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CHL Storylines: Spirit stocking up as team rides 10-game winning streak

Saginaw Spirit Celebrate Saginaw Spirit Celebrate - Natalie Shaver/OHL Images

Teams that made major moves in the off-season are beginning to see them pay off as the Canadian Hockey League approaches December

The Memorial Cup host Saginaw Spirit are rolling in the OHL while the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are battling for positioning in the QMJHL. The Saskatoon Blades made a giant splash in the WHL to take their next step.

With analysis from TSN’s Director of Scouting Craig Button, here’s how these moves have affected the CHL landscape.

The Saginaw Spirit are the hottest team in the Ontario Hockey League as they enter Tuesday on 10-game winning streak.

Saginaw currently sits in fourth place in the OHL’s Western Conference with a 14-7-1 record and are three points behind the Soo Greyhounds for top spot in the division.

They are being led up front by 16-year-old phenom Michael Misa who has 12 goals and 29 points so far this season. The 6-foot forward became the sixth player to be granted exceptional status last season to play in the OHL last and eighth in CHL history, joining the likes of Connor McDavid, Connor Bedard, John Tavares, Shane Wright, Aaron Ekblad, Joe Veleno, and Sean Day.

“Misa is a year older and has all the benefits the experience of playing last season,” Button said on Misa. “There’s a ton of balance on that team so he doesn’t have to be the main cog. If he’s not scoring, you have other players that can score and that’s what good teams have.”

Misa is eligible for the 2025 NHL draft and Button has him ranked No. 4 on his 2025 prospect lookahead.

“I think he’s best suited to being a centre,” Button said. “He’s creative and he’s a good playmaker, and he’s got a lot of ability to create offence out of seemingly nothing. It’s one thing to have imagination- a lot of players can image things- but to be able to be creative when things aren’t evident, I think that’s a nice quality that Michael has.”

Leading the defence corps is 17-year-old Zayne Parekh who is third among OHL defencemen in scoring with eight goals and 28 points in 22 games.

Parekh is eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft in Las Vegas and was ranked No. 12 on Button’s September draft list.

“He’s really rounded out his game because he’s understanding that his skating needs to be used for advantages, not to make up for mistakes,” explained Button. “Darryl Sutter once said that when you take one step in the wrong direction, you have to take two steps in the other direction to make up for it. Two steps is too much at the NHL level.

“Zayne is learning that lesson. When you’re younger you can get away with those kinds of mistakes but you can’t at the NHL.”

The 6-foot defenceman has a point in nine of his past 11 games and has nine multipoint games, including a four-assist night against the league-leading Kitchener Rangers on Oct. 7 and a hat trick against the Flint Firebirds on Nov. 8.

Anaheim Ducks prospect Matyas Sapovaliv is just behind Misa for the team lead in scoring with 11 goals and 28 points in 22 games. The 6-foot-4 centre exploded last week, registering four goals 11 points in the team’s last three games.

“There’s no way you can talk about Saginaw and not talk about Sapovaliv,” gushed Button. “He’s going to he’s a big, strong, centreman who just wears you down. He’s going to be playing for Czechia at the World Juniors and [I see him] as a 15-year NHL player.”

With Saginaw hosting the Memorial Cup this year, the Spirit had to make a tough decision last season when they traded highly rated defenceman Pavel Mintyukov to the Ottawa 67’s for a package of nine draft picks.

The team then used some of those assets to make a significant trade by acquiring overage winger Alex Christopoulos and high-scoring defenceman Rodwin Dionicio from the Windsor Spitfires on Nov. 16.

Christopoulos, 20, was third in the OHL with 49 goals last season to go along with his 74 points. This season he has seven goals and 15 points to start the season.

Dionicio, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, is just behind Parekh with 25 points this season split between the Spitfires and Spirit. He has three goals and five points since joining the Spirit.

Saginaw also took a chance by acquiring the rights to forward Luca Del Bel Belluz from the Sarnia Sting on Nov. 18.

Del Bel Belluz split last season with the Mississauga Steelheads and Sting, recording 40 goals and 87 points in 66 games. The 6-foot forward was drafted 34th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2022 draft and was assigned to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters this season.

There is no guarantee that the Blue Jackets will return Del Bel Belluz to the Ontario Hockey League this season but if he does come back, he will have an opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup with Saginaw.

In the crease, Andrew Oke has been stellar, registering s a 10-3-0 record and is third in the OHL with a 2.55 goals-against average to go along with a .910 save percentage.

The Spirit acquired depth in the goaltending position when they traded for Nolan Lalonde as part of a three-way trade with the Erie Otters and Sarnia Sting at the beginning of October.

Lalonde has appeared in 10 games with the Spirit and has a 4-4-1 record with a .866 save percentage and 3.50 GAA.

Blades make a big splash

Fraser Minten Saskatoon Blades

The Saskatoon Blades made a big splash on Friday as they look to chase down the Medicine Hat Tigers for top spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.

Saskatoon (16-8-1) acquired Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fraser Minten from the Kamloops Blazers, who returned to the WHL on Oct. 27 after a four-game stint in the NHL.

The 6-foot-1 forward registered 31 goals and 67 points last season with the Blazers and added another two goals and four points in the playoffs before being eliminated by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the third round.

After returning to Kamloops from his stint with the Maple Leafs, Minten was named captain of the Blazers and recorded three goals and 10 points in seven games before being traded to the Blades.

