Skip to main content


CHL Storylines: First round playoff action in full swing

Acadie-Bathurst Titan Celebrates Acadie-Bathurst Titan Celebrates - Trevor Macmillan

The 2023-24 Canadian Hockey League playoffs are well underway as teams continue to push for league titles and a spot in the Memorial Cup in Saginaw.

Every first-round series has been through four games so far and 12 of the 24 series have concluded.

With analysis from TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, here is a look at the first round of the playoffs so far.

Acadie-Bathurst upsets Halifax in Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League

There have been five series sweeps so far in the QMJHL playoffs, but the biggest story so far was the Acadie-Bathurst Titan sweeping the Halifax Mooseheads.

The Titan finished as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and were 25 points back of the second-seeded Halifax Mooseheads. Led by goaltender Antoine Keller, the Titan won three one-goal games, including two overtime wins in Games 1 and 2.

“If you want to win in the playoffs, your goaltender can’t be a weak link in your team,” said Button. “When we see teams that go on a run, there are usually a combination of things that happen. You find a way to win in overtime, get timely goals from unexpected players, and you get superb goaltending.

“That’s exactly what happened for the Titan.”

Keller, a Washington Capitals prospect, has a 1.47 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in the playoffs. In his first QMJHL season, the Dijon, France native had a 17-17-0 record with a .897 save percentage and 2.27 GAA.

The 6-foot-1 netminder outduelled Mooseheads star Mathis Rousseau, who helped lead the Mooseheads to a 42-18-8 record. Rousseau led the QMJHL in the regular season with a .925 save percentage and was second in the league with a 31-8-4 record and a 2.27 GAA.

“When you win two [overtime] games in Halifax against Rousseau it’s pretty significant,” said Button. “You know the next goal that goes in means the other team wins, so you can’t be on the wrong side of that. I think that takes immense concentration and focus.”

Acadie-Bathurst will take on the regular season champion Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the second round.

Joining Keller as one of the best goaltenders in the playoffs so far is Victoriaville Tigres netminder Nathan Darveau.

Darveau, 21, led the Tigres to a sweep of the Shawinigan Cataractes in their first round matchup and didn’t allow more than three goals in any of the four games. He leads the QMJHL playoffs with a .952 save percentage and 1.23 GAA.

The 5-foot-8 goaltender came into the regular season as the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year and went 30-17-0 with a .916 save percentage and 2.67 GAA.

Offensively, Cam Squires is leading the QMJHL playoffs in scoring with four goals and 11 points as his Cape Breton Eagles lead the Rimouski Océanic 3-1 in their opening round series.

Squires had four points in each of the first two games of the series and followed it up with a two-goal performance in Game 3.

“Cam took significant strides last season, so I’m not surprised by his play this year,” said Button. “It’s one thing to think you can be a difference maker, but he had to go out and do it. I saw signs of it last year in Cape Breton and he found it this year.”

The New Jersey Devils prospect had a career year in his third season with the Eagles, recording 33 goals and 72 points in 66 games.

The winner of this series will take on the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in the second round.

QMJHL Round 1:

Eastern Conference:

(1) Baie-Comeau Drakar beat (8) Charlottetown Islanders 4-0
(7) Acadie-Bathurst Titan beat (2) Halifax Mooseheads 4-0
(6) Chicoutimi Saguenéens beat (3) Moncton Wildcats 4-0
(4) Cape Breton Eagles leads (5) Rimouski Océanic 3-1

Western Conference:

(1) Drummondville Voltigeurs beat (8) Saint John Sea Dogs 4-0
(2) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies lead (7) Gatineau Olympiques 3-1
(3) Victoriaville Tigres beat (6) Shawinigan Cataractes 4-0
(4) Sherbrooke Phoenix lead (5) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 3-1

Memorial Cup host Spirit off to fast start

The Saginaw Spirit already know that they are going to the Memorial Cup as the host team but whether they will go in as J. Ross Robertson Cup champions remains to be seen.

Saginaw blew through their opening round series by defeating the Owen Sound Attack in a four-game sweep with key deadline acquisitions leading the way.

Winger Josh Bloom leads the Spirit with three goals and seven points while centre Owen Beck has two goals and seven points.

Bloom played his first two seasons in Saginaw and captained the team in the 2022-23 season before being traded to the North Bay Battalion in November of 2022. The Vancouver Canucks prospect was re-acquired after a stint with the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks and ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings.

Since rejoining the Spirit in January, Bloom recorded 17 goals and 40 points in 34 regular season games.

“Bloom came back as an overage player to a place where he knows the program and been a part of it,” said Button. “He doesn’t need to be a front-line player, but just a really good solid player. When you’re a 20-year-old with a bit more experience in the league and confidence in your game, you can do that.”

The Spirit made a lot of moves at the CHL trade deadline, but arguably the biggest one was acquiring Beck from the Peterborough Petes.

Beck came into Saginaw with a winning pedigree having led the Petes to a Memorial Cup appearance last season and helped Team Canada win World Junior gold in 2023. The Montreal Canadiens prospect had 16 goals and 30 points in 25 games prior to the trade and exploded for 18 goals and 51 points in 32 games after arriving in Saginaw.

“[Beck] has been there and done that,” said Button. “To me, he’s a performer when it matters and when the situation is critical, Beck is front and centre.”

The Spirit will play the Soo Greyhounds in the second round of the OHL playoffs.

Forward Dalyn Wakely is among OHL playoff leaders in scoring with six goals and nine points as his North Bay Battalion have a 3-1 series lead over the Kingston Frontenacs heading into Friday’s action.

