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CHL Storylines: Top matchups to watch in Round 2


The second round of the Canadian Hockey League playoffs are about to begin as teams in each league are pushing for a championship.

With the field narrowed to eight teams in the each of the three leagues, some of the top teams in the regular season are about to clash.

With analysis from TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, here is a look ahead at some of the must-see matchups in the second round.


Western Hockey League

(2) Portland Winterhawks vs. (3) Everett Silvertips

The Winterhawks and Silvertips came into this season with two different mindsets.

Portland put all their chips on the table, making a blockbuster deal to acquire Brandon Wheat Kings star Nate Danielson at the trade deadline and then signed Seattle Kraken prospect Tyson Jugnauth out of the University of Wisconsin.

Danielson, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, had 12 goals and 41 points in 28 games while Jugnauth played at a point-per-game pace to help Portland claim a tightly contested U.S. Division over Everett.

Everett ended up six points behind Portland for the division with a 45-18-5 record and finished third in the conference.

The Silvertips made a tough decision last season when they traded star defenceman Olen Zellweger to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for future assets, including 10 draft picks. The move was intended to replenish their assets so they could build for the future.

“They assessed their chances last year and decided they couldn’t compete at the top of league, so they made some big trades,” said Button. “They had a bunch of good young players that needed a bit more time and seasoning and they were also able to replenish their prospect pool.”

Among those that Everett was able to bring in was Finnish forward Julius Miettinen, came into the WHL this season and registered 31 goals and 67 points in 66 games. He also has two goals and three points so far in the playoffs.

“Being able to bring Miettinen in from Finland was a huge get,” said Button. “The numbers may not reflect this right now in the playoffs, but he’s been such a good player. To me, he’s such an important player for that team because he does so many things well.”

Button ranked Miettinen as No.17 on his March draft list.

Portland won the season series 6-2 over the Everett during the regular season as the two teams are set to clash in the second round.

The Winterhawks began the playoffs by sweeping the Victoria Royals in the first round on the strength of Edmonton Oilers prospect James Stefan and San Jose Sharks draft pick Luca Cagnoni.

Stefan led Portland in scoring in the first round, recording five goals and eight points, while Cagnoni had three goals and seven points.

Jan Spunar started all four games for the Winterhawks, recording a 2.50 goals-against average with a .901 save percentage. The 6-foot-3 netminder had a 25-6-3 record this season and finished second in the league with a 2.12 GAA to go along with a .913 save percentage.

The Olomouc, Czechia native is eligible for the NHL Draft this June.

“I think this year’s draft for goaltenders for the most part is a big-time projection,” said Button. “I think there’s a whole lot of raw potential, and of that a lot of that potential may not be realized.

“Teams are trying to figure out what they feel they can develop and who has the ability to develop the most.”

The Silvertips won their first-round series against the Vancouver Giants in five games that saw veteran players Austin Roest and Ben Hemmerling take the lead.

Hemmerling, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect, led the Silvertips in the regular season with 30 goals and 91 points in 65 games. He added three goals and six points against the Giants.

Nashville Predators prospect Austin Roest led the team with 38 goals in the regular season to go along with his 71 points. Against Vancouver, the 5-foot-10 centre led Everett with three goals and seven points.

“[Roest and Hemmerling] are a couple of older players that can guide this team along,” said Button. “Hemmerling is a player who has progressed since the time he entered the league and is now a good NHL prospect.

“[Everett] is a good team where the whole is better than the sum of the parts.”

Goaltender Tyler Palmer started all five games for the Silvertips and after allowing four goals on nine shots in Game 1, the 6-foot netminder didn’t allow more than a goal in each of the other four games.

The Fernie, B.C., native finished the series with a 1.63 GAA and .937 save percentage.

While the focus for Everett is on this season’s playoff run, they have something special to look forward to for next season.

The team will have the opportunity to draft 14-year-old defenceman Landon DuPont, who was granted exceptional player status on Monday, with the No. 1 pick in the WHL Draft.

“Landon is a very, very good player,” said Button. “He’s not landing in the league because of his promise in two years time. He’s a dynamic, talented player who is ready to play in the WHL and contribute.”

DuPont joins Chicago Blackhawks star Connor Bedard as the only two players to be granted exceptional player status in WHL history.

The Calgary native played for the Edge School U18 Prep squad of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) this season, recording 19 goals and 62 points in 30 regular season games. He added five goals and 16 points in five playoff games to help his club win the championship and was named championship MVP.

“DuPont has a magnificent brain with outstanding vision, and he plays the game at a high tempo but is can also slow it down,” said Button. “His skills are so good with the skating, his shot, and passing combined with the ability to scan the whole ice with the understanding of what’s available to him helps him take advantage of opportunities.”

Ontario Hockey League

(1) London Knights vs. (4) Kitchener Rangers

The Knights finished as the Ontario Hockey League’s regular season champion with a 50-14-4 record, two points ahead of the Memorial Cup host Saginaw Spirit.

They swept the Flint Firebirds in the first round as Philadelphia Flyers prospect Denver Barkey led the way with two goals and six points.

Barkey also led the Knights in scoring in the regular season with 35 goals and 102 points, followed by Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Easton Cowan with 34 goals and 96 points.

Cowan ended the regular season on a 36-game point streak that saw him score 25 goals and 68 points during that span. He continued his consistent play into the playoffs, by increasing his point streak to 41 games, recording two goals and six points in five games so far.

Cowan’s regular season point streak is the third longest in OHL history and the longest since Windsor Spitfires forward Bill Bowler had a 41-game point streak during the 1994-95 season.

