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State of Hockey During the Global Pandemic

With the NHL finally underway, now is as good a time as any to run through the leagues the McKeen's Scouting team covers. We reached out to all members of our team to get quick run-downs of what is happening in rinks in their territories. In no particular order, here is what they sent.

Ontario – from Brock Otten

In Ontario, the concept and outlook of competitive hockey is looking quite bleak. Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators given the green light by the provincial government to play, junior and minor hockey has taken a backseat due to the climbing positive COVID case rate and the current province-wide lockdown. Due to this, many Ontario players have gone overseas to play, such as Brandt Clarke in Slovakia, and Brennan Othmann in Switzerland. The latest trend out West had top WHL players heading to the USHL to play and one has to wonder how long before we see some OHL players follow that same path.

Tier 2 hockey did manage to start their season in some capacity. The CCHL, OJHL, and GOJHL managed to start training camps and play in some exhibition games (depending on region and level of lockdown). However, the OHL has not yet begun, with the league having already pushed back their start date twice; it is currently on permanent hiatus with no known start date. The WHL has recently stated an intent and commitment to playing a shortened season and one has to wonder if the OHL will be far behind. What that season would look like remains to be seen. My best guess suggests it would involve some type of regional bubble, or mini tournament format like the QMJHL plans to adapt. Finances are currently the biggest hurdle as ownership groups are certainly likely to feel the crunch without fans in the seats. One thing is certain though, the province's top players will find a way to play hockey elsewhere if no plan comes to fruition. Losing players to the USHL is a future recruiting nightmare for the league in a battle that they are losing more than ever before.

Russia – from Viktor Fomich

At this point I think it can be said that hockey in Russia has learned how to live in the World of Pandemics (even though it obviously isn't easy), as hockey is up and running in the Russian leagues and you can already feel it's not too long until the start of the playoffs in March. Most of the prospects have already established themselves in their respective roles for this season with the only question remaining for the U20 WJC team's players: will they be able to bounce back after a rather disappointing result there? They are certainly expected to, so it will be interesting to follow them in their KHL and VHL teams.

As for the first-year draft-eligible players, most of the action is ongoing in the MHL, where majority of the prospects of that age play. Things are heading to the playoffs there too, but it should be kept in mind that if the U18 WJC will eventually happen, a lot of the top prospects will be released to the U18 National Team camp at that time. Speaking of top prospects, don't forget to at least occasionally check on the 2023 draft prospect Matvei Michkov — it might be early, but he looks pretty special so far.

Sweden – from Jimmy Hamrin

It was a tough decision for Swedish draft prospects last week. The Swedish hockey federation acknowledged that there will be no more junior hockey this season. That means the 12 to 20 games the teams have played until mid-November in the J20 Nationell (formerly named SuperElit) is all we will get to see from a large portion of the draft eligible prospects this season. The top three men’s leagues and the top women’s league will all continue to play without spectators and with cancelling of games if teams have an outbreak, which has made the standings and the scheduling a mess but there is no serious talk of cancelling the season like they did last spring.

Top ranked draft eligibles like Jesper Wallstedt, Simon Edvinsson, William Eklund, Fabian Lysell, Isak Rosén, Simon Robertsson, Oskar Olausson and so on play in the SHL right now, but only Wallstedt and Eklund have earned big roles on their respective team. The other named players here will be tougher to fully evaluate as they are only playing in limited roles. The depth prospects for the draft will look to get loaned out to lower leagues, but I suspect many of them will not play at all this spring. As for Sweden’s neighbors in Norway and Denmark, it is also only their top leagues that are still playing. The top league in Norway is on a temporary pause as of January 9th due to the pandemic but there are still plans to finish the season.

Finland – from Marco Bombino

The leagues that operate under the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation were on hiatus during December 2020. However, the play has since resumed in many leagues in January, including the U20 SM-sarja, U18 SM-sarja and U16 SM-sarja. However, the COVID-19 situation varies in different regions in the country. In Southern Finland, many junior teams are not allowed to play at the moment due to the restrictions. Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, is currently running, however many Liiga games have been postponed recently, so the situation seems quite uncertain and unstable.

