Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Stars’ absence puts supporting casts in CHL’s limelight: CHL Hot & Cold

Sixty CHL teams will go ahead and play their games for the next four weeks, even though a few dozen standouts are off with their national junior teams.

Surprising, isn't it, that a business doesn't shut down completely when consumers might be more willing to shell out some of their disposable shekels. It's like the players in the world junior have this whole league they play in the rest of the time. Losing players to the WJC will put a strain on several teams' depth, but the games still have the same 1/68th or 1/72nd weight in the final standings.

Here is the weekly look at who is ebbing and flowing heading into the penultimate week of the pre-Christmas schedule.

OHL

Hot: London Knights

The Knights have a .906 point percentage since Halloween, so they have made up ground ahead of seeing five players off to the world junior championship. That makes them a tap-in for the nomination, even though Erie is on a seven-game win streak and Sudbury has run off five.

Since Nikita Zadorov's return from the Buffalo Sabres, London has held six of eight opponents to two goals or less. There will be an early holiday exodus with defenders Zadorov and Tim Bender, goalie Anthony Stolarz and forwards Josh Anderson and Bo Horvat headed off to world junior camps, but they should be able to account for the absences. League-leading Erie stands to operate minus four of its stars and contending Guelph will only lose two, left wing Kerby Rychel and Swiss defenceman Phil Baltisberger.

Not: Mississauga Steelheads

It seems fair to give a struggling young team a mulligan and strive to find a contender who's cold. Mississauga, though, is in an epic struggle with one win in a dozen games. Outside of rookie defenceman Sean Day, who is sidelined by a separated shoulder after being walloped by Niagara's Alexsandar Mikulovich in a game last week, and sophomore wing Damien Bourne, Mississauga has essentially had its full lineup during its tailspin.

Franchise goalie Spencer Martin has borne the brunt of the tough times, with his average and save percentage sitting at 3.80 and .894. It's important to stay mindful that the 18-year-old Colorado Avalanche selection still has great upside. This would require further study but it seems like there's an odd pattern with goalies who become a team's No. 1 in their age-17 seasons. Sometimes the quote, unquote book gets out in their 18-year-old campaign before they adapt. Martin, who's already played 31 games, is having to adapt a lot.

Canadian NHL team prospects

Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie (No. 7 by Edmonton Oilers in '13) — Nurse had a good week overall in the wake of being bypassed by Team Canada, with four points and plus-2 ranking over three games. (The Soo won two.)

The Greyhounds, thanks to a fogout in September, have to play seven games in 11 days to complete the pre-Christmas break schedule. Deep down they might be happy their busiest defender isn't leaving for the world junior.

Bo Horvat, London (No. 9 by Vancouver Canucks in '13) — Horvat is like the keener in the class whose homework does not even needed to be checked. London had a 3-0 week, with Horvat counting five points over the final two games. The Team Canada selection has counted in 14 of 16 games since Halloween.

Michael McCarron, London (No. 24 by Montreal Canadiens in '13) — The big man collected a point in all three Knights wins over the week, forging a productive line with Kyle Platzer and Brett Welychka. McCarron might want to be more discriminating at choosing dance partners for late-game scrums, since the 6-foot-6, 238-pounder grabbing Owen Sound's 5-11, 192-pound scoring leader Gemel Smith is a mismatch. Owen Sound's bigger players seemed a little slow to jump in there, though.

Connor Crisp, Sudbury (No. 71 by Montreal Canadiens in '13) — Over his last eight games, the 19-year-old Crisp has 10 points (9G-1A). Crisp is the only Wolf who's scored the decider more than once during Sudbury's current 7-1-0-0 stretch, if you count shootouts.

Cole Cassels, Oshawa (No. 85 by Vancouver Canucks in '13) — Pretty productive weekend for Cassels. His entry-level deal with the Canucks was finally consummated. He also had six assists over a pair of weekend wins over second-division competition. Cassels and fellow 18-year-old Josh Sterk have given Oshawa a strong offensive cast beyond Team Canada hopeful Scott Laughton and sophomore Michael Dal Colle.