The eyes of many scouts will be on defenceman Sam Dickinson, who is expected to be drafted high at the NHL Draft in June.

Dickinson led all Knights defencemen in scoring this season with 18 goals and 70 points in 68 games. He has one point so far in the playoffs 

“Sam isn’t just a top draft pick, he’s a top player in the OHL,” said Button. “[In his first playoff experience] last year he had zero penalty minutes in 21 playoff games en route to the OHL final as a 16-year-old while playing 20 minutes a night.”

Button ranked Dickinson at No. 6 on his March list while TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie placed him as No. 7 in his mid-season rankings.

Michael Simpson won all four games in net in the first round with a .917 save percentage, 2.14 GAA, and a shutout. The 6-foot-1 netminder had a 34-10-1 record in the regular season and led the OHL with a 2.61 GAA to go along with a .905 save percentage.

Simpson was on the other side of the ice last season when he was facing off against the Knights as a member of the Peterborough Petes. The 6-foot-1 netminder helped the Petes get to the Memorial Cup by defeating London in six games and was named OHL playoff MVP.

The Knights sensed that they would need help in net in order to take the next step, so they acquired Simpson from the Petes in September for goaltender Zach Bowen and a draft pick.

“Last season, the Knights’ championship hopes were derailed because their goaltender got hurt,” said Button. “This year, London recognized that they could use an experienced goalie to help them.”

The Rangers dispatched the Erie Otters in six games in the first round after they finished fourth in the Western Conference in the regular season with a 41-23-4 record and were led by Kraken prospect Carson Rehkopf with 52 goals and 95 points to finish ninth in league scoring.

Montreal Canadiens prospect Filip Mesar dominated the first round, registering a goal and 10 points. The 5-foot-10 winger had 19 goals and 52 points in the regular season but Button believes his growth has come away from the offensive side of the game.

“I think everything he’s done at the World Junior level and the OHL just screams progress in a significant way,” said Button. “His game has expanded so he can contribute in more ways than just the scoresheet. He’s a factor and a presence with an impact.”

Fans of the Calgary Flames will have an opportunity to get a close look at prospect Hunter Brzustewicz. The 6-foot right-shot defenceman was drafted 75th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2023 but his rights were traded to the Flames in January in a deal that saw star centre Elias Lindholm join the Canucks.

“He has Adam Fox-type ability,” said Button of Brzustewicz. . “He doesn’t have a lot of flash but has massive brain power. I have no doubt in my mind he will be a good NHL player.”

Brzustewicz was second among OHL defencemen in scoring with 13 goals and 92 points this season, four behind 2024 top prospect Zayne Parekh. The Washington, Mich., native added four assists against the Otters.

Goaltender Jackson Parsons started all six games for Kitchener in the first round, registering a .895 save percentage and 3.28 GAA. The 6-foot-2 netminder had a 27-18-2 record in the regular season and finished fourth with a 2.99 GAA to go along with an .897 save percentage.

Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League

(2) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. (3) Victoriaville Tigres

The Huskies and Tigres are set to face off in the second round in a battle of two of the best goaltenders in the CHL.

Rouyn-Noranda is led by star netminder William Rousseau, who registered a 34-10-1 record with a 2.24 GAA and .924 save percentage in the regular season. The 6-foot-1 netminder won his second-straight Jacques Plante Trophy for the best GAA in the league, and is the reigning Memorial Cup Most Outstanding Player.

His Huskies will be taking on a Tigres team that is led by netminder Nathan Darveau, who is the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year. Darveau had a 30-17-0 record this season with a 2.67 GAA and .916 save percentage.

“These two goaltenders are so good, from an opponent’s point of view they can take you out of your own strengths to a certain degree,” said Button. “There’s an intimidation factor for the opponent. They don’t give away anything easy so you have to be overly detailed to score by making an extra pass or delaying a shot.”

Despite both teams having strong goaltending, the two clubs play very different styles. The Huskies were second in the QMJHL in goals scored led by dynamic winger Antonin Verreault.

The 5-foot-8 forward led the league with 36 goals and 107 points in the regular season and added three goals and eight points in the Huskies’ five-game series victory over the Gatineau Olympiques.

“Victoriaville is going to have to find a way not to let Rouyn-Noranda expose you because if you’re chasing the game against them, you’re in trouble,” said Button. “The Tigres don’t have enough [firepower] to chase games, they’re going to try to keep the games low scoring, get good goaltending, and win tight games.”

The Tigres are a well-rounded team offensively that saw forward Justin Larose lead the team with 38 goals and 80 points followed by Tommy Cormier with 30 goals and 79 points.

In their four-game sweep of the Shawinigan Cataractes in the first round, Cormier and Maxime Pellerin led the way with four goals and six points followed by Larose with three goals and five points.

On the defensive side, Pier-Olivier Roy has been the quarterback, finishing fourth among QMJHL defencemen with 10 goals and 50 points this season. They also boast Anaheim Ducks prospect Noah Warren, who is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound defenceman who can play 20 minutes a night.

"Victoriaville is a team that can grind you down and play four lines that will stay after you and really try to take advantage of their ability to wear you out." said Button.

The Tigres were hoping to have another Ducks prospect on their roster in Tristan Luneau after they acquired his rights from the Olympiques in January. However, the 6-foot-2 defenceman never had a chance to appear for his hometown Tigres after suffering a knee infection that kept him out of the World Juniors tournament and he is currently rehabbing in Anaheim.