“[Blades general manager] Colin Priestner looked at his team this year and wanted to add,” said Button. “Minten is similar to Sapovaliv, he’s a strong centreman. He was on a good team in Kamloops [last season] and played in the Memorial Cup.”

Minten’s acquisition is one of many moves the Blades have made in order to push towards an Ed Chynoweth Cup after they were swept in the third round by the Winnipeg Ice (now Wenatchee Wild) in last year’s playoffs.

Since the season started in September, the team has also added forwards Easton Armstrong, and Rhett Melnyk, as well as defencemen Grayden Siepmann, and Carter Herman to go along with Minten.

“[They’re] trying to go deep into the playoffs and win,” said Button. “They’re looking for opportunities to add players and they’re not done.”

These players add to a core that includes captain Trevor Wong, Ducks prospect Yegor Sidorov, Nashville Predators first-round pick Tanner Molendyk, and Maple Leafs prospect Brandon Lisowsky who are the team’s top offensive performers this season.

Wong is fifth in WHL in scoring with six goals and 39 points this season in what is likely his final season in major junior. The 5-foot-9 winger has 12 multipoint games this season, including a five-point performance against the Regina Pats on Nov. 5.

Molendyk was drafted 24th overall by the Predators in the 2023 NHL Draft and has four goals and 25 points in 21 games this season, tied for fifth among defencemen.  After a hot start to the season, the 6-foot defenceman has cooled off, being held off the scoresheet in the team’s last four games.

Sidorov had a breakout season last year with the Blades registering 40 goals and 76 points in 53 games, leading him to be drafted 85th overall by the Ducks in the 2023 draft. The 6-foot Belarusian winger is continuing his torrid pace at the WHL level, ranking third in the league with 21 goals along with 30 points this season.

Lisowsky was drafted 218th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2022 draft and is entering his fifth season with the Blades. After have another career season last year with 38 goals and 70 points, the 5-foot-9 winger has picked up where he left off, recording 15 goals and 29 points in 25 games and has 1.16 points per-game so far this season.

In net, the Blades have a tandem of Austin Elliott and rookie Evan Gardner.

The 19-year-old Elliott has an 11-4-1 record with a 2.63 GAA and .904 save percentage. Gardner, 17, has appeared in nine games this season and has a 5-4-0 record with a 2.29 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Off-Season moves boost Huskies

William Rousseau Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

While the Baie-Comeau Drakkar currently lead the race over the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have their hands full over in the west.

The Huskies sit second in the Western Conference with a 14-7-4 record, one point behind the Victoriaville Tigres and tied with the Drummondville Voltigeurs

Prior to the season, the Huskies made a big splash in the trade market in order to take a run at the Memorial Cup. The team acquired skilled winger Antonin Verreault from the Gatineau Olympiques and followed it up with a blockbuster trade that saw them acquire star netminder William Rousseau and Arizona Coyotes prospect Jérémy Langlois from the defending Memorial Cup champion Quebec Remparts.

Rouyn-Noranda have been one of the toughest teams to score against, allowing only 72 goals and the acquisition of Rousseau is a large role in their success.

The 6-foot-1 netminder won the Jacques Plante Trophy for the best goals-against average in the QMJHL last season and went on to be named the Memorial Cup’s most outstanding goaltender and named to the tournament’s All-Star Team.

Rousseau has not slowed his domination of major junior. He is second in the QMJHL with a .929 save percentage and third with a 2.24 GAA to go along with his 9-4-1 record.

“He has elite hockey sense with his awareness, sense of the game, and everything going on around him,” said Button. “His athletic abilities may not be elite but his technical abilities are outstanding.

“I see a lot of goaltenders with elite athletic abilities that aren’t as good as him because they can’t think the game like him and their technical abilities aren’t as his level. You can look at the things that he doesn’t have in the elite category, but to me he is someone where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Rousseau was invited to the Ottawa Senators’ rookie camp in 2022 and the Boston Bruins’ rookie camp this season but remains an undrafted free agent.

“Somebody needs to sign him,” said Button. “He’s won a Canada Games gold medal [in 2019], won a Memorial Cup, and now has a chance to get back to the Memorial Cup. His resume is dotted with success.”

The acquisition of Verreault has also paid dividends for the Huskies as he leads the team with 16 goals and 34 points in 25 games and is ninth in league scoring.

Verreault has already surpassed his point total from last season after he was limited to only 38 games due to a wrist injury while with the Olympiques.

Langlois’ addition shored up the team’s back end as he leads the Huskies’ defence corps with four goals and 20 points. His plus-18 this season has him 12th in the QMJHL in that department and third on his team behind defenceman Alex Carr (plus-21), and forward Mathis Perron (plus-19).

Adding secondary scoring to the offence is 17-year-old Bill Zonnon, who will be eligible for the 2025 NHL Draft. Zonnon has nine goals and 21 points this season and has been a consistent name on the scoresheet in the month of November, only held off three times in the month.

“Like most players at this age, the pace of play is always something you’ve got to work on,” said Button. “He’s got a competitive edge and [the] physical attributes but as someone who gets around the net and play hard, you can’t be late. You have to get there ahead of your opponent and that’s what he’s done this season.

“It’s still something he’s got to work on in order to move to the international junior level and the professional level.”