Being born in Ontario, the OHL will forever be my first love when it comes to Junior hockey. I do however keep an eye on all forms of hockey which I would suggest originates from the several lockout disputes in which the NHL has suffered. Seeing numerous professional hockey players go overseas to play, I was drawn to the KHL mostly, following some of the big name stars of the NHL.
From there I kept my eye on different prospects as they dispersed around the world trying to keep the dream alive. The Jesse Blacker’s, Joey Hishon’s, Igor Bobkov’s, Karri Ramo’s and Justin Azevado’s of the world, just to name a few. As time has gone on, the KHL has seemed to thrive with some of the added hype and increased ticket sales by the NHL Lockout.
Watching training camps and other international events, I have began to notice other Canadian players who had played in the WHL and QMJHL and I have slowly backtracked my way to understanding these brothering Canadian leagues and now enjoy watching these alternate sets of prospects pop up on the radar predominantly during the World Junior tournament times.
The Quebec league is the most foreign to me but what I call “The Big Trade” definitely caught my eye from the QMJHL. On June 4th, 2015, Joseph “Joe” Veleno was granted ‘exceptional status’, allowing him to play in the QMJHL as a 15-year old-player. Veleno joins a list of 4 other ‘exceptional status’ players that include John Tavares (Oshawa Generals, OHL), Connor McDavid (Erie Otters, OHL), Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts, OHL) and Sean Day (Mississauga Steelheads, OHL).
Joe Veleno was the first player to be granted this status outside of the OHL and was drafted 1st overall by the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2015. The big trade I speak of happened late last year in 2017 after two and a half seasons of good, but ‘not quite exceptional’ personal production with the Sea Dogs. Veleno was part of the Sea Dogs’ 2017 Championship season as a 16-year-old but came up short in the ’17 Windsor Memorial Cup.
The Sea Dog’s brass felt that they were at a point in their development process that they decided to cash in their blue chip prospect and attempt to start over with a plethora of picks. A plethora of picks is indeed what they received for Veleno. On December 8, 2017, Veleno was traded to the Drummondville Voltiguers in exchange for three first-round draft selections in 2018, 2019 and 2020, plus two second-round picks. I would say that a trade of this magnitude is what led me to following the QMJHL league closer.
That brings me to my next team of focus of the 2018-19 season. The Halifax Mooseheads won the right to host the 2019 Memorial Cup which is scheduled to happen at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia from May 17-26, 2019. Many of you I’m sure have heard of W Filip Zadina who just got drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 6th Overall, which many scouts and fans alike thought was a big drop from their expectations.
Both Zadina and fellow import Otto Sompii helped the Mooseheads last through an impressive season where they finished 4th overall in the league, but a disappointing 2nd round sweep to the Charlottetown Islanders stopped the Mooseheads dead in their tracks. Zadina, being 19 and such a high pick may not be back to junior this season. Either he makes the Red Wings or the organization can decide to send him the AHL.
Sompii also seems to be on the tracks to land in Syracuse with the Crunch, amongst a crowded Tampa Bay Lightning prospect pool. Halifax does not get to decide whether or not Somppi returns to junior. That decision rests with Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and the other front office suits.
If in fact both of these players do not return to Halifax, this would leave a large hole in the plans of Moosehead’s GM Cam Russell. As for every other year in Junior hockey, the team that gets awarded the Memorial Cup is automatically placed in the tournament as the 4th team. The other 3 teams will be the Champion of the three CHL leagues.
Every year, the team that hosts the tournament always loads up in order to not make a mockery of this system. It would be a shame to send a fourth team that was under .500 per say. Halifax has a very nice young core but we may see them make some big moves down the stretch of the season to prepare for this tournament.
I am very excited to watch this process as was the case last year with the Regina Pats who were the 2018 host city. Already we have seen the Mooseheads make a trade with last years QMJHL Champion team, the Acadie-Bathhurst Titan. Halifax acquired Anaheim Ducks prospect Antoine Morand and 20-year-old Jordan Maher. Going the other way back to the Titan are Halifax’s 2018 and 2019 first round picks as well as a 2018 third round pick (from Cape Breton) and a third round pick in 2020.