The 2018 NHL Draft was one of the shallower classes for prospects from the three Canadian Hockey League (Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) circuits in recent memory. Correspondingly, the Flyers only selected one CHL player -- American defenseman Wyatte Wylie of the WHL's Everett Silvertips -- among their eight picks in the Draft.
This year could be different, at least to some extent.
"We can go league by league," Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "Last year was a particularly weak year for the WHL, but it's a better group this year. This year is a little below average for the OHL in terms of the top-end candidates but there are some players there. With the QMJHL, there's only a couple higher-end kids but there's some mid-range players who have a chance to play."
Here's a brief synopsis of some of the more notable Draft-eligible players available from each of the three CHL circuits. Note: Another name to watch, possibly even within the top 12 to 15 picks is a junior A forward from the BCHL, Alex Newhook. The BCHL is not one of the CHL leagues, but any draft lift of prominent candidates playing Canadian junior hockey this past season should include Newhook.
WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE (WHL)
There are roughly a half-dozen Draft-eligible players from the Western League whose names could be called on the first day of this year's Draft, including three players who are a safe bet to be chosen within the first dozen to 15 picks.
A huge reason why the Vancouver Giants reached the finals in the playoffs, Draft-eligible blue liner Bowen Byram could be the first defenseman chosen in this year's Draft, and possibly even a top-five pick. His skill set, with a penchant for jumping into the play and a particular talent for scoring back-door goals and tallies from near the hash-marks or faceoff dot, is very much in demand in today's game. His defensive game was considered average heading into the season but he set aside those concerns with a solid two-campaign.
Saskatoon Blades center Kirby Dach is almost certain to be selected within the top half of the first round, and some projections even have him within the top five. While consistency has been a concern thus far in his career, he has shown an ability to dominate at times. Dach is one of the "toolsiest" players in this year's Draft class: an intriguing combination of size (6-foot-4, 198 pounds), speed, playmaking ability and slick stickhandling. He needs to shoot the puck more often and he has been prone to streakiness in his Draft-eligible year but Dach elevated his game in the postseason to finish on a strong note.
Good size, smooth skating, two-way acumen and an above-average shot are the traits that make Lethbridge Hurricanes center Dylan Cozens a potential top-10 pick. An advanced game without the puck -- some sources rank him as the best defensive forward in the Draft -- as well as a top-nine floor and the upside to play with the top six of a forward rotation at the pro level are why many scouts consider him one of the safest picks in this year's Draft class.
A recent Achilles tendon injury should not prevent Kootenay center Peyton Krebs from being selected in the top half of the first round. Entering the 2018-19 season, Krebs was a red-hot preseason name to watch as he came off a strong rookie year in 2017-18.
There was nothing wrong whatsoever with his subsequent campaign. Krebs was a reliable standout on a very weak Ice team after a solid showing in the Hlinka tourney and capped it off with a half dozen goals and 10 points in seven games for Team Canada at the Under-18 Worlds.
Krebs is a very good skater and above-average playmaker who tends more toward being a little more of a pass-first type of forward although he has a good shot when he uses it. His hockey sense makes him a player with all-situations upside and he has shown the versatility to switch off between center and wing without missing a beat, so he could fit in wherever needed. Krebs is of strictly average size (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) but often seems to "play big" by today's standards, and has long-term leadership potential as a pro.
Beyond these four players, prospects such as Kelowna Rockets defenseman Lassi Thomson and Moose Jaw Warriors left winger Brayden Tracey could figure in the first-round mix this year. Huge-framed Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason is likely to go within the second round after being passed over in his first (2017) and second (2018) years of Draft eligibility. Below-average skating is the main knock on Kelowna left winger Nolan Foote but the player (who is the son of longtime NHL defenseman Adam Foote and the brother of Cal) has a heavy shot, a good head for the game and a nose for the net that make him a potential top-50 selection.
ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE (OHL)
There may not be any OHL players taken within the top dozen picks this year, but that is not a slam dunk and there could be anywhere from four to a half-dozen Ontario League players selected by the time the first round is over.
Arguably the most divisive prospect in this year's Draft class is Hamilton Bulldogs right winger Arthur Kaliyev. He racked up 50 goals this season and is already fairly mature physically (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) for a player who did not turn 18 until June 1. However, many other aspects of his game -- skating, play without the puck, conditioning, willingness to battle for pucks and shift-in and shift-out energy level -- are questioned. Kaliyev could be selected in the low to mid 10s of the Draft or could be a player who tumbles near the end of the first round to the point where the upside justifies the risk.
A puck-moving defenseman with good size (6-foot-3, 193 pounds) and offensive upside (top 10 in scoring among OHL defensemen), Mississauga defenseman Thomas Harley could be the second CHL defenseman off the board in this year's draft, and possibly the second one from any league. That will depend on where Swedish blueliners Philip Broberg and Victor Söderström and German defenseman Moritz Seider end up going relative to Harley.
A former first overall pick in the OHL Midget Draft and the younger brother of top Montreal prospect Nick Suzuki, Barrie Colts center Ryan Suzuki is likely to be chosen in the middle to late stages of the 2019 first round. To some extend, Suzuki's stock has been hurt by over-scouting -- after multiple years of viewings, the creative plays are expected and there's sometimes more nitpicking of a bad shift here or a bad game there. Suzuki is a creative attacker with good speed (although a high-ankle sprain affected him in the latter part of this season). His competitiveness level and intensity are sometimes questioned.
Niagara forward Phil Tomasino is another OHL player who could picked in the first round this year after excelling in the Top Prospects Game and skills events, and enjoying a very productive season in the Ontario League with most of his points coming at even strength. Smallish but highly competitive and playmaking Sarnia Sting forward Jamieson Rees and London Knights forward Connor McMichael both have the ability to play in the middle or on a wing. Either or both players could be chosen in the latter portion of the first round and, if not, are both solid second-round candidates.
QUEBEC MAJOR JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE (QMJHL)
There are two QMJHL names to watch in the first round this year but, as Flahr indicated, there could be quite a few players from the Quebec League chosen across the second day of the Draft.
Raphael Lavoie, a sniping Halifax Mooseheads right winger with a huge frame (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and a stellar playoff run (20 goals in 23 games) to his credit, had something of a roller coaster season in his Draft-eligible year in terms of his Draft projections. He was considered a safe bet to be a top-10 pick entering the season but, like many players who were on the radar well ahead of their Draft eligibility, there was pushback and downward adjustment. All of the tools are there to be a fine player at the pro level if he displays greater consistency.
The son of former NHLer Patrick Poulin (himself a first-round pick back in 1991), Sherbrooke forward Samuel Poulin is a physically mature (6-foot-1, 207 pound) player who gets good scouting reviews for his puck skills, character and competitiveness. He lacks an extra gear, at least thus far, and there are some concerns that currently less physically mature players from this year's Draft class could surpass him down the line. While Poulin is considered a relatively safe pick in terms of likelihood of playing in the NHL in the future -- possibly even the near future -- his upside to develop into a bonafide top 6 player is more of a divisive question.
At some point late in the first round and almost certainly by the earlier portion the second day of the Draft, Moncton forward Jakob Pelletier, an above-average goal scorer at the junior level who competes for space fearlessly despite being physically small, will come off the board. Charlottetown's German-born Russian import Nikita Alexandrov has future top-9 or top-10 upside in an NHL lineup as a versatile forward with a well-rounded skill set but perhaps not the explosiveness to project in the upper reaches of an NHL lineup.
Among others, names to watch on Day 2 could include Blainville-Boisbriand defenseman Samuel Bolduc (a project player with excellent athletic tools on a big frame), hard-shooting and regular goal-scoring Rouyn-Noranda Huskies right winger Alex Beaucage (if he can improve his skating, he has a chance to play in the NHL), and Victoriaville's playmaking Russian import forward Mikhail Abramov.