The regular season is just around the corner in all hockey leagues around North America, and the CHL has some high-profile players who are primed for a big 2016-17 campaign.
After they made their eighth overall selection at the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft, the Hamilton Bulldogs walked away with a sure steal in Matthew Strome. The brother of New York Islanders forward Ryan and prized Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan, the youngest Strome to enter the spotlight came with the least amount of pomp and circumstance.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t accomplish some big things before being thrust into junior hockey in the 2015-16 season. In the season prior, he was the captain of the Toronto Marlboros minor midget team, leading them to OHL Cup and Gold Cup championships.
The left winger has never been an incredibly high scorer, but he is certainly an elite offensive catalyst. In his rookie junior season, Strome tallied 16 goals and 22 assists in 61 games — a modest statline, however a sign of what is soon to come.
His brother Dylan scored just 39 points in his own first year in the OHL, and just one spring later he emerged as the OHL leader in points, with 129. The Bulldogs don’t necessarily have the same kind of depth and star power that the Erie Otters had when the middle Strome brother had a tremendous coming out party, but the 2017 NHL Draft prospect is still primed for a big year in his own right.
When Julien Gauthier fell to 21st overall at the 2016 draft, allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to select him, they knew they had emerged with one of the best prospects in the draft. The dominant power forward exploded in the 2014-15 season with 73 points (38G, 35A) in 68 games, adding 10 points in 17 games – something that caused his stock to skyrocket.
He followed it up with a slightly disappointing year in 2015-16, putting up 54 points in 57 games and only managing 16 assists on the year. The biggest positive of his season was the fact that he broke the 40-goal mark, but just about everything else stats-wise was underwhelming.
Still, scouts knew how talented he is, and they considered him to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects in the crop. His skill never wavered, and it is inevitable that he gets back to his normal high-scoring self in 2016-17 when he returns to the Val-d’Or Foreurs for what will likely be the final year.
Once up for consideration to be the first-ever player granted exceptional status to start his WHL career at 15 years old, Tyler Benson’s development has been a rocky road the past two years. His 45-point rookie season got scouts hopeful for the future, but a hot start to 2015-16 ended abruptly when the forward went down with an injury that prevented him from playing another game.
Things were looking up for the elite scorer at the start of last season — he was named captain of the Vancouver Giants, he was in great shape and he was in another world mentally. He got a bad break when he got injured, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
Due to missing so much time, Benson became a bit of a wild-card prospect. Scouts couldn’t really gauge whether he was worthy of a first-round pick, so the Edmonton Oilers scooped him up early in the second round. Some may see it as a blow to his confidence, but it will actually take a lot of pressure off of him as he enters quite possibly the biggest hockey season of his life.
Benson will without a doubt be on a mission to prove himself as an elite prospect this year, and with the right players surrounding him, we’d be hard-pressed to think he won’t be a top-20 scorer in the WHL in 2016-17.