2019 NHL Draft: Canada’s Top Early Performers

Canada has proven time and time again to be a developmental powerhouse in the hockey world.

Consistently pumping out a number of the NHL’s youngest elite players, Canada and the many leagues within it serve as a significant gateway for future stars regardless of their country of origin. And, in 2018-19, exactly such is once again the case — the three leagues which comprise the Canadian Hockey League are saturated with highly skilled talent while the Junior A circuit features a handful of dynamic players as well.

Now, although the 2018-19 season remains young, a slew of players have already begun to separate themselves from their competition. Through consistent and lethal play, these particular prospects — which you will meet below– have enjoyed sensational starts to their first campaigns of NHL Draft eligibility.

Western Hockey League

The Top-3 Early Performers:

  • Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades)

Standing 6-foot-4 and 200-pounds, Kirby Dach is an intimidating force who features an explosive offensive skill set. A tremendous passer with exceptional vision, Dach also boasts an improving shot and innate instincts — a combination which makes him a presence each and every shift.

To begin the 2018-19 campaign, Dach wasted little time applying his versatile skill set. In his first 22 games played with the Saskatoon Blades, Dach had recorded 12 goals and added 23 assists for an impressive total of 35 points — the most of any WHL draft eligible forward.

  • Peyton Krebs (Kootenay ICE)

Although his standing within various NHL Draft rankings has fluctuated, Peyton Krebs remains as a constant attacking force for the Kootenay ICE. Standing slightly less than 6-feet tall, Krebs is a workhorse for the ICE and a tireless puck hound. Agile and creative, Krebs can weave through opposing defences and carve his way to the goal while in possession of the puck.

Despite a slightly slow start, Krebs has ramped up his offensive game. Mid-way through the month of November, Krebs had earned himself 27 points alongside six goals. Although his plus/minus rating of -17 left plenty to be desired, Krebs could develop into a strong attacking forward similar to Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

  • Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants)

Bowen Byram could very well be the best defenceman eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft. Extremely mobile and confident, Byram can be utilized in a variety of situations and is a dominant force at even-strength.

At the half way point of the month of November, Byram had already collected six goals and 15 points alongside a respectable plus/minus rating of +3. As a driving force for the Giants, Byram has consistently displayed the ability to lead his team at both ends of the ice while logging major minutes in the process.

Honourable Mention:

  • Brett Leason (Prince Albert Raiders)

Although he is a 1999-born prospect, Brett Leason could be one of the most promising yet overlooked players available for the 2019 NHL Draft. With two average seasons of WHL play in-hand, Leason has exploded out of the gate to begin his 2018-19 season with 18 goals and 42 points in just 20 games played.

With great size given his 6-foot-4 frame and 205-pound weight, Leason could prove to be a hidden gem if drafted by an NHL franchise this coming June. Although he’ll surely need to develop within the professional ranks before being afforded a shot at the NHL-level, the native of Calgary, Alberta clearly boasts the skill-set of a legitimate NHL prospect.

Ontario Hockey League

The Top-3 Early Performers:

  • Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton Bulldogs)

Not only is Arthur Kaliyev a smooth skating forward with a wicked shot, but he is also one of the most lethal offensive players in the OHL this season. As a natural goal-scorer, Kaliyev can beat goaltenders in a variety of ways but relies primarily on his heavy and devastating shot to do damage.

Kaliyev is a devastating offensive force who plays with remarkable consistency. (Photo Credit: Bandon Taylor)

With 17 goals and 32 points through his first 21 games played this season, Kaliyev has quickly established himself as a premier offensive player eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft. Rocketing his way up respective draft rankings and showing no signs of slowing down, Kaliyev could be a hidden gem within this year’s class.

  • Ryan Suzuki (Barrie Colts)

As the first overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, it should come as no surprise to see Ryan Suzuki as a top performer early on this season. A dynamic playmaker who boasts terrific vision, Suzuki is a consistent threat who makes those around him better on a nightly basis.

Through his first 19 games played with the Colts this season, Suzuki had already accumulated 29 points — eight of which goals. If able to consistently dominate his opposition this season while further strengthening his defensive play, Suzuki could be chosen inside of the top-10 come the 2019 NHL Draft.

  • Thomas Harley (Mississauga Steelheads)

Although he began the 2018-19 OHL season as a relative unknown, Thomas Harley is quickly making a name for himself. A smooth and polished skater with oodles of confidence, Harley is becoming one of the OHL’s best puck-moving defenders despite his young age of just 17-years.

