With only 15 days left for the NHL and NHLPA to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, it’s becoming less and less likely with each passing day that the 2012/13 season will begin on time.
Fortunately for hockey fans, the NHL isn’t the only league out there with high-end hockey action. The WHL has already begun its exhibition season and those of the OHL and QMJHL get started up tonight.
There are obvious advantages to buying a CHL ticket over an NHL one. For starters, it’s drastically less expensive, especially if you’re used to shelling out fifty dollars for seats in the nosebleeds at the ACC. And while the on-ice product isn’t really comparable talent-wise, there does tend to be a lot more goals, fights, crazy fans and, as an added bonus, you get to see some of the NHL’s stars of tomorrow.
Here’s my list of the top five Maple Leafs’ prospects who you will be able to watch in the CHL this season, regardless of what happens with the NHL labour dispute. If there is a lockout, the AHL will still continue as scheduled, so be sure to come out and support a Toronto Marlies team that should be in contention for a Calder Cup once again.
1. Morgan Rielly, D, 18, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Drafted: 1st round, 5th overall in 2012
After appearing in only 18 regular season games last year for the Warriors due to a torn ligament in his knee, Rielly is poised for a big year. An effortless skater who loves to join the rush, Rielly had a good showing in the Canada-Russia Challenge in August, joining Ryan Murphy as Canada’s top-scoring defencemen with four points in the four-game series. Rielly should be considered a frontrunner for a spot on Canada’s blueline at the World Junior Championships in December, which would garner him tons of national and international exposure. Whether you live in Western Canada or not, you’re sure to see a lot of the Leafs’ top prospect this season.
2. Tyler Biggs, RW, 19, Oshawa (OHL)
Drafted: 1st round, 22nd overall in 2011
Like Rielly, Biggs also stayed busy this summer, turning heads at the U.S. National Junior Team Evaluation Camp. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger scored four goals and seven points in six games during the highly competitive camp. Biggs hasn’t officially made the World Junior final 20-man roster yet, but if he continues his strong play in his debut season with the Generals, he should be considered a shoo-in. American members of Leafs Nation should be very excited for not only Biggs’ potential for the Blue and White, but for the Red, White and Blue as well.
3. Stuart Percy, D, 19, Mississauga (OHL)
Drafted: 1st round, 25th overall in 2011
The Leafs’ second first-round pick of 2011 had an up-and-down year, missing half the season due to a concussion and knee injury. But the Mississauga captain gained valuable experience appearing in four games for the Marlies, three of which were in the playoffs, even showing early signs of chemistry with Jake Gardiner. Percy shows similar poise and intelligence as Gardiner, but his style favours more of a shutdown role. Every Leafs fan in the GTA should make it a priority to see the Oakville native in person with the new-look Steelheads this season.
4. Matt Finn, D, 18, Guelph (OHL)
Drafted: 2nd round, 35th overall in 2012
Another Toronto boy, Finn played his minor hockey for the Toronto Marlboros AAA team, just as Percy did. Many pundits had Finn much higher on their draft boards than 35th, so some consider it a major steal for the Leafs. He’s already proven to be a complete, two-way defenceman playing a ton of minutes every night for Guelph. Finn should be given even more responsibility and will have ample opportunity to increase his point total of 48 points in 61 games from last season. Finn might be the most intriguing prospect of the group and is definitely worth a look in person.
5. Josh Leivo, LW, 19, Sudbury (OHL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 86th overall in 2011
Leivo saw a big jump in his point total, going from 30 points in 2011 to 73 last season. The Wolves are coming off a Junior Club World Cup championship win in Russia four days ago. Leivo was the leading scorer in the tournament with 11 points in six games, also scoring the game-winner in the 2-0 championship game against the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Leivo has considerable size to throw around and could develop into a capable third-line winger for the Leafs in a couple of seasons.