US, East – from Jashvina Shah

Hockey in the eastern U.S. has been shaky, at best, this year. The ECAC is down to just four active teams — Colgate, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac, after the Ivy League schools decided to cancel all winter sports. RPI and Union also opted not to play this season. In the Hockey East conference, no teams opted out of the season. But even for the teams playing, the season has been filled with schedule changes, postponements, cancellations and delays as schools are dealing with positive cases on their teams. Boston University, for example, didn’t play a hockey game until January. Ivy League players have either transferred, opted back for juniors or headed down to a bubble in Tampa Bay for a chance to practice against each other.

New England Prep Schools have also been silent thus far this season, although at least a few are expected to begin their hockey campaigns in the upcoming month.

Czech Republic – from Derek O’Brien

As has been the case in most places in the world, the 2020-21 hockey season in the Czech Republic has been quite different. While it started in September in a relatively normal fashion, rising COVID cases forced a nationwide shutdown of all organized sports in mid-October. Following the implementation of strict hygienic measures, the Extraliga and second-tier Chance Liga restarted a few weeks later, but everything else – youth, junior and senior – remains paused.

Of course, all pro games since the restart have been played with no fans in attendance, and that is a shame because several players who played in North America last season – including recent World Juniors Lukas Parik (LA), Nick Malik, Jaromir Pytlik (NJ), Jan Mysak (MTL), Michal Teply (CHI), Simon Kubicek and Pavel Novak (MIN) – returned home. Due to lockdowns and quarantines, Mysak and Teply only played a handful of games and are now at NHL camps. Some drafted prospects who played a good portion of the season but have now returned to their NHL organizations include defenseman Filip Hronek and winger Filip Zadina (both DET) and winger David Kase (PHI) – who all performed exceptionally for their respective Extraliga clubs – as well as Radim Zohorna (PIT) and Lukas Jasek (VAN). Others who are remaining to finish the season include Jakub Lauko (BOS) and Lukas Rousek (BUF), the latter of whom has 23 points in 31 games for Sparta Prague.

Underage defensemen Stanislav Svozil (2021) and David Jiricek (2022) continue to play beyond their years, showing the poise they displayed against older opponents at the World Junior Championship.

Despite a tough winter COVID-wise for the country, the top two Czech hockey leagues continue on and seem to have a routine down that will see them finish on schedule. As for other levels, current government measures last until January 22, but expensive testing protocols means it’s unlikely we’ll see a restart before spring.

Germany – from Chapin Landvogt

As we rapidly approach mid-January, all of Germany’s most important pro and junior circuits are up and running. This is a very good thing for prospect watchers in these parts. Nonetheless, we would like to focus some attention on several undrafted Germans who just presented their wares to the international community at the WJC. The most notable was very young overage center Florian Elias, who we here at McKeen’s had ranked 145th in last fall’s draft rankings. We might add that you’ll have found nary a publication out there with Elias among the top 200 prospects, much less the top 150.

At the WJC, the undersized terrier, who admittedly lacks an extra skating gear, proved to be the perfect complement to drafted wingers Tim Stutzle and JJ Peterka, assuming plenty of the defensive duties, creating space, and finding ways to get some pucks to his highly touted linemates. His toolkit included an underappreciated wrist shot, accurate passes, deceptive weaving abilities, and strong core strength allowing him to not only resist heavy checks, but impressively push back in the process.

Nonetheless, his intangibles seem to be what made him one of the tournament’s most effective overall players. Elias presented a highly effective presence in both the slot and the net front. He hounded the opposition on the forecheck, often forcing deadly turnovers. He stepped up to the plate to create timely offense when his team needed it most. Overall, he was highly effective on second and third efforts. His entire package seemed built around getting things done - and doing so at the highest possible level of junior hockey, of which he had no prior experience.

Questions will abound about his pro prospects due to his size and lack of speed, if nothing else, but he has since returned to the Mannheim Adler of the DEL with nine WJC points in tow (plus a team high -2 among players who suited up for all five games) and has already worked his way into action as the Adler’s second line center with former Coyote property Matthias Plachta and former Calgary Flame David Wolf. No points yet, but Elias has been in the middle of several outstanding offensive opportunities, continuing to build upon that “little engine that could” vibe he just keeps emitting.