Harley is a smooth-skating defender of significant size who loves to contribute offensively. (Photo Credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Having recorded 18 points through his first 21 games this season, Harley is proving that he can play a responsible two-way game against his opponent’s top attacking lines. Although his defensive game remains a work in progress, there is simply far too much to like with regards to Harley’s game to go unmentioned.

Honourable Mention:

  • Matthew Struthers (North Bay Battalion)

Although he was first eligible to be chosen in the 2018 NHL Draft, Matthew Struthers’ lethal play this season could lead to his selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. Of solid size given his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame, Struthers is an intimidating force who has come to play a significant offensive role for the North Bay Battalion.

Having potted 12 goals and 27 points across his first 18 games played this season, Struthers has been remarkably consistent and endlessly potent. Playing alongside an incredibly dangerous teammate in Justin Brazeau, Struthers has become an offensive catalyst for the Battalion yet one capable of being utilized in a variety of situations. If able to maintain his current level of play, Struthers could very well be chosen in the upcoming NHL Draft.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

The Top-3 Early Performers:

  • Nathan Legare (Baie-Comeau Drakkar)

Nathan Legare nearly topped his entire offensive output from his rookie season in October alone to begin the 2018-19 season. Blasting home 16 goals and 35 points in his first 23 games played this campaign, Legare has quickly cemented himself as a prospect to watch within the QMJHL this year.

Although long overlooked due to the presences of Jakob Pelletier and Raphael Lavoie, Legare has shed the shadow cast by his competition through competitive and consistent offensive play. A speedy and purposeful skater, Legare demands puck possession and has proven his ability to create lethal scoring chances in the blink of an eye.

  • Jakob Pelletier (Moncton Wildcats)

As the third-overall selection in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft, Jakob Pelletier has long been a prospect of immense potential. Fortunately for Pelletier, he is quickly living up to the expectations placed upon him — the Quebec City, Quebec native netted 11 goals and 30 points in his first 20 games played this season.

Incredibly quick, agile, and decisive, Pelletier is a tireless force who loves to attain both personal and team success. Not one to take a night off, Pelletier has come to drive Moncton’s offensive game and is now relied upon by his coaches and teammates to do exactly such. Although somewhat undersized, the punch which Pelletier packs in unquestionable.

  • Raphael Lavoie (Halifax Mooseheads)

In addition to Dach, Raphael Lavoie could be one of the 2019 NHL Draft class’ best power forwards. Standing 6-foot-4 and 200-pounds, Lavoie is an intimidating threat who also plays a consistent offensive game. In fact, Lavoie recorded 12 goals and 22 points through his first 20 games played this season.

What separates Lavoie from most power forwards, however, is his long yet smooth and efficient stride. Despite his lanky frame, Lavoie is a fantastic skater with breakaway speed and the agility necessary to operate deep within the offensive zone. As a late 2000 birth date, Lavoie is one of the oldest yet most NHL ready players eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft.

Canadian Jr. A

The Top-3 Early Performers:

  • Alex Newhook (Victoria Grizzlies)

Long the primary player to watch within the Canadian Jr. A circuit this season, Alex Newhook has wasted little time in establishing himself as a top NHL prospect early on this season. Skating in his second campaign with the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, Newhook has already netted 12 goals and a whopping 36 points in his first 24 games played.

Committed to Boston College for the 2019-20 season, Newhook is an explosive and extremely dynamic forward capable of driving his team’s offensive game. As a fluid skater of ample speed and agility, Newhook is endlessly crafty and is most lethal when the puck is on his stick.

  • Harrison Blaisdell (Chilliwack Chiefs)

A second year player with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL, Harrison Blaisdell is quietly piecing together a strong sophomore season. Committed to the University of North Dakota for the 2020-21 campaign, Blaisdell has been a model of consistency thus far in 2018-19 — recording 15 goals and 27 points across his first 25 games played.

Although of a slightly smaller stature, Blaisdell has become a lethal offensive force for the Chiefs. As a versatile offensive player, Blaisdell can move the puck to his teammates with relative ease or uncork a crisp and accurate shot on goal.

  • Eric Ciccolini (Toronto Jr. Canadiens)

The Toronto Jr. Canadiens are off to a hot start to begin their 2018-19 OJHL season, however, said success would not have been possible without the play of Eric Ciccolini. Headed to Colgate University for the 2020-21 season, Ciccolini has quickly become a devastating attacker for his team.

Having collected 14 goals and 36 points through his team’s first 24 games, Ciccolini led the Jr. Canadiens with absolute authority. As a solid skater with exceptional puck-handling abilities, Ciccolini is a creative skater who can generate quality scoring opportunities off of the rush or via the cycle game.

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