Wakely, 20, had a breakthrough campaign in North Bay this season, registering 39 goals and 104 points in 66 games. The 6-foot-1 centre never had more than 49 points in his previous two seasons.

“I think he’ll be drafted [into the NHL] this year,” said Button. “He hasn’t had eye popping numbers throughout his career, but he’s been a good player. Not just the offensive stats from this year, but how he contributes on the ice in so many different areas.

“I think what he has shown is that he can push his game to a higher level and not have any absence of those other critical areas of his game.”

Wakely’s biggest contributions came during Game 4, recording a hat trick in a 5-4 win over the Frontenacs. He also recorded two goals and two assists in Game 2 that saw North Bay beat Kingston 7-2.

The Battalion will have an opportunity to end the series at home in Game 5 on Friday.

OHL Playoffs Round 1:

Eastern Conference:

(1) Oshawa Generals lead (8) Barrie Colts 3-1
(2) North Bay Battalion lead (7) Kingston Frontenacs 3-1
(6) Ottawa 67’s lead (3) Brantford Bulldogs 3-1
(5) Sudbury Wolves lead (4) Mississauga Steelheads 3-1

Western Conference:

(1) London Knights beat (8) Flint Firebirds 4-0
(2) Saginaw Spirit beats (7) Owen Sound Attack 4-0
(3) Soo Greyhounds beats (6) Guelph Storm 4-0
(4) Kitchener Rangers vs. (5) Erie Otters tied 2-2

Blockbuster deals helping Broncos, Warriors advance

When the Wenatchee Wild elected to trade superstar forwards Conor Geekie and Matt Savoie at the beginning of January, it led to great fortune for the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors, respectively.

Geekie was dealt to a Swift Current team that was sixth place in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with an 18-15-4 record. The Arizona Coyotes prospect went on to record 23 goals and 50 points in 29 regular games with the Broncos to help push them to the second seed in the East with a 40-22-6 record.

“Swift Current made a bold move [when they acquired Geekie],” said Button. “The Broncos weren’t near the top of the standings when they made the trade. He came in and the team pushed their way into first place in the division.”

The 6-foot-4 centre then recorded four goals and six points as the Broncos swept the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.

Savoie was sent to Moose Jaw where he was paired with WHL-leading scorer Jagger Firkus to help the Warriors’ playoff chances. The Buffalo Sabres prospect had 19 goals and 47 points in 23 games to help the Warriors secure the third seed in the East.

The 5-foot-10 winger then added five goals and eight points in the first round of the playoffs as the Warriors swept the Brandon Wheat Kings.

The two former teammates will battle in the second round as the Broncos are set to take on the Warriors.

“What a matchup between two players that were drafted by a franchise, played together growing up, and now going to compete against one another,” said Button. They both have had a lot of experience together going to conference finals in the past and they’re both performers who won’t shrink when the competition heats up.”

In the Western Conference, Kelowna Rockets forward Tij Iginla reminded the WHL that he is a premier goal-scorer. The 2024 NHL draft prospect opened the playoffs with a hat trick in Game 1 of the Rockets series against the Wild.

The 6-foot centre leads the WHL playoffs in goal scoring with six as the Rockets have a 3-1 advantage over the Wild in their first-round matchup.

“I know the goals pop out but he’s such a complete player in every single regard,’ said Button. “Even if he goes through a game and doesn’t record a point, he’s still a factor.

“He has a confidence that continues to grow. He’s a difference maker in the game where if you’re playing against him, you better factor him in.”

After arriving from the Seattle Thunderbirds last off-season, Iginla took advantage of being a top-line player this year, recording 47 goals and 84 points in 64 games.

Iginla is ranked No. 10 on Button’s March draft list and No. 16 on TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s mid-season draft rankings.

Joining Iginla among the leaders in first round scoring after four games is Portland Winterhawks forward James Stefan.

Stefan, 20, is the son of former NHL veteran Patrik Stefan and finished second in team scoring with 50 goals and 101 points in the regular season.

The 6-foot winger dominated in the first round of the playoffs against the Victoria Royals, recording five goals and eight points to help Winterhawks sweep the series and move onto the second round.

“James came into the WHL with a lot of notoriety, not only for his own play, but because of his father,” said Button. “When you look at players and start to watch to see what they’re capable of doing, sometimes it takes longer for them to find their way, you just have to be patient with them.”

Stefan was signed to a three-year entry-level deal by the Edmonton Oilers on March 21 after previously going undrafted. He also attended the Ottawa Senators’ prospect camp last off-season.

“The Oilers, who don’t have many draft picks in June, wanted to add some talent and skill to their organization and Stefan does that,” said Button. “I think he’s found a really good level of play and there’s no question he can play in the American Hockey League next year.”

WHL Playoffs Round 1:

Eastern Conference:

(1) Saskatoon Blades lead (8) Prince Albert Raiders 3-1
(2) Swift Current Broncos beat (7) Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-0
(3) Moose Jaw Warriors beat (6) Brandon Wheat Kings 4-0
(5) Red Deer Rebels lead (4) Medicine Hat Tigers 3-1

Western Conference:

(1) Prince George Cougars beat (8) Spokane Chiefs 4-0
(2) Portland Winterhawks beat (7) Victoria Royals 4-0
(3) Everett Silvertips lead (6) Vancouver Giants 2-1
(5) Kelowna Rockets lead (4) Wenatchee Wild 3-1