WJC teammate Lucas Münzenberger also used the tournament to soundly make his way into the scouts’ notebooks. The 6-2”, 198-pound defenseman took part in his team’s opening face-off and basically never looked back. Having only just turned 18 in November, Lucas showed immense readiness to play a heady, physical game, and logged an enormous amount of ice time with just under 22 minutes per game. For those in the know, the package of size, skating, and reading the game, as well as some very capable first passes out of the zone, is exactly the type of thing any organization wants to see out of such a young and raw prospect with the potential to be a late round pick, especially one few have seen before this event.

Like Elias, Münzenberger has never come close to playing at this level of junior hockey, having missed out on a U18 opportunity last spring when the worlds were cancelled. In fact, due to his college commitment (University of Vermont, 22-23), he’s only seen action in Germany’s DNL junior league, meaning he hasn’t gotten a sniff of pro play there unlike fellow German blueline minute munchers (all overagers) Max Glötzl, Simon Gnyp, and Mario Zimmermann. More on each of them in upcoming reports (as well as the gobs of U19 players who have been showing up in line-ups across the DEL, DEL2, and Oberliga), but for now, you can rest assured that Münzenberger is going to be watched closely by NHL scouts from here on out in this, his initial draft year.

Switzerland – from Chapin Landvogt

While league hockey in Switzerland is roughly fully operational, this past WJC was not one to write home about for Team Switzerland. Had it not been for a furious final 10 minutes against Team Germany, the Swiss may have only scored one goal altogether. In total, it had five in four games and not a single point as a team, getting shut out on two occasions. This did not bode particularly well for a few Swiss prospects, many of whom came into the tournament needing to show just what the scouting community can expect of them. The only players on the team to register multiple points were the draft eligible forward Dario Allenspach and defenseman Noah Meier, both of whom will still be 18 by next summer’s draft and are playing pro hockey back home. The former also displayed some nice hockey sense and gumption throughout the four games and may garner further attention depending on what he continues to do for Zug Academy in the 2nd tier SL pro league, where he currently has six points in 17 games. He has also played several games for Zug in the top tier NL. His name bears watching.

Speaking of pro play, mid-sized defenseman Janis Moser is up for an NHL draft for the final time, turning 21 shortly before next July. A bit like was the case with the New York Islanders’ Sebastian Aho several years back, there are some in the scouting community who have been surprised that Moser hasn’t at least been taken on a flyer. He is in his third full season of NL play and has appeared for Switzerland at several WJCs and a U18 Worlds. The mobile defender is looking to give NHL teams plenty to think about this season, currently sporting 5-14- 19 and +6 in 23 games.

In the junior circuit, one of the clearly most interesting players has been half-Thai, half-Swiss Liekit Reichle, a 6-1”, 183-pound forward who will be turning 18 in just a little over a week. Despite his youth, he has already dressed for five SL games this season (GC Küsnacht) and is second overall in scoring in Switzerland’s top U20 circuit. There, he has accumulated 10 goals and 41 points in just 26, good for second overall in a league that features plenty of players several years older. We would also like to point out that in addition to Swiss overager Simon Knak (captain of the U20 squad), each of Dman Brian Zanetti, forward Attilio Biasca, and forward Lorenzo Canonica are scheduled to play for CHL junior clubs at some point this season.

Slovakia – from Matej Deraj

Despite the country being in a lockdown, both Slovak professional leagues are still running. The youth competitions and amateur leagues are currently stopped and are not expected to return. On the other hand, Tipos Extraliga (top tier league) is currently in the middle of the regular season. Having been postponed at the beginning, the games are being played on newly set dates. The league has dealt with COVID outbreaks in all teams and quarantine quite well.

