Yesterday afternoon, the CHL announced that the 2016 CHL top prospects game had been awarded to Vancouver, meaning that all the best and brightest first-time draft eligible stars will gather at the Pacific Coliseum on January 28th for the CHL’s draft eligible version of an all-star game.
This will be the first time that Vancouver has hosted the event since then Vancouver Giants superstar Gilbert Brule scored a hat-trick and added an assist on his home ice to earn prospects game MVP honours. This time around, Vancouver Giants star-in-the-making Tyler Benson will take centre stage, but will face some stiff competition from his fellow 2016 draft eligible peers.
So just who should we be looking out for? Which current 16-year olds stand the best chance at starring in the NHL in the not-too-distant future? We’ll take a look at six budding stars after the jump.
Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants
After breaking the Alberta bantam scoring record with 57 goals and 89 assists in 33 games, the Giants selected Benson 1st overall in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. And the 16-year old record hasn’t disappointed in his WHL rookie season. Benson’s 43 points in 57 games makes him the second most prolific scorer on a goal-starved Giants squad, behind only 19-year old Edmonton Oilers draft pick Jackson Houck.
Benson also possesses a two-way game that’s mature beyond his years and a penchant for nasty and combative physical play, allowing the still young forward to be one of Vancouver’s most versatile players. He’s the best puck possession player on the Giants too, and elevates every teammate he plays with. Once he develops his speed, he’ll be able to use his sublime playmaking skills to an even greater effect, and looks primed to have a long and fruitful career in the NHL.
Sean Day, D, Mississauga Steelheads
Sean Day was the fourth OHL player to be granted “exceptional player” status, allowing him to play in the CHL as an under-age 15-year old. Unlike his previous “exceptional” peers like John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid, Day was not selected with the first overall pick and did not have an exceptionally strong rookie season. He was an ugly minus-35 on a poor Mississauga team and scored just 10 points in 60 games.
This season, Day has taken the strides that many have expected from him, both literally and metaphorically. Day is an explosive skater that stands an NHL-sized 6’2, 230 lbs and possesses an extremely desirable set of tools. He’s also up to 0.60 pts/GP this season, and leads all draft-1 OHL D in assists with 24, and could turn into an offensive force as soon as next year.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia Sting
The Florida-born son of former NHLer Jeff Chychrun is quickly becoming a monster in his rookie CHL season with the Sarnia Sting. Named an assistant captain once Anthony DeAngelo was dealt at the OHL trade deadline to the Soo Greyhounds, Chychrun leads all CHL 16-year old D in goals and points per game with 16 and 0.79 respectively.
Furthermore, Chychrun is far from just an electrifying offensive defenseman too. His dominant two-way play has earned him comparisons to Aaron Ekblad, and justifiably so. Ekblad’s 16-year old sophomore year saw him total a “mere” 0.63 points per game, and Chychrun possesses the same freakish combination of size and strength and maybe even a more developed offensive touch. It’s still incredibly premature to make this assessment, but Chychrun looks like he has the potential to be a cornerstone NHL defender.
Sam Steel, C, Regina Pats
After dealing Morgan Klimchuk, Dryden Hunt, and Connor Gay, the diminutive Sam Steel became a central part of Regina’s attack. The young centre has done his part to hold the fort for the Pats, as he leads all 2016-eligible WHLers in assists with 37, points with 54, and points per game with 0.89. Steel was the second overall pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft behind Tyler Benson, and has out-scored his fellow AMBHL alumni in their respective rookie seasons.
Steel’s game is based on speed and skill, as he has fantastic puck skills and is a high-end playmaker. His scoring pace this season compares favourably to Mathew Barzal, and he is the highest scoring Pats U17 player since Jordan Weal in 2008-09.
Julien Gauthier, RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs
Unlike the other players on this list, Julien Gauthier is actually born in 1997 and misses the cutoff for this year’s entry draft by just a few weeks. Still, given his immense 6’4 frame and high end scoring rate, it’s easy to imagine Gauthier being an early first-round pick in this year’s “super draft.”
Through 64 games, Gauthier has contributed 38 goals and 34 assists to the devastating Foreurs attack, and was second on the team in shots on goal with 229, trailing only pint-sized draft eligible dynamo Anthony Richard. Gauthier is actually 5th on his team in scoring – a testament to how deadly an offensive team Val-d’Or is.
Alex DeBrincat, RW, Erie Otters
Twice passed over in the OHL draft because he stands just 5’7″, Alex DeBrincat signed with Erie as a free agent and is doing his part to make other OHL GMs look silly. The pint-sized scorer leads all CHL U-17 players in goals with 45, assists with 46, and points per game with 1.44 playing the wing on a stacked Otters team. Sure, there’s a ton of Dylan Strome and Connor McDavid influence in his lofty point totals, but that doesn’t change the fact that DeBrincat has been as prolific as talented veteran NHL draft picks such as Remi Elie and Nick Baptiste.
With McDavid surely in the NHL next season but Dylan Strome expected back, the hockey world will definitely be interested to see how DeBrincat responds. He has shown the talent to score on his own, and if he can manage similar point totals to his rookie season, it will go a long way to proving he has what it takes to be an effective pro.
Other Players to Watch
Of course, these six aren’t the only guys to be keeping an eye on. Other interesting names to watch include D Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen), C Brett Howden (Moose Jaw Warriors), D Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings), C Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires), C Pierre-Luc Dubois (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles), D Samuel Girard (Shawinigan Cataractes), C Brandon Gignac (Shawinigan Cataractes), D Luke Green (St. Johns Sea Dogs), and many more.