It’s about mid-season now, so I figured it’s a good time to check scoring numbers from the Canadian Hockey League. Because this is a fantasy hockey site, I’m only going to look at players who are either first-time draft eligible, have been drafted by an NHL team, or have been signed by an NHL team.
Scoring numbers in junior hockey can tell a great deal about player’s NHL potential. If we look back at the current NHL stars, most of them were offensive stars in junior hockey as well. That doesn’t mean all junior hockey stars become good NHL players – sometimes player’s development is stalled or their skills don’t translate to pro hockey. Scoring numbers are a good support tool but not a perfect system by any means. When used properly, they’re a good and easy way to check how your prospects are progressing, and sometimes you can find hidden gems when you dig deep enough.
Determining factors with scoring numbers
When looking at scoring numbers from junior leagues, there are two important factors to consider – player’s age and the league he plays in.
In this article, I’m only looking at the three CHL member leagues - OHL, WHL and QMJHL. All leagues are different, and scoring is easier in certain leagues when compared to others. To provide a level playing field between the three leagues, I’ll be using NHL equivalency (NHLe). If you’re not familiar with NHLe, it’s a method which tries to estimate what portion of player’s scoring in other leagues translates to the NHL. NHLe is most commonly used when players are about to enter the NHL to estimate how much offense they can provide during their first season but it’s also a very good tool to compare players from different leagues. If you want to know more, I suggest reading the “Projecting to NHL” article from BehindTheNet.ca. The article itself is quite old but the main point is still very much valid today, and the translation factors have been re-calculated since then.
One might think that determining player’s age is a simple thing to do but there are actually three different methods that are currently being used: NHL draft eligibility, birth year, and exact age.
Players are first-time NHL draft eligible during the year when they’ll be 18 years old on or before September 15th of that year. That date has been selected to make sure all NHL players will be at least 18 when the NHL season starts but other than that, it’s an arbitrary number which is not used anywhere else, so when looking to determine prospect’s age, it’s probably the worst possible method to use.
The CHL uses birth year to determine draft eligibility into their leagues. Birth year is also used to determine when players are no longer forced to return to junior hockey and they can play in the AHL instead (assuming they don’t make the NHL before that). IIHF also uses birth year to determine player eligibility to their events like the World Junior Championship.
Exact age is a newer method which considers not only player’s birth year but also the month and date when he was born. With this, players born in January and December of the same year are not considered equal, and instead the player born in January is considered to be much closer with players born in December of the previous year.
I think there are flaws with both the birth year and the exact date methods. With birth year, two players can be born almost 12 months apart and still considered equal. But exact age doesn’t really capture the fact that players move up to play against tougher competition based on their birth year. Perhaps in the future we can figure out a perfect solution but until then, I’ll be using birth year because the CHL is using it and most NHL prospects come from the CHL.
Now that we have the determining factors sorted out, let’s move on to the actual data. All data is taken from EliteProspects.com on January 10th. Points-per-game average is used, and season totals are used for players who have been traded during the season.
19-year-old players or “age-19 players” during the 2017-2018 season means all players born during the year 1998. This is the final junior season for these players unless they’re returned to play an overage season. Here are the top forwards.
The WHL is providing unusually high scoring numbers this season, so even though Tyler Steenbergen’s numbers are very impressive, I wouldn’t rank him first amongst these players. Steenbergen and Jordan Kyrou have a huge lead over the others but players like Logan Brown, Kole Lind, Brett Howden and Taylor Raddysh are producing good numbers as well.
At the other end, Max Jones and German Rubtsov are not looking good here - they were both first round picks so they clearly have good pro qualities but their offensive upside doesn’t look very promising. I would also like to see better numbers from players like Sam Steel and Kieffer Bellows.
There are some deep league sleeper prospects on this list as well. The undrafted Ty Lewis is leading his team in points and was signed by Colorado. Skyler McKenzie and Drake Rymsha were late draft picks last summer but their numbers intrigue me enough to put them on my prospect watch list. They are both playing on strong teams, though, so their numbers might be inflated because of that.
Let’s move on to the top 19-year-old defensemen.
Kale Clague is leading the list by a wide margin. If he can jump to the NHL and produce 40 points next season, the Kings would be ecstatic. However, that’s most likely too much to expect from him. Nicolas Hague and Conor Timmins are also scoring a good amount of points. They were both early second round picks last summer, and things are looking good right now. David Quenneville has always been a high-scoring defenseman but his size remains an issue.
I’m not impressed with the numbers that former first round picks Jake Bean, Dennis Cholowski, Juuso Välimäki and Cal Foote are producing. Their numbers look good but not great. Josh Mahura was a third round pick, and his numbers look good in comparison to those first round picks.
Colby Sissons and Dylan Coghlan are undrafted players who earned NHL contracts and a place on my prospect watch list. Coghlan and Välimäki are actually playing on the same team and producing similar numbers, so that’s impressive for one of them.
These players are born during the year 1999, so that means they have one more year of junior hockey eligibility left before they can turn pro (unless they make the NHL team). These players are also eligible to play in the 2019 World Junior Championship tournament if they get selected to represent their country.
Aleksi Heponiemi’s numbers are absolutely ridiculous as he’s even producing more than any of the 19-year-olds. I believe he’s the one carrying players like the previously mentioned Steenbergen and Sissons to new heights. After Heponiemi, we have five first round draft picks from last summer’s draft in Robert Thomas, Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett, Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki. They’re all producing impressive numbers for 18-year-olds. Jason Robertson and Michael Rasmussen continue to produce good numbers as well.
Stelio Mattheos is playing with the previously mentioned Ty Lewis and Kale Clague but his numbers are impressive for a third round pick. Late draft picks Kirill Maximov and Ben Jones are posting good numbers, and so is the undrafted Jordan Bellerive who was signed by Pittsburgh. Filip Zadina is ranked very high for the 2018 NHL draft but his numbers don’t actually look so great when compared to his age group, although that could be explained by the fact that this is his first season playing in North America.
Let’s move on to the top 18-year-old defensemen.
It was very difficult to find players for this list. It seems like most 18-year-old defensemen are either playing in Europe or then they’re playing college hockey, so this is a very short list.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the season Evan Bouchard is having so far. His numbers would be second on the 19-year-olds list, and he isn’t even drafted yet. His numbers are helped by the fact he was feeding pucks to forwards like Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu and Max Jones but all three forwards are traded out of the London Knights now, so it will be interesting to see what happens to Bouchard’s numbers.
Henri Jokiharju is also enjoying a strong season with the Portland Winterhawks where he’s feeding pucks to Cody Glass, Kieffer Bellows and Skyler McKenzie. Josh Brook plays for the Moose Jaw Warriors, and even though they don’t have a lot of big names on that team, their overage forwards are posting incredible numbers as well.
That’s all for now. Feel free to comment below. You can also find me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen