There is some debate as to which path is best for young North American players to make it to the NHL. I am a member of the vast majority that believes Canadian junior is the best method, over the likes of Junior A or the college route. Sure, there are pros and cons for each, for example, with college draft picks you don't need to sign them for four years, after they have completed their education (itself, a pro) where you need to sign a player out of junior after just two years.
The Canadian Hockey League is the governing body for junior hockey in Canada. It's comprised of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Western Hockey League (WHL). Teams from the three leagues only play teams in their league, with the exception of the Memorial Cup- a round-robin tournament at the end of the season that features the champion from all three leagues, plus the host city, which rotates every year between the three leagues. The QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes will host the tournament this year.
There are 14 players who are likely going to be regulars in Columbus this season who are CHL alumni:
Rick Nash- London Knights, OHL
Jeff Carter- Sault St.Marie Greyhounds, OHL
Derick Brassard- Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL
Antoine Vermette- Quebec Remparts and Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL
Matt Calvert- Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Derek Dorsett- Medicine Hat TIgers, WHL
Derek MacKenzie- Sudbury Wolves, OHL
Jared Boll- Plymouth Whalers, OHL
Fedor Tyutin- Guelph Storm, OHL
James Wisniewski- Plymouth Whalers, OHL
Marc Methot- London Knights, OHL
Kris Russell- Medicine Hat TIgers, WHL
Steve Mason- London Knights and Kitchener Rangers, OHL
Curtis Sanford- Owen Sound Platers, OHL (Not known as the Owen Sound Attack)
As you can see, former CHL alumnus are a big part of the team. Vinny Prospal, Kristian Huselius, Sammy Pahlsson and Radek Martinek played their junior hockey in Europe, and R.J. Umberger, Grant Clitsome and Mark Dekanich went the college route.
This upcoming season, the Jackets have eight, perhaps ten players who should be playing in the CHL. Let's take a look at those players after the jump.Ryan Johansen- Portland Winterhawks, WHL
Johansen is a wild card this year. Columbus' top prospect, The Johan won't turn 20 until next season, so that means that his only options for this season are to make the Jackets, or return to Portland. A lot of folks think he has a great chance of making the big club out of camp, and if he does, he'll be brought along slowly. With the addition of Jeff Carter, and with Vermette, Brassard and Pahlsson on the roster, he won't need to be thrust into a high-pressure role too soon. If he returns to Portland, he would arguably be the most talented forward in the WHL, and would be at or near the top of league scoring charts. He'd also be a shoe-in for a spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors. The next few weeks of camp will tell the story.
Michael Chaput, Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL
Chaput was acquired at the 2011 trade deadline for Tom Sestito. Sestito had stagnated a bit in terms of his development, and Scott Howson jumped at the chance to add more center depth to the organization. Chaput is a three-zone player, he won't hurt you defensively and has the ability to put up points. He also plays with a bit of an edge. He was sent down from Columbus camp yesterday, and he'll join the Memorial-Cup hosting Cataractes. He'll be a go-to player for Shawinigan, and the guarantee of playing in the Mem Cup will give Chaput the opportunity to have a huge year.
Oliver Gabriel, Portland Winterhawks, QHL
Gabriel was an undrafted free agent who was invited to take part in last year's Traverse City Prospect tournament. He impressed enough to get an invite to main camp, and ended up earning a contract with the Jackets. He is still in Columbus training camp this year, and qualifies for the AHL, so there are some options. If he doesn't make the Jackets, he will either be sent to Falcons camp, or returned to junior as an overage player. The CHL has a rule where you can carry no more than three 20-year olds on the roster. The Winterhawks will be one of the better teams in the 'Dub this season, and if he's returned he could be in line for a big year. He doesn't put up a ton of points, rather he is a dependable checking forward who is willing to drop the mitts if required.
Petr Straka, Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL
Straka was taken in the second round of the entry draft by the Jackets in 2010. He had an injury-plagued campaign last year, and overall it was a season to forget. He's a talented offensive winger, and he should be able to put up big numbers in the traditionally wide-open Q. Rimouski will be a middle of the pack team this year, unless players like Straka take the next step.
Dalton Smith, Ottawa 67's, OHL
Like Straka, Smith is a 2010 second round pick of the Jackets. He had a terrible year last season, regressing offensively, while playing a bulk of the year uninjured. He was supposed to be a go-to forward for the 67;s, but ended the year as a second-tier forward. He's looking to bounce back this upcoming season, where he will attempt to boost his offensive totals, and continue to bring his agitating style.
Lukas Sedlak, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL
For those of you who are excited for winger Tomas Kubalik, keep an eye on Sedlak. Sedlak is following a similar path to Kubalik- both wingers were drafted by Columbus out of the Czech junior league, and made the trek over to North America to play in the Q. Kubalik spent a year with Victoriaville, where Sedlak will look to be an offensive threat in Chicoutimi. The Sags are a team that many believe will make a big jump in the standings this season, and to do that Sedlak will need to be a steady contributor.
Boone Jenner, Oshawa Generals, OHL
Columbus fans- be excited about this kid, Jenner was a steal for the Jackets. Prior to this year's draft, Scott Howson traded the team's first round pick to Philly in the Jeff Carter trade. Their first pick was in the second round, and Jenner fell into their laps with that pick. He's a first round talent who brings leadership and dependable play. He's a coach's dream, doing all of the little things right. This summer he was named captain of the Generals, a huge honor for an 18 year old. Down the line, he'd make an ideal Pahlsson replacement as third line center.
Brandon Archibald, Saginaw Spirit, OHL
Archibald had a bit of a tough year last season. After playing two-and-a-half seasons with the Soo Greyhounds, he was traded to the Spirit at least year's OHL trade deadline. The Greyhounds were a terrible squad, so his offensive numbers suffered. When he arrived in Saginaw, he was part of a very deep blueline and didn't have many opportunities to shine. This season he'll have a much bigger role, and the two-way blueliner should see an uptick in production.
Austin Madaisky, Kamloops Blazers, WHL
Madaisky was on his way to a decent offensive season last year before a hit from behind ended his season prematurely. The hit ended up fracturing one of the vertebrae in his neck, but this season he is healthy and ready to lead the Blazers blueline. He's a player to keep an eye on.
Mathieu Corbeil, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL
Corbeil was a member of the woeful Halifax Mooseheads prior to a mid-season trade to the powerhouse Sea Dogs last year. The Sea Dogs went on to win the Memorial Cup last season, and were considered to be one of the deepest and most talented junior teams in history. Corbeil was the backup last season, and this year he has taken over the role as starter and will look to take the 'Dogs back to the Memorial Cup, which they stand a very good chance of repeating.
The Jackets have a lot of talent plying their trade in the CHL this season. Many of these players stand a very good chance of being impact players at the NHL level. We'll follow their progress this season, check back throughout the season for updates.