The playoffs have started in the CHL, but that doesn't mean the hockey season is over for those who didn't make the cut. The World U18s start April 9th in Fargo, Minnesota. Find out who's a lock for Team Canada, and who might join them pending a first-round loss.
WHL- Prince Albert, Regina, Red Deer, Moose Jaw, Chilliwack, Portland
OHL- Oshawa, Kingston, Kitchener, Sault Ste. Marie
QMJHL- Val-d'Or, Halifax
LW Landon Ferraro, Red Deer (WHL)- Like Jordan Eberle last year, the World U18s could be a coming-out party for one of the most underappreciated snipers in the WHL. Landon Ferraro, son of former NHLer Ray, had 17 more goals and 13 more points than the next nearest Red Deer Rebel enroute to a solid 37-18-55 season. A dynamic skater with an elite release, Ferraro is without the doubt the best scorer likely available for the team, and he'll get a lot of opportunities as a result.
C Ethan Werek, Kingston (OHL)- Another under-the-radar forward looking to make waves in Minnesota, 6'2 center Ethan Werek has the three Ss- size, skill, sandpaper- and the numbers to prove it. The OHL rookie tied for the Kingston team lead in goals (32) and finished a close second in the scoring race (64 points). And, while 83 PIM might not look like a lot, it was actually the second-highest total on the Frontenacs roster. At his best in the slot or crease when paired with a playmaker, the big center should anchor the first or second unit.
D Calvin de Haan, Oshawa (OHL)- Once considered a franchise on the rise thanks to youngsters like John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto, the Oshawa Generals never truly became a Memorial Cup threat due to their lack of depth. However, one success story is Calvin de Haan. A smooth-skating blueliner in the Matt Carle mold, the 6'0 de Haan was an immediate match with Tavares as a rookie, scoring over a PPG prior to 'The Deal' that sent JT to the London Knight. While de Haan's numbers fell off, his ice-time and dominance quadrupled down the stretch. After finishing with 63 points in 68 games, de Haan could improve his draft position to top 15 with a strong showing for Team Canada.
D Ryan Button, Prince Albert (WHL)- Another underappreciated player coming out of the west is PA Raider Ryan Button. Thrust into a top three role as a 16 year-old in 2007-08, Button learned a lot valuable lessons enroute to an eight point, -20 campaign. However, 2008-09 has been the year where all those lessons have come in handy. Button's 37 points were second amongst all PA blueliners, and his 32 assists first. Playing upwards of 30 minutes many nights, the slick two-way defender will be a valuable addition to Team Canada.
D Taylor Doherty, Kingston (OHL)- One of the most intriguing talents in the 2009 Draft will get another chance at exposing his talent to scouts during the U18s. 6'8 Kingston Frontenac defenseman Taylor Doherty duplicated his impressive 2007-08 rookie campaign this year with another 20-point, 120 PIM campaign. The total package of raw skills and traits teams look for in defensemen, while it's slightly worrisome Doherty did not improve statistically in any way during 2008-09, he's miles ahead of other players usually taken for their size.
G Scott Stajcer, Owen Sound (OHL)- How can a goalie allow seven goals but still be considered his team's MVP? When that goalie faces 93 shots in one one-third games. The Owen Sound Attack are two games away from being swept by the mighty Windsor Spitfires, but Scott Stajcer has been full value. Put in net in favor of starter Tyler Beskorowany six minutes into the second period of Game 1, Stajcer allowed just one goal on 30 shots in what ended as a 7-4 loss. Starter in the next game, the Spitfires once again netted seven goals, but it was Stajcer's 57 saves that were the game story. Stajcer is still a relative unknown, but his size and skill are eerily reminiscient of current Columbus MVP Steve Mason.
C Ryan O'Reilly, Eerie (OHL)- While the Eerie Otters are a respectably good team that could push a number of opponents to seven games, the London Knights probably won't be one of them. See: John Tavares, Michael Del Zotto, Nazem Kadri. Failing a miracle win, Otters star Ryan O'Reilly will look to help Canada to another gold medal. Part of the U18 Ivan Hlinka team that took home the championship last summer, O'Reilly is a gritty heart-and-soul center that can be compared to a playmaker's version of Ryan Smyth. Skating and a lack of sniping instincts will likely cost O'Reilly a first round spot, but his work ethic is such that he could be one of the few that make it to the show. In 68 games, O'Reilly tallied 50 assists.
