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Six undrafted CHL overagers with fast starts to the 2019-20 season

Well, it’s five and a “drafted but unsigned and now free agent” overagers.

Sudbury Wolves v Niagara IceDogs Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

We are about a month into the 2019-20 CHL season, and there’s been a wave of offense rippling through all three leagues. From top 2020 draft prospects Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield battling it out for the CHL scoring lead to the Oshawa Generals’ nine-game undefeated streak, it’s been an exciting start to the season.

Last year, I profiled a few CHL overagers that the Tampa Bay Lightning could target as a result of their strong seasons (and what do you know, they actually went out and signed one of them!). This time around, I wanted to get a head start on a similar post, seeing as there were a lot of overage players putting up impressive numbers to start the season as a result of a surge in offensive production so early in the season.

The following six players aren’t necessarily players I see as fits with the Lightning, but they have garnered NHL interest before, and strong seasons could help them solidify professional contracts. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how they continue to play as the season progresses, and I’ll check back in with these six sometime in the spring (and maybe a few more overagers will play their way into the conversation by then).

David Levin (LW/RW)

Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
September 16, 1999
5’10”, 181 lbs

The Israeli-born Levin made headlines back in 2015, when he was made eligible for the OHL’s Priority Selection that year despite not being a Canadian citizen by birth. After an appeal to the league, the OHL granted him eligibility for the 2015 draft (if that had failed, Levin would have been able to enter the 2016 Import Draft). He was selected first overall by the Sudbury Wolves, and is currently playing his fifth season with the team.

Levin’s offensive skills are undeniable, and then-Sudbury head coach David Matsos had a front-row view of it:

“You can teach a lot of things,” Matsos said. “You can teach kids how to skate better, put weight on and do those sorts of things in the weight room. But you can’t teach hockey sense. This guy thinks at a different level. He is probably one of the most elite, skilled players that I’ve seen.” [NHL dot com]

Scouts say Levin’s hockey IQ is his strongest asset, because of the way he processes and reacts to opponents’ movements. He only began working on his defensive game when he came to Sudbury, but it’s come a long way since then. His skating was originally a question-mark, as he had never worn skates to play hockey before coming over to Canada, but it’s no longer something that should hold him back.

Injuries have plagued Levin for the last few seasons. In 2015-16, he broke his hand, and last year, he suffered a knee injury that saw him miss the majority of the second half of Sudbury’s season. Levin had options to play professional hockey in Europe this season, but he decided to return to Sudbury for his overage season, deciding it was best for his development. NHL teams are aware of his progress — he was invited to the Leafs development camp in 2018 and to Arizona Coyotes rookie camp this past August. The Wolves have been on an offensive tear this season, thanks largely to 2020 draft-eligible centre Quinton Byfield, but Levin has followed up his offence as the team’s second man down the middle with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in seven games.

Brett Neumann (C)

Oshawa Generals (OHL)
February 15, 1999
5’9”, 176 lbs

Originally eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Neumann’s draft stock took a hit when he was dealt from the eventual OHL-champion Erie Otters to the bottom-feeder Kingston Frontenacs in 2016-17. He finished his draft year with just 26 points in 68 games, and along with his small frame, he obviously didn’t catch the eyes of NHL scouts.

Fast-forward to last season, Neumann was dealt once again mid-season, this time to a contending Oshawa Generals team who made it to the conference finals. It was then that Neumann’s point totals skyrocketed; he finished the year with 45 goals and 79 points in 68 games. He broke the 20 goal margin with both Kingston and Oshawa and although he was once again passed over in the draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs invited him to their development camp in 2018.

This season, Neumann has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in nine games with Oshawa, who are on an incredible undefeated streak to start the season (they are still 9-0-0). Neumann is undersized, but he isn’t held back by his small frame. He is a high-energy, skilled forward who uses his feet to win puck battles, beat defenders out for icings, and crash the crease when necessary. Neumann uses his speed to slide past defenders and break in alone (usually scoring on the breakaway as well). He favours the long-range wrister from the top of the circle, but he also has a whip-like release that he can unleash on the powerplay, whether it be a one-timer or a snapshot. Neumann is a great playmaker and also has soft enough hands to tip pucks past goalies in the slot.

Bryce Kindopp (RW)

Everett Silvertips (WHL)
June 14, 1999
6’1”, 185 lbs

Now the Silvertips’ captain in his fourth and final season of junior hockey, it’s been quite a rise through the ranks for Kindopp. He didn’t make the team out of camp as a 16-year old and struggled to contribute offensively the following season (his draft year) when he did join Everett, only managing 14 points in 60 games. He played the majority of the season in the third line in 2017-18, and finally discovered his scoring prowess at the WHL level last season. Kindopp finished the 2018-19 season with 75 points in 67 games, and there was talk that an NHL team could take a late-round flyer on him last June. Unfortunately, Kindopp went undrafted for the third straight year. However, the Colorado Avalanche brought him to their development camp in July and invited him to their training camp on an ATO.

There’s a lot to like about the responsible winger, who is an excellent skater with good vision. While Kindopp is a playmaker who can find his linemates from anywhere on the ice, he’s got an underrated shot and isn’t afraid to take pucks to the net. He uses his speed and agility to lead rushes and get himself open to receive passes, and he’s also excellent at stripping players of pucks and forcing turnovers.