There have been very few, close to zero in fact, positive cases in recent months. The second-tier league (I. liga, also called SHL – Slovak Hockey League) is being played as well. Because of youth competitions in the other countries are being cancelled or postponed, I. liga has welcomed a solid number of new additions. An OHL trio consisting of Donovan Sebrango (Red Wings), Keean Washkurak (Blues) and Tag Bertuzzi (undrafted) has most recently joined HK Levice. Tag´s father, very well-known former NHLer Todd Bertuzzi, is in Slovakia as well.

One of the main candidates for the #1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, right-shot defenseman Brandt Clarke, also unexpectedly went to the Slovak Extraliga. Alongside his brother Graeme (a Devils prospect), they have both joined HC Nove Zamky. However, they are still getting used to the speed and size of the older players. Brandt is scoreless after six games, while Graeme has recorded one assist in five matches. Five Canadians are doing better in Liptovsky Mikulas: Tyler Tullio (Oilers), Allan McShane and William Portokalis are close to being point-per-game. Out of the local prospects, 2022 eligible defenseman Simon Nemec continues to impress the most. He played his best game a few days ago, scored a pretty one-timer goal and added two assists in a 5-2 win for HK Nitra against DVTK. Martin Chromiak (Kings), Filip Mesar (2022) and some other guys have returned from the World Juniors and they are back in the lineup as well.

WHL/AJHL – from Vince Gibbons

After months of negative news this past weekend was a ray of sunshine for Junior hockey in Western Canada. The WHL announced its intention to play a minimum 24 game season to start as appropriate with various local Health and Government guidelines and support. Since the cancelation of the Memorial Cup last year Junior hockey has fallen on hard times. Covid-19 has affected the WHL’s four provinces, and the US division dramatically, and at different times making it very difficult to maintain a positive outlook for a season and yet now there is some light. There is a still a long journey to get to a potential late February start date but having something positive on the hockey horizon feels good. Byron Hackett, a local reporter, recently talked with Red Deer Rebels Owner and GM Brent Sutter, which provided some fascinating insight into what is going on behind the scenes, especially the acknowledgement that they knew they were not going to be able to start up with fans from the beginning.

Alberta (Red Deer where I am based) has been one of the more impacted provinces in Canada when it comes to Covid-19. Initially, the Health and Government Authorities were on board for provincial games allowing the WHL (modified to in-province games only) and the AJHL to begin but in the weeks leading up into Christmas a severe spike in cases forced further Government restrictions and the AJHL season was put on pause after just getting started. That small start mattered, particularly for the players. A number of WHL players with higher level aspirations were released short term from their WHL clubs to join various AJHL, SJHL and MJHL teams. This enabled a number of prospects to find ice time, competitive practices, and even a chance to play some preseason game and regular season games. A quick look at the AJHL scoring lead shows a lot of familiar WHL names, with Matt Savoie, Spencer Moe, and Dylan Guenther all in the top ten of the frozen leader board right now. The increased competition for spots didn’t hurt two intriguing AJHL regulars either as both Breck McKinley and Corson Ceulemans torched the league in a very small sample size (four & two games respectively).

Despite the limited game action in Alberta so far this season there is plenty of video (Thanks to Instat Hockey) and lot of notes from previous seasons it would be misleading to send out a ranked list at this point. Instead, here is an alphabetical list of guys that I can’t wait to see again, hopefully by early March.  Not everyone on this list is a first-round talent, but each of these guys does something that is intriguing and I am curious about how much improvement and development there has been in the near 10 months since they played a competitive game. I am also fascinated to see if someone comes out of left field who has taken full advantage of the extended break and committed to improving enough to give them a chance at being drafted.

Below stats from shortened 2019-2020 season

Carson Lambos, Winnipeg ICE (57GP-8G-24-32PTs-32PIMs)

Cole Sillinger, Medicine Hat Tigers (48GP-22G-31A-53Pts-22PIMs) – since moved to Sioux Falls, of the USHL

Colton Dach, Saskatoon Blades (62GP-11G-18A-29Pts-45PIMs)

Connor Roulette, Seattle Thunderbirds (54GP-19G-20A-39Pts-21PIMs) *played 3 MJHL games in 2020

Corson Ceulemans, AJHL Brooks Bandits (44GP-5G-30A-55Pts-80PIMs) *played 5 AJHL games in 2020

Dru Krebs, Medicine Hat Tigers (55GP-3G-10A-13Pts-30PIMs) *played 1 AJHL game in 2020

Dylan Guenther, Edmonton Oil Kings (58GP-26G-33A-59Pts-22PIMs) *played 4 AJHL games in 2020

Eric Alarie, Moose Jaw Warriors (61GP-7G-14A-21Pts-4PIMs) *played 1 MJHL game in 2020

Jayden Grubbe, Red Deer Rebels (57GP-6G-23A-29Pts-46PIMs)

Logan Stankoven, Kamloops Blazers (59GP-29G-19A-48Pts-10PIMs)

Nolan Allen, Prince Albert Raiders (58GP-2G-6A-8Pts-25PIMs) *played 5 games in SJHL in 2020

Ryder Korczak, Moose Jaw Warriors (62GP-18G-49A-67Pts-16PIMs)

Sebastian Cossa, Edmonton Oil Kings (33GP-21W-6L-3T-2.23GAA-.921Sv%)

Zack Stringer, Lethbridge Hurricanes (48GP-11G-23A-34Pts-22PIMs) *played 4 games in the AJHL in 2020

BCHL – from Arlo Schulz

It has been a frustrating state of events for the BCHL, with the league intending to play a full season without fans in the building. However, the health authorities in the province of British Columbia scotched that scenario when case levels rose sharply in the fall. The province had been one of the most relaxed in the country in terms of restrictions during the first wave of the pandemic but reacted to the rising numbers by putting a moratorium on contact sports in the province. As a result, the BCHL has been forced to continue pushing back the start of the campaign.

The latest target date for return to play is February 8th, should the current sports ban be lifted. The BCHL commissioner has insisted that the league is determined to play this season. Current restrictions do thankfully allow for individual on-ice skills and drills and teams have been busy preparing and keeping players in shape. Some teams played pre-season games before the restrictions hit; the Penticton Vees were supposed to host this year's Centennial Cup and won a mini-tournament against other Okanagan-based BCHL teams.

Several players (notably including Ayrton Martino and Jack Bar) left their BCHL team to go play in the USHL this season; the deadline for this transfer just passed so there shouldn't be any more defections. The expectation is for a very short regular season to still be completed in some fashion, followed by playoffs if possible, giving scouts some limited viewings of 2021-eligible players. Whether those viewings will be conducted via video (likely) or live attendance at the rink (hopefully) remains to be seen.

NCHC – from Tom Dorsa

In October, the National Collegiate Hockey Association unveiled its plans for the 2020-21 season, beginning the pursuit of the Penrose Cup with the implementation of “The Pod,” the secure zone in Omaha, Nebraska in which its eight member schools played from December 1-20 while schools were finishing fall semesters.

Playing 38 games in 21 days at Baxter Arena, the NCHC provided its programs, players, and fans with a leg to stand on, a start to a season with an end hopefully better than the last campaign. But with “The Pod” wrapped up and programs situating themselves back to their respective campuses around the American North and Northwest, the NCHC enters the unknown -- and they will have just as many fires to put out as the rest of the leagues around the game.

While the geographics of conference play has been made easier with the introduction of the West and East divisions, new to the 2020-21 season, the conference has already had to shift around scheduling of games, including a large slate of heavyweight matchups such as North Dakota vs Denver and Minnesota-Duluth vs St. Cloud State being delayed.

While COVID case numbers skyrocket in the United States, the NCHC has enacted a strict contract tracing and quarantine regimen for any type of situation. Hockey in early 2021 without the implications of the pandemic is impossible, but the conference has done well in terms of keeping players and team staff safe while ensuring competitive integrity.

And from a perspective of competition, the NCHC is red hot. Prior to the abrupt cancellations of conference tournaments and the NCAA Frozen Four, teams in the conference were preparing for potential lengthy runs through the postseason. North Dakota (3), Minnesota-Duluth (5), Denver (6), and Western Michigan (16) were all nationally recognized in the final USCHO rankings. The NCHC has taken home each of the last four NCAA national championships.

