Six CHL storylines to watch this season
The Canadian Hockey League season starts in stages, with the QMJHL campaign commencing on Wednesday, a full two weeks before Ontario's and the Western League's.
With that topmost of mind, here's a look at six storylines for the season ahead. It was supposed to be five, but there was a need for an extra attacker:
McDavid mania — After three years of buildup, Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters, the Canadian national junior team and (we believe) Planet Earth is finally in his NHL draft season. At Hockey Canada's summer development camp last month, where it played exhibition games vs. the Czech Republic and Russia, there were sequences where McDavid — McJesus, to the Twitterverse — simply did whatever he pleased with the puck. Other 17-year-olds have the surpassing aptitude to do the same, but they usually don't involve their teammates as well as Erie's No. 97.
Remparts shoot for a Colisée conquest The sands could shift very soon in the Quebec League if a NHL team is acquired for the new Quebecor Arena and ends the Remparts' monopoly on La Vielle Capitale. In the meantime, though, the Q's flagship franchise is girding to become the second host team in a row from
the league have a memorable May. The Anthony Duclair-led Remparts open the season with abundant scoring punch, but aren't the league's on-paper favourite. That could change quickly if, as already rumoured, Quebec adds Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Zach Fucale at midseason. Granted, how much fire Fucale will have left for junior hockey baubles after three long playoff runs and (likely) two world junior championships will be an open question.
Dethroning in the Dub? Having the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are owned by the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, and the rich-in-resources Portland Winterhawks meet in the final thrice in succession does not speak well for the Western league's competitive balance. Portland, with Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand offering a fine 1-2 punch, could stay up near the top of the Western Conference.
The league is overdue for a changing of the guard, though. The Calgary Hitmen, after underachieving in the 2014 playoffs, could be due for a breakthrough, while the Brandon Wheat Kings have a strong young corps. A Calgary-Kelowna final prediction seems to have some plurality.
Twilight of the Knights — General manager and part-owner Mark Hunter was adamant about not mortgaging London's future to load up for a run at winning the Memorial Cup. It sorted of happened anyway. It's a rule of thumb that success is predicated on a team's OHL priority selection picks from three years prior. London mayyyyyy still have Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks first-rounders Max Domi and Bo Horvat in the stable, but depth forward Tait Seguin is the only '11 pick still on the roster.
Of course, it's not the depth of the fall, it's the height of the bounce. After London finished eighth in the Western Conference in 2011, it promptly won back-to-back OHL titles. This is a franchise that can draw 8,000 fans to an exhibition game; trading for young defenceman Victor Mete should also help with the regeneration.
The great '98 debate — Anyone with McDavid fatigue can look ahead at determining a pecking order for the 2016 draft. There is bound to be some lively debate out west between the two Edmonton-area prodigies who went 1-2 in the WHL bantam draft, the Vancouver Giants' Tyler Benson and Regina Pats' Sam Steel. Steel, who has to work harder since he's the second pick, merely has 10 points in his first three preseason games. Try not to make too much of it... but, yeah.
Unifor makes noise — Canada's largest private sector union is interested in organizing CHL players. That means the head-in-the-sand approach to 16- to 20-year-old players' working conditions will not fly for either the three member leagues or those who support them with their time and disposable income. The first attempt, in 2012, to form a players' association, collapsed under the weight of its own incompetence. Unifor is at least trying to go through better channels. However, any attempt to unionize will probably only go as far as players' advisers are willing to go along with it.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.