LW Benjamin Casavant, PEI (QMJHL)- The 2009 QMJHL class was once considered the best in Canada. However, as the last two seasons have progressed, the hype surrounding numerous AAA phenoms has turned into the cold, hard reality 99% of them will not be anything more than after-thoughts in June. However, just as touting 14 and 15 year-olds as future stars was folly, so too is writing off the entire '91 talent pool. Benjamin Casavant is the best eligible forward you haven't heard of. PEI's scoring leader by over 30 points, the 6'1, 200 lbs winger enjoyed an incredible stretch run that saw him post almost 2 PPG. With 80 points in 68 games, Casavant almost had has many goals (39) as PEI's third-leading point-getter (41). gritty power forward with extraordinarly soft hands, Casavant could go as high as 15 this summer ala Steve Bernier in his draft year.
D Simon Despres, Saint John (QMJHL)- Once derided by yours truly for a lacksidasical attitude toward the offensive game despite his vast gifts, swift-skating 6'3 blueliner Simon Despres turned it on during the Q stretch drive and has deservedly regained his status as a top-15 pick. After netting just 18 points through 50 games, the light switch went on for the Scott Niedermayer-esque skater. In 12 games through February and March, the rushing rearguard tallied 16 points- including three four-point games. Despres has carried that strong play into the playoffs, almost pushing his Saint John Sea Dogs to an upset in Game 1 over Cape Breton. Despres had three assists in a 5-4 OT loss to the Screaming Eagles.
RW Zack Kassian, Peterborough (OHL)- At every level, Team Canada's most successful entries have been those that feature at least one world-class agitator or power winger. The ability to take control of a game with a hit or bit of gamemanship
D Eric Gelinas, Lewiston (QMJHL)- Another QMJHLer earning little press, 6'2, 190 lbs rearguard Eric Gelinas finished off a solid sophomore season with the Lewiston MAINEiacs in 2008-09. Improving on his rookie scoring total by 20 points, Gelinas' 39 points were the third-most on the lowly Lewiston roster. A gritty two-way defender with just an okay set of wheels, Gelinas will nevertheless earn himself some more admirers among scouts and GMs at the U18s.
C Joey Hishon, Owen Sound (OHL)- Tough crowd. Despite netting 81 points in just 67 games as a 17 year-old a year away from his draft, the press for Owen Sound Attack star Joey Hishon has been light. A lot of that has to do with his frame. While Hishon bested Bobby Ryan's scoring marks as a member of the Attack, his scant 5'10, 166 lbs frame has drawn concern- simply bizarre considering he still has two and maybe even three years of physical development left. A highly skilled player in the mold of Bryan Little, expect Hishon to be a top ten pick.
C Jordan Weal, Regina Pats (WHL)- Another smaller pivot with big gifts, 5'8, 158 lbs WHL rookie Jordan Weal started the year off an incredible tear, and never stopped. Given the top forward job with Jordan Eberle still in Oilers camp, Weal came out of the gate hard, potting 25 points in the first eighteen games of the season. While his pace settled down with the return of Eberle, Weal continued to post numbers. Rarely paired with Eberle until the stretch run, the 17 year-old finished the season with a terrific 70 points and 54 assists in just 65 games.
D Mark Pysyk, Edmonton (WHL)- Poor Oil Kings. The second-year franchise battled hard all year, enjoying career-best performances from a number of players who will likely never play in the NHL. Their sacrifices and feats culminated in a thrilling 2-1 OT triumph over the PA Raiders in a rare WHL standing tie-break game. Their reward? To get stomped by the 122-point Calgary Hitmen in the first round of the playoffs. However, despite losing 5-0 in Game 1, 30-minute-a-night blueliner Mark Pysyk was only a -1. That's been the story pretty much all year. A dazzling skater and truly elite defensive player, the 6'1 Pysyk was rewarded with numerous game stars throughout the year despite only potting 20 points. While Pysyk still has lots of time to grow into his 6'1, 175 lbs frame, and lots to learn, don't expect him to be a 50 or 60-point defender in the NHL. He's as close to a modern-day Rod Langway as you'll find.