These schools are truly incredible and have a long history of running the table in college hockey. These young players deserve this. Safely and responsibly, let’s rejoice.

QMJHL – from Benoit Belanger

The QMJHL is fortunate to be the only one of the three Canadian junior leagues (CHL) to have played games this season. In principle, the QMJHL will be back next week from January 22. The league has decided to operate with mini bubbles which it calls "protected environments". During the first weekend (January 22 to 24), four cities (Drummondville, Rimouski, Chicoutimi and Shawinigan) were chosen and will host two other teams who will each play two games in three days. So, in total, we are talking about seven bubbles in four different cities, which will allow the 12 teams in Quebec territory to play games, eight games for each team.
For the Maritimes, we are still awaiting a decision to be made. The league hopes to resume a regular schedule from January 22 for those teams.

In addition, the league announced a new playoff format for this season, that will allow all 18 teams to take part. Regarding the playoff format, the QMJHL also indicated that the regular season standings will be determined by percentage of points collected, as it is already ensured that all teams will not play the same number of games. However, it is the format of the playoffs that will be particularly new, as the number of teams (18) is not a multiple of (nor divisible by) four (2, 4, 8 or 16).

Remember that the teams are divided into three divisions of six teams each (West, East, Maritimes).

In the first round, the teams that finished the season ranked three through six in each of the three divisions will compete for the right to then face in the second round the teams ranked first and second who have each benefited from a bye. For the next round, in the Province of Quebec, the weaker team remaining in the East Division will face the best in the West Division, and vice versa for the other series. In the Maritimes, it will be a traditional division final.

After that, an unusual procedure will be introduced, namely a round robin between the three remaining teams. They will compete twice, and a ranking will be established. The top two teams in this one will face off in a best of seven, or best of five final if needed.

The duration of the previous rounds will be established no later than April 1.

The trades period currently in progress in the QMJHL is extended in an exceptional allowance, until January 25. The most active for the moment have definitely been the Val-d'Or Foreurs. They added forward Nathan Légaré (2019 Pittsburg Penguins 3rd round pick) and defender Jordan Spence (2019 Los Angeles King 4th round pick), who will join Jacob Pelletier and Justin Ducharme, both acquired in the draft. Otherwise, among the other big names that have changed address, note Shawn Element who is now a Tigres de Victoriavilles, Isaac Belliveau acquired by the Gatineau Olympiques and Justin Bergeron who will wear the colors of the Shawinigan Cataractes.

AHL – from Shaiyena Cote

In a season unlike any other, where sports have had to take a back seat to the bigger issue of Covid-19, many sports leagues and seasons have already been put on hold. The American Hockey League is no exception and had been placed on hold with simply a hopeful start date. That hopeful start date has now turned into a very real and fast approaching February 5th start date that has been approved and ready to go by league commissioners. That being said, there are a few notable changes that will be made for the 2021 AHL season.

Firstly, the season will be shortened due to the late start date to only 26 games and a new division will be formed amongst the Canadian teams in agreement with border rules. Therefore, in the AHL Eastern Conference there will now be three divisions; the Atlantic, Canadian and the North division. More structural changes also include the relocation of certain AHL teams for the season, such as the Ontario Reign (LA), San Diego Gulls (Anaheim), Binghamton Devils (New Jersey) and the Providence Bruins (Boston) to their new homes in El Segundo, CA, Irvine, CA, Newark, NJ, and Marlborough, MA, respectively. There are also three teams that have pulled out of the season all together; the Charlotte Checkers (FLA), Milwaukee Admirals (NASH) and Springfield Thunderbirds (STL) have agreed to not play the season and so far, the Predators have elected to send their players to the AHL Chicago Wolves to join the Carolina Hurricanes’ prospects for the season, combining to form a mixed Chicago Wolves roster. The Panthers have chosen to affiliate the Springfield Thunderbirds with Tampa Bay and send their players to join the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch for the season. St. Louis will be sending its prospects to play with the Vancouver AHL affiliate in Utica, New York.

