Highlights and impressions from the CHL top prospects game
Connor Bedard, Zach Benson, Colby Barlow, and more!
Last night was the Kubota CHL/NHL top prospects game, seeing the likes of consensus first-overall pick Connor Bedard and other draft hopefuls from around the CHL take the ice in Langley, BC.
I won’t go into detail on every player involved in the interest of keeping this readable for everyone. That said, I want to call out some players that impressed me either in that game, or through their season thus far, and I’ll add a quick word on whether or not they could be a target for the Habs.
Barlow tied the game up for Team White in the first period by doing something he’s rather adept at doing; getting to the net and finishing off plays.
A big, scoring winger, the Owen Sound Attack captain has 33 goals in 40 games so far this season. What we didn’t really get a chance to see from him in the prospects game was his shot, which if you get a chance to watch an Attack game, is easy to miss because he possesses elite velocity.
Off-puck positioning, particularly in the defensive zone, stands as something he could improve. His skating mechanics could also use some adjustment to facilitate better agility and quicker acceleration to help him facilitate more opportunities for himself to use that cannon of a shot. He has great speed, it’s just a matter of being able to get to that top gear a little quicker.
He played a solid game for team white, and while it won’t pop him into the top-five of the draft, it probably did enough to confirm him for some in their top-10 projections.
Habs target? Well, that depends. Rankings mostly have him towards the end or just outside the top-10, with a few placing him in the 20s or the second round. The Habs’ depth at left wing stands to become a problem as early as next year, so he could be an option depending on where the Florida Panthers’ pick that they hold ends up landing.
Son of Radek Bonk, Oliver was one of the more quietly impressive players on the ice in this game. He didn’t find the score sheet, but he made some incredibly smart defensive plays for Team White, even taking the puck off Connor Bedard to end the threat at one point.
Bonk is a player I’ve had my eye on for a while thanks to watching Logan Mailloux with the London Knights. Smooth skater, makes a great first pass, and while very adept at starting rushes, his skating allows him to join that same rush, and he loves to do it. His positioning and ability to cut off passes through anticipation stand out in almost every game, and it was again apparent in the annual prospect showcase.
He lacks a little physicality in his own zone despite having a solid frame, but I believe this aspect of his game is improving throughout the course of the year. Once he gets into the offensive zone, he has one of the sneakiest releases from the point that you’ll find in junior.
Habs target? Playing with Logan Mailloux in London means the Habs’ staff should have a pretty good read on Bonk. I’d be very surprised if he’s not on their radar, and if they end up adding a later first-round pick at the deadline, I think he’s a no-brainer. They could always pray he makes it to the top of the order in round two, but I really don’t see him making it through day one unclaimed.
I’ll be upfront here, this kid is one of my personal favourites in the draft, and I think he’ll be a steal in the second round. He opened the scoring in the game with a nasty backhander off a faceoff in the offensive zone.
I really like his hockey IQ. Anticipates plays very well defensively, turns pucks over and heads up ice with quickness. His off-puck positioning . The only drawback I really see in his game is that he relies on his teammates a fair bit to create opportunities for him. Put him in the right situation, and he can thrive.
Playing with Blue Jackets prospect Jordan Dumais this season has been that situation for him. Even with Dumais, however, Cataford is often the player pushing the pace and leading transition through the neutral zone. Dumais has definitely been a major help for Cataford, but I feel the latter hasn’t gotten quite enough credit for how his pace has facilitated their success.
He probably tops out as a middle-six winger in the NHL, but as a projected mid-to-late second rounder, there is excellent value there. Finding superstars in the second round is possible, but a rarity that you can’t quite bank on. I think a team that takes Cataford in that round will end up very happy with him on their second or third line one day.
Habs target? I think they had better be looking at him, but there is perhaps a smidge of bias on my part as I’ve seen him play quite a bit. As with Barlow, wing depth is a good reason to pick him, and they need to look for value outside of the first round. That said, they may need to add an additional second-rounder at the trade deadline to really consider him, as there may be better options at the top of that round where they’re likely to be.
Another one of my personal favourites, but this time much closer to the top of the draft. Benson is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the WHL, currently on a torrid pace at 65 points (25G, 40A) through 38 games with the Winnipeg Ice.
Positioning is key to his game, and he finds soft ice in a way that is reminiscent of Cole Caufield at times. He’s not a small player at 5’10” and 160 pounds, but he knows his physical limits, and uses his movement and positioning to put himself in a position to succeed like he did in the goal above.
His speed isn’t elite, but his edgework and crossovers border on it. Deception is the key to his skating, as he pairs those two tools with some definitively elite stick-handling to make it near impossible for defenders to predict what he’s going to do. This makes him very effective in transition.
And his IQ, vision, and passing are simply too good to pass up. He makes some absurdly good reads and better tape-to-tape passes from those reads. Lethal in setting up his teammates for opportunities, there is a reason he has more than an assist per game so far this year.
All current rankings have him in the top-10, with the bulk of those placing him in the 5-7 range. He may not be a generational superstar, but you’re looking at a player with an extremely high likelihood of finding a lot of success in the NHL.
Habs target? Absolutely, unless they win the lottery. He can play wing or centre, so he’d give the team some flexibility, and could be in the NHL as early as next season. His projection puts him right where the Habs are likely to draft if they don’t jump up, he’d be my pick if they land anywhere outside the top three, though they might need some teams to pass on him if they end up in the 6-8 range.
I’ll be honest, I’ve seen zero Red Deer Rebels games this season, so this was my first watch of Lind. First impression? Dear lord, did this kid crank up the physicality.
He also got in a fight during the third period with Alex Pharand, so it seems that physicality and nasty edge to his game was something he was on a mission to display. It definitely worked. Aside from that, he showed some impressive speed and created a few chances. He did enough to make me look at his schedule and pencil in a watch of the next Rebels game that isn’t too late for me out here in the east.
Habs target? I can’t quite comment here given this was my first watch. Currently ranked from 31-64 overall, so where he lands is anyone’s guess for now, though playing with that edge last night could push him up some draft boards.
It would be hard to write anything about this game without mentioning Bedard, and even harder to come up with some report on his abilities that hasn’t already been written. He’s an elite talent. A legitimate superstar in the making.
Every time the puck was on his stick, something interesting was happening. He was robbed a few times by either of Team White’s goaltenders, so it wasn’t like he was a passenger out there, he just couldn’t quite get one through.
It was somewhat of a pedestrian game for him from a statistical standpoint as a result, but this will do nothing to affect his draft stock, nor should it. He is the best junior-level player in the world right now, and fans of the team that wins the lottery will likely be rejoicing when their team’s logo is unveiled on the broadcast.
Habs target? I pray to whatever gods
rig oversee the lottery