The Canadian Hockey League playoffs are set to begin tonight on three fronts, with one game taking place in each of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
The Montreal Canadiens have ten prospects that suited up in the CHL this season, and all but two of them will take part in the upcoming post season.
Dalton Thrower had an excellent season as a 20 year old with the Vancouver Giants, scoring 39 points in 42 games, but is out for the season due to an ankle injury. Tim Bozon of the Kootenay Ice also had an exceptional season, but unfortunately was admitted to hospital with meningitis. He was first listed in critical condition and placed in a coma, but has since been woken up and had his status updated to stable.
The only Canadiens prospect in action tonight is Connor Crisp of the Sudbury Wolves. Crisp was a third round pick of the Habs in the 2013 NHL Draft, when he was a member of the Erie Otters. Crisp scored 22 goals and 37 points that season, but set new career highs with Sudbury, scoring 28 goals and 55 points this season with the Wolves.
Sudbury finished fifth in the OHL’s Eastern Conference with 77 points and will take on the Barrie Colts in the opening round of the playoffs. Barrie also finished with 77 points but will have home ice in the series because they had more wins in the regular season.
The division rivals met eight times during the OHL regular season, with Sudbury taking the season series 5-3. Crisp finished fourth on the Wolves in scoring, but was especially dangerous against the Colts this season, scoring four goals and six assists for ten points in the eight meetings between their first round foe.
The Wolves struggled down the stretch of the regular season, winning just three of their last ten games while the Colts were 6-4 to wrap up the regular season and steal home ice away from Sudbury.
Barrie is led by Andreas Athanasiou and defenseman Aaron Ekblad who is a potential first overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft. Athanasiou was a fourth round selection by the Detroit Red Wings in 2012, and finished second in the OHL with 49 goals this season. Ekblad was the first overall pick in the 2011 OHL Draft after being granted exceptional status and joining the league as a 15 year old.
Ekblad took his offensive game to new heights this season, finishing third on the Colts in scoring with 53 points in 58 games. He missed time while representing Canada at the World Junior Tournament, and was perhaps the top defenseman for the country at the age of 17.
The Wolves may struggle to keep up with Colts offensively in this series. Aside from Crisp’s 28 goals, Sudbury only have two others with more than 15. That would be Nick Baptiste and Nathan Pancel, who have an impressive 45 and 42 respectively. The Wolves have top end goal scorers but not a lot of scoring depth.
The Colts on the other hand, had five players score at least 24 goals, including Athanasiou, who will be very difficult to stop.
In goal, Sudbury will lean on 20 year old overage Junior Franky Palazzese, while the Colts counter with 17 year old Mackenzie Blackwood. The pair posted nearly identical goals against averages of 2.98, but the edge in goal certainly goes to the Wolves goaltender.
Palazzese has seen playoff experience in the OHL each of the past three seasons, and had a superior save percentage of .916 to Blackwood’s .902 this season. Blackwood is also a rookie in the league and has no prior OHL playoff experience to rely on.
This series between two teams who tied with 77 regular season points is a toss up. Sudbury’s success will rely heavily on their secondary offense, which will have to be carried by Montreal’s Connor Crisp if the Wolves are going to move on.
My prediction: Wolves win the series in 6, and Crisp chips in an impressive 4 goals and 2 assists to make it happen.