Along with league and structural changes at the AHL level, the NHL has also seen its fair share of what do we do moments. For health and safety and contingency reasons the NHL has adopted a Taxi Squad system for the 2021 season, essentially going from a 23-man roster to a 29-man roster with six extra players travelling and practicing with the team who are available to play in any situation. With potentially six more players moved up to their NHL squads, that leaves some very important and heavily weighted room for some of the AHL rosters that have CHL eligible prospects. So far, the QMJHL is set to get back to their bubble running format a week from now once the players have finished Christmas break quarantine but where do the NHL prospects that were set to return to their OHL and WHL teams go when there are no start dates for either league in place yet? The answer is that they will most likely be seeing some development time up with their NHL farm teams for now until further notice. Look for some young faces to potentially make their professional debuts this AHL season and for the benefitting major junior clubs to be able to up their competition level when the entire CHL gets rolling again.

Despite the fact that there are many new changes to come about, hockey fans and hockey people alike can rejoice at the fact that, yes indeed, hockey is back.

Big Ten – from Ryan Wagman

Aside from some changes to the usual non-conference slate of games, the seven schools of the Big Ten conference (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) are playing a relatively normal schedule for the 2020-21 season.

To replace the lost competition against various out-of-conference schools, the conference has welcomed Arizona State to play four games against each team – with all of those games occurring at the home rink of the regular Big Ten school. It is unknown if this arrangement might lead to a permanent spot in the Big Ten for ASU going forward, even if such an arrangement has been speculated before.

The teams are all now slightly past their respective halfway points, having played 13 or 14 games each. After a few dark years, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have been heads and shoulders better than all the other schools. At the other end, Michigan State has still not been able to escape the basement, while Ohio State and Penn State have similarly struggled to overcome some critical graduations. Arizona State has played respectably, but the still fresh NCAA Division I entrant has a ways to go to truly compete with Big Ten programs.

The regular season is scheduled to run through early March and the conference tournament is scheduled for March 18-20.

In other words, there is still plenty of time to catch the three huge 2021 draft prospects from Michigan – Owen Power, Matty Beniers, and Kent Johnson – before the strange season draws to a close.

USHL – from Ryan Wagman

It only took a pandemic, but in the 2020-21 season, the USHL has the top collection of draft eligible talent in North America. It wasn’t without bumps, of course. Before the season even started, both the Madison Capitols and the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders were forced to shut up shop for the season. The Capitols were not allowed to play due to local county restrictions against such gatherings. The RoughRiders had to skip this season due to a wholly unrelated event, that being the derecho which tore through Central Iowa last August, which practically destroyed their home arena, along with many other local buildings. Outside of those two AWOL franchises, the biggest changes to this year have been the lack of a season-opening tournament in Pittsburgh or a mid-season All Star game. No matter, the games go on.

The remaining 14 teams have been playing since early November, split into a six team Eastern Conference and an eight team Western Conference. As per usual in recent seasons, the Chicago Steel have been running away with the league, with only three regulation losses in their first 19 games.

Attendance rules vary per team, depending on local and/or state regulations. I am based in the Chicago area and the Steel are limited to scouts and media at their games. In the bulk of games I have attended so far, I have estimated between 15-40 people in the stands.

As alluded to in some of the other sections above, the USHL this year has been augmented by top talents from various CHL or Canadian Jr. A leagues, with a new influx of talent joining the league since the end of the WJC. The lack of hockey in the Ivy League schools, for instance, has allowed drafted players including John Farincci (Muskegon), Henry Thrun (Dubuque), and Jack Malone (Youngstown) to spend some time in the USHL, the first two of those three as a means of preparation for their time with the American WJC roster. Uncertainty in the WHL and BCHL has brought in more talent, including drafted players Bear Hughes (Fargo), Cross Hanas (Lincoln), and Keinan Draper (Omaha). Intriguing 2021 eligibles who have lately joined the league from the BCHL include Ayrton Marino (Omaha) and Jack Bar (Chicago), with WHL transplants including potential first rounder Cole Sillinger (Sioux Falls), Jack O’Brien (Lincoln) and James Stefan (Lincoln).

The USHL regular season is scheduled to run through April 24, barring any addition schedule re-arrangements, whether due to the pandemic, or other, more prosaic reasons.