Head coach Dennis Williams spoke highly of his team’s captain, and the steps that Kindopp has taken between this season and last:

“He’s elevated. He’s a step quicker, he’s a step stronger,” Williams said. “Those goals, to get the puck up that quick, shows the strength and what he’s been able to do this summer. He hasn’t changed the way he’s played. To me, he’s just a step quicker. That’s how he played last year. But he’s doing a great job of driving wide and getting to the net. He’s been a trooper.”

Kindopp has been averaging about 25 minutes a game for the Silvertips this season, and he’s blossomed into a reliable play-driver for Everett. Kindopp is currently tied for the league-lead in scoring, with 14 points (eight goals, six assists), but has played the fewest games among the four players at the top of the leaderboard, with just eight games.

Jonathan Yantsis (RW)

Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
April 28, 1999
6’3”, 212 lbs

The OHL’s most improved player (I think, anyways) went from scoring five goals to 50 in a single season. Yeah, you read that right. Yantsis, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent in the middle of his draft season, was stuck in the bottom six for two seasons in Kitchener, which didn’t afford him many opportunities to create offense. Last season, he erupted for an onslaught of goals that saw him become the first Ranger to score 50 goals since Jeff Skinner in 2009-10. 24 of those goals were scored on the powerplay. Yantsis wasn’t the only Kitchener player to see a surge in offensive production last season, but he became the primary offensive catalyst for the Rangers and plays a style of game similar to Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk.

Yantsis, for obvious offensive struggles, failed to land on many NHL scouts’ radars for the 2017 and 2018 drafts. However, after his 50-goal campaign last season, many wondered if a team would give him a chance. Yantsis did go undrafted again in June, but he was invited to both development camp and training camp (on an ATO) with the Los Angeles Kings.

The 6’3” forward is an imposing net-front presence, where he stations himself in hopes of banging in rebounds or tipping in pucks. However, Yantsis is also a very intelligent player who reads developing plays well and has a strong, heavy shot. Improvements he needs to make for the upcoming season are his foot speed (which a lot of larger players struggle with) and controlling the puck more (he’s a shoot-first type of player). Yantsis, who is the definition of a late-bloomer (in my eyes), scored three goals in his first two games of the season and currently has nine points (six goals) in nine games.

Vincent Marleau (C)

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
July 5, 1999
6’2”, 187 lbs

Huskies head coach Mario Pouliot refers to Marleau as the team’s ‘diamond in the rough’, and in a way, that’s a fairly accurate description. Marleau was a late-bloomer who only joined Rouyn for two games during what would’ve been his NHL draft year. Ever since, he’s continued to produce steadily, but probably not to the point that would make NHL teams really take notice. Marleau had 39 points in 62 games last season, but Rouyn was one of the best teams in the country all season long and won the Memorial Cup. Marleau scored two pivotal goals at that tournament that helped win the championship for the Huskies,

He was invited to the Montreal Canadiens development and training camps, but released from his ATO and sent back to Rouyn for his overage season. He’s is off to an incredible offensive start this season (along with the rest of the QMJHL) with 16 points in 11 games, which by comparison, would put him atop the WHL in scoring, but only has him tenth in the QMJHL. The powerful, smooth-skating center is reliable in his own end and has incredibly soft hands that allow him to surprise goaltenders. With a lot of the Huskies major offensive weapons gone from junior hockey (including Syracuse’s Peter Abbandonato), Marleau has been given a leadership role and has proven that he can contribute offensively and drive play.

Cédric Paré (C)

Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
January 24, 1999
6’3”, 205 lbs

Unlike the other five players on this list, Paré is the only player who was drafted into the NHL. The Boston Bruins selected Paré in the sixth round in 2017, but he went unsigned and had his draft rights expire this past June:

Teams that a draft a CHL player have two years to sign him to an entry-level contract before forfeiting the player’s NHL rights. The affected player can re-enter the NHL Draft and, if unselected, becomes an unrestricted free agent. The key date for such players is June 1. Still-unsigned CHL players selected in the 2017 NHL Draft had their NHL rights expire on June 1, 2019. [NHL dot com]

Thus, Paré went undrafted in the 2019 draft and returned to Rimouski for his overage season. It was probably the best-case scenario, because he became the team’s number one center, and his winger is 2020 top prospect Alexis Lafreniere. Paré is second in QMJHL scoring with 20 points (12 goals, eight assists) in ten games this season.

How much of that success is a result of playing with a younger, superstar linemate? Well, it’s not like Paré is a stranger to putting up offense; he had 49 points in 68 games last season. He has also been extremely efficient and consistent in the faceoff circle, averaging 61.4% last season and 58.0% this year. The one knock on Paré has been his skating. His footspeed has improved, but his stride still looks a little clunky and his edgework needs refining. However, Paré has excellent hands, has blossomed into a great playmaker, and he, Lafreniere, and Dmitri Zavgorodny (CGY) are one of the most dominant lines in the entire CHL.

Player information and statistics from Elite Prospects, the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL.