of Connor Crisp, Radek Faksa, and Nicholas Baptiste (BUF ’13) has already demonstrated chemistry, combining for seven points in their two games together. In addition, the Wolves also feature highly talented playmaker, Mathew Campagna, and near goal-per-game scorer Nathan Pancel. Crisp’s size, along with rocket of a shot and soft hands around the net, give him the ability to be a difference maker. But his season has been marred by inconsistency, capped off with an eleven game pointless streak. Even after the deals, the Wolves still lack the depth scoring common of elite teams, meaning that Crisp is going to have continue his recent form in order to see an extended post-season appearance.

While Crisp and McCarron’s respective teams were both bolstering their line ups, Brady Vail’s Windsor Spitfires were dismantling theirs. The Spitfires only made two deals, both in early December. The most impactful of the two was the addition of Brody Milne (undrafted) and eight draft picks, which included four seconds, from the Guelph Storm in exchange for captain and then-leading scorer, Kerby Rychel (CLB ’13), and top pairing defenceman, Nick Ebert (LAK ’12). In a shocking turn of events, the Spitfires didn’t complete the fire sale as they kept Canadiens fourth round pick in 2012, Brady Vail, and Lightning first rounder Slater Koekkoek. With the deal, Vail became the leading scorer of the Spitfires and currently remains there, with 54 points in 43 games. The Spitfires absolutely have a talented team, with players such as Joshua Ho-Sang (2014), Slater Koekkoek, Ben Johnson (NJD ’12), Remy Giftopoulos, and of course, Brady Vail, but the chances of them going deep in the playoffs are slim.

In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League deals were getting crazy leading up to the trade deadline. The QMJHL saw Charles Hudon and Jack Nevins both dealt, the only two Canadiens prospects who were moved. Jérémy Grégoire and Martin Reway both saw their respective line ups boosted as well.

Unsurprisingly, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens captain and Canadiens fifth round pick in 2012, Charles Hudon, was traded from a rebuilding team to a contender. Hudon was shipped to the rival Baie-Comeau Drakkar, the team of fellow Canadiens prospect Jérémy Grégoire, in exchange for three first round picks and third in what will mostly likely be a two-part deal. Grégoire and Hudon were teammates together in Chicoutimi, until a struggling Grégoire was traded to Baie-Comeau part-way through last season. Baie-Comeau, already among the league’s best, added one of the QMJHL’s premier offensive threats in Hudon, further increasing their chances of capturing the President’s Cup. Hudon’s highly skilled, but smart, intense style will allow him to slide nearly anywhere in the line up, but he will most definitely be in the top six, potentially playing with Grégoire. Both Grégoire and Hudon are proven playoff performers, with sixteen points in eighteen games and ten points in six games in last year’s QMJHL playoffs respectively. Baie-Comeau also added Maxime St-Cyr, a streaky, but talented forward for a first round selection. On paper, Baie-Comeau is built for the playoffs as they are made up of hard working, skilled players at every position, including Jérémy Grégoire, Frédéric Gamelin, Félix Girard (NSH ’13), Charles Hudon, Alexis Vanier (2014), and Valentin Zykov (LAK ’13). Baie-Comeau currently sits second in the QMJHL, only three points back of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and Hudon hasn’t suited up for them yet. Grégoire and Hudon sit second and third in Baie-Comeau scoring respectively.

Jack Nevins’ Charlottetown Islanders happened to be doing literally the exact opposite of Baie-Comeau. The Islanders began the fire sale by shipping off starting netminder, Antoine Bibeau (TOR ’13) to the Val-d’Or Foreurs for a first, a third, and a fourth round pick. Over the remaining days of trade eligibility, the Islanders would deal Yan-Pavel Laplante (PHX ’13), Julien Leduc, Deverick Ottereyes, Matej Beran, Alexis Pépin (2014), Ryan Graves (NYR ’13), and captain Jack Nevins, in exchange for twelve draft picks (including six first rounders), three 1996-born players, and three 1997-born players. Nevins was shipped to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, one of the QMJHL’s top offensive teams, for Julien Avon, a first round pick, a third round pick, and a fifth round pick. Since the deal, Nevins has played on various lines, with many talented players, including the QMJHL’s third leading scorer in Marcus Power, goalscorer Jean-Sébastian Dea, and the slick playmaking Francis Perron (2014), but has yet to register a point. Nevins has made an impact physically, demonstrating the reason why he was acquired. Rouyn-Noranda sits ninth in the QMJHL, but with additions like Jack Nevins, Francis Beauvillier (FLA ’12), and Penny Ryan, they could certainly be a quick riser. However, the recent loss of number one defenceman Dillon Fournier (CHI ’12) could have a devastating effect on their post-season hopes.

Martin Reway has been highly impressive this season. Photo: The Canadian Press

Martin Reway has been highly impressive this season.
Photo: The Canadian Press

The Gatineau Olympiques didn’t make life easy for the divisional rival Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, as they added new dimensions to their already well-rounded line up. Gatineau added grinder Deverick Ottereyes, and then followed that up with another trade with Charlottetown, adding hulking–albeit struggling–power winger, Alexis Pépin (2014). Gatineau also added hardworking centre Adam Stevens from the Acadie-Bathurst Titans. Canadiens fourth round pick, Martin Reway will certainly not be negatively affected by these additions, as they only improve the depth of the team. The additions have already paid off, as Stevens has three points in five games and Pépin has four points and has been instrumental in a few other goals. Gatineau is incredibly deep offensively, possessing Marc-Olivier Bouillard, Taylor Burke, Vincent Dunn (OTT ’13), Vaclav Karabecek (2014), Emile Poirier (CGY ’13), and Simon Tardif-Richard, in addition to the aforementioned Martin Reway. The lightning quick and gritty Emile Poirier leads the team in scoring with 59 points in 40 games. The highly skilled Reway has 43 points in just 26 games and had a tremendous playoff performance last year with twelve points in ten games. Reway’s incredible puck skills and lightning quick decision-making make him one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the QMJHL. Gatineau has set themselves up for a deep post season run and Martin Reway is expected to lead the way.

Reigning MasterCard Memorial Cup winners, the Halifax Mooseheads, had an extremely quiet trade deadline. They shipped off Liam Alcalde, a grinder, for an eighth round pick. It was their only deal. The lack of activity is understandable as the biggest prize, Charles Hudon, was captured early and Halifax already has a very strong lineup. Halifax sits just five points back of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada for first in the QMJHL and leads the league in goals for. Halifax has a very solid core, led by 2013 third overall pick, Jonathan Drouin, rookie sensation Nikolaj Ehlers (2014), and Canadiens second round pick, Zach Fucale. With returnees from the MasterCard Memorial Cup-winning roster, such as forwards Darcy Ashley, Brent Andrews, Andrew Ryan, and Luca Ciampini, and defenceman such as MacKenzie Weegar (FLA ’13), Matt Murphy, and Brendan Duke, they possess experience and skill to not only claim another President’s Cup, but another Memorial Cup as well. As the starting netminder, Fucale will be depended on down the stretch to shut the door when needed. Fucale’s calm demeanor and electrifying talent allow him to be a gamebreaking goaltender. Fucale will need to be on top of his game come playoff time as the QMJHL is undeniably going to be tough this year.

The most uneventful of the three Canadian Hockey Leagues was the Western Hockey League. The biggest trade of the season was the deal that sent Minnesota Wild first round pick, Mathew Dumba to the Portland Winterhawks in exchange for a trio of second round picks and forward Presten Kopeck. Beyond that, the second biggest trade occurred in October, one that Montreal Canadiens fans should be familiar with. Tim Bozon, along with Landon Cross, was sent to the Kootenay Ice for 1996 born forward Collin Shirley (2014), defensive defenceman Matt Thomas, a first round pick, a third round pick, and a fifth round pick.

The Kootenay Ice have been a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference for the majority of the year. In the days leading up to the trade deadline Kootenay made several deals. They began by shipping off defenceman Jeff Hubic for a pick and acquired rock solid defensive defenceman, Tyler King in exchange for 1997-born Hudson Elynuik (2016), and then finished with their biggest deal–the acquisition of skilled two-way forward Zach Franko for a pair of picks. Tim Bozon, since being traded, has the spent most of his time on a line with 2014 NHL Entry Draft top prospect, Sam Reinhart, and undrafted goalscorer, Jaedon Descheneau. Bozon has also shown very good chemistry with centre Luke Philp (2014), and has produced extremely well when playing with him. The Ice sit seventh currently, but just seven points separate teams four and nine in the Eastern Conference. After struggling for much of the season, Bozon appears to have returned to his former ways, with 33 points in his last 26 games and ten points in just six games this month. Bozon must keep up this production as he is an integral part of the Ice’s line up.

Dalton Thrower has 37 points in 37 games this year.  Photo: Timo Savela,

Dalton Thrower has 37 points in 37 games this year.
Photo: Timo Savela,

Dalton Thrower‘s Vancouver Giants were very much in the same position as the Kootenay Ice. Coming into the trade deadline they were a middle-of-the-pack team at best and made several smaller deals and then acquired one solid player. While Vancouver is a rebuilding team, they still want to be competitive this season, as they dealt 1994-born import forward, Dominik Volek. They also made a number of deals acquiring picks, shipping off top four defenceman Blake Orban and depth forward Anthony Ast. They also sent overage forward, Marek Tvrdon (DET ’11), who will return to the WHL after a failed stints in both the ECHL and AHL, to Kelowna in exchange for a second round pick. As captain of the Vancouver Giants, Dalton Thrower will lead the way for the young team. The second rounder has arguably been the single most important Canadiens prospect to his junior team. Thrower has been absolutely terrific this year as he has improved his defensive game leaps and bounds and is producing at a point-per-game rate, all while maintaining his intense physical style. Vancouver has won six of their last ten games, giving them some breathing room over the Tri-City Americans, Prince George Cougars and Kamloops Blazers for the final two positions in the playoffs. Chances are Vancouver won’t last long in the playoffs if they do make it, but it will be a valuable experience for Dalton Thrower, who has been highly disappointing in all four of his WHL playoff experiences.

Potentially all of the Montreal Canadiens junior prospects will experience playoff runs, with the expectations being incredibly high. Between Baie-Comeau, Gatineau, Halifax, and Rouyn-Noranda, Canadiens fans will have lots of good playoff action in the QMJHL featuring Habs prospects. Connor Crisp will be vital in Sudbury’s success in the OHL, as will Brady Vail for Windsor’s. Tim Bozon’s Ice and Dalton Thrower’s Giants both aren’t contenders by any means, but they have the talent to surprise come playoff time. All Canadiens prospects must be contributors down the stretch for their teams to have success. For Habs fans, it is going to be an incredibly exciting time to follow prospects.

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