Kyle Platzer, London (No. 96 by Edmonton Oilers in '13) — The 18-year-old bagged his first goal in 11 games in London's Saturday night road win over Owen Sound. Platzer's point-producing potential — say that five times fast — is constricted by London's plethora of top-end talent. That will change over the next month since the Knights might have two forwards away with Team Canada.

Connor Brown, Erie (No. 156 by Toronto Maple Leafs in '12) — Of all the neglected talents left off Team Canada, Don Cherry was most apoplectic about Brown and Max Domi. Cherry going to the mat for the Leafs pick and ex-Leaf's son who each played in the Greater Toronto Hockey League? Sounds about right. Cherry's rationale is that Brown is leading the OHL in scoring. A league scoring leader never gets left off Team Canada. Just ask Tyler Toffoli.

Brown will be just fine, one thinks. His 2G-1A, +1 effort Sunday in Kingston ended a seven-game goalless skein. He's been a steady setup man for overage Dane Fox, who has a league-leading 36 goals. The duo has been lining up with Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Brendan Gaunce of late.

Evan McEneny, Kingston (free-agent signing, Vancouver Canucks) — The defensive defenceman scored on Sunday during the late stages of the Frontenacs' loss to Brown and league-leading Erie. McEneny is plus-2 in seven games for Kingston, which is 5-2-0-0 since he joined their lineup. The other loss was to Oshawa, the other OHL conference leader.

QMJHL

Hot: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

It's not too snarky to say that first overall pick Nicolas Roy truly did stay close to home for the educational opportunities in his home province. The Screaming Eagles' five-game win streak and 8-2-0-0 mark across their past 10 games has vaulted them into the top half of the Q with a .609 point percentage. There is a big drop-off to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens in 11th place at .485, although the 16-year-old Roy recently had his first two-goal game as a junior.

Enough about that. The Eagles' ascent from 2012-13's basement owes greatly to 19-year-old Cam Darcy, the Boston native, becoming an impact player and a top-10 scorer. It's probably not a coincidence that Cape Breton's fortunes improved soon after their new import, 17-year-old Russian Maxim Lazarev, first suited up in early November; he's bagged a half-dozen goals over his first dozen games. Phoenix Coyotes seventh-rounder Justin Haché has become a good defensive pillar, leading Cape Breton's back end with 25 points and a plus-19 over 30 games. For lack of a more profound way to say it, it is good to see a struggling team achieve respectability.

Not: Rimouski Océanic

At first glance, the Océanic are on an 0-4-1-1 skid and have slipped down to 10th overall. The reality of it, or at least the spin from coach Serge Beausoleil, is they just had the dreaded back-to-back doubleheaders road trip to Val-d'Or and Rouyn-Noranda. Both followed the same pattern: blowout loss and a narrow defeat in the second game. Meantime, overage Peter Trainer is producing at fewer than a point per game pace (26 in 31) a season after getting 100 points. That drop-off cannot fall entire on him.

Rimouski, suffice to say, is badly missing 18-year-old defenders Sam Morin and Jan Kostalek, 2013 selections of the Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets. Even extenuating circumstances have a shelf life. Rimouski earned a 'good job, good effort' with its shootout loss on the weekend at Rouyn-Noranda. Four of its five games prior to the holiday break are at home.

Canadian NHL team prospects

Émile Poirier, Gatineau (No. 22 by Calgary Flames in '13) — A Team Canada invite was not really expected for Poirier, whose skating will likely need some prep work in the AHL. The 19-year-old has had 12 points in his last five games, two of which came while his regular linemate Martin Reway (a Montreal Canadiens selection) was out due to injury. Poirier's 20 goals and 48 points over 30 games puts him third among QMJHL scorers.

Marc-Olivier Roy, Blainville-Boisbriand (No. 56 by Edmonton Oilers in '13) — One reason the pack has caught up to B-B is that the Armada are dealing with a shwack of injuries. Roy sustained a brain injury in a Nov. 30 game vs. Baie-Comeau and is reportedly out for the entire month.

(Shwack is a word, like avoision.)

Jan Kostalek, Rimouski (No. 114 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Kostalek will be leaving later this week to join Team Czech Republic, whose lineup for the world junior championship appears to be trending youngish. Kostalek had a five-game assists binge in early November, but a teamwide struggled has zapped his stats.

Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi (No. 122 by Montreal Canadiens in '12) — Hudon tuned up for Team Canada's selection camp by tallying seven points over three games, including a three-pointer against powerhouse Baie-Comeau. Hudon was credited with 20 shots on goal over those games, suggesting that he's been consistently generating offence.

Ryan Culkin, Quebec (No. 124 by Calgary Flames in '13) — The overage defenceman had three assists in as many games during Quebec's 2-1-0-0 Maritime swing.

WHL

Hot: Calgary Hitmen

Calgary is about three-quarters dangerous when it gets scoring from sources other than Edmonton Oilers pick Greg Chase and overage Brady Brassart. The likes of import Pavel Padakin (seven points during the current five-game win streak), sophomore Jake Virtanen (five in that stretch) and 19-year-old Kenton Helgesen (four) have chipped in steadily. Overall effort is rarely wanting with Calgary, which bumped around a tired Portland team during a win on Sunday. Ottawa Senators-drafted goalie Chris Driedger is furnishing the steady puck-stopping presence asked of a tendy on a Mike Williamson-coached team. That was illustrated best in the Portland game when he waited out Winnipeg Jets prospect Nic Petan, the most dangerous offensive player in the Dub, on a breakaway. Petan overhandled the puck and lost it.

The Hitmen have a one-point lead in the Central Division despite having the fewest goals scored among the Eastern Conference's playoff pack. Driedger is sporting a 2.46 average and .922 save percentage.

Not: Prince Albert Raiders

When in doubt, pile on a team that lost to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Prince Albert (.581 point pct., fifth in the Eastern Conf.) has gone five games without a regulation-time win over the past two weeks. The Raiders were done in by a determined goalie, Lethbridge's Teagan Sacher, during the second-last fixture on a five-game road stretch. Whether that fomented any fragility in the ranks is in the eye of the armchair coaches, but on Saturday, they had a ready-made chance to steal two on the road after Leon Draisaitl scored a short-handed equalizer with 7:20 left in Medicine Hat. Legendary Medicine Hat play-by-play man Bob Ridley called it a "killer for the Tigers," but instead P.A. gave up a goal a minute later.

Canadian NHL team prospects

Curtis Lazar, Edmonton (No. 17 by Ottawa Senators in '13) — Lazar helped Edmonton have a four-point week against good competition and is the Oil Kings' best all-around player with his 18 goals, 32 points and +20 plus/minus ranking. Edmonton doesn't get in range to edge Portland in a shootout without Lazar's third-period goal.

One point in Lazar's favour as he vies to be an energy player for Team Canada. The defensive-minded forward has only four minor penalties all season. He's not exactly a soft player.

Nic Petan, Portland (No. 43 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Call Reuters: Petan was skunked on Sunday by Calgary, who caught Portland in the final leg of a 3-in-3 trip through Alberta. Petan is still above two points per game with 66 in 31 contests as he heads off to join Team Canada's selection camp on Thursday.

Timothé Bozon, Kootenay (No. 64 by Montreal Canadiens in '12) — It is back to using the third-rounder's full name. Bozon has been blanked in four of his last five games, with one exception coming last Friday when he burned his old friends in Kamloops for two goals and two apples.

Jujhar Khaira, Everett (No. 64 by Edmonton Oilers in '13) — The signed third-rounder, who missed four weeks earlier due to injury, has had two multi-point efforts in the last four 'Tips tilts. Take it with a grain of salt since the opposition was rebuilding Saskatoon and Kamloops.'

Anton Cederholm, Portland (No. 145 by Vancouver Canucks in '13) — Cederholm was plus-4 over the Winterhawks' three-game trip along Hwy. 2 in Alberta. The 18-year-old also had a tussle with a top WHL heavyweight, Edmonton Oilers second-rounder Mitch Moroz. It is part of the game until either the CHL or NHL says it is not.

Ben Betker, Everett (No. 158 by Edmonton Oilers in '13) — The 18-year-old stay-at-home D-man was a minus-1 when Everett lost to Dynamic Dozen maintains Kelowna and Portland early in the week. Betker at least got a pick-me-up on Saturday when he had his first two-goal game in the Dub during Everett's easy win over Kamloops.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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