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CHL free agent overagers who could fit with the Tampa Bay Lightning

These undrafted players are having the seasons of their lives.

Marc Smith - DiscoverMooseJaw

The Tampa Bay Lightning are no stranger to signing overage players to ELCs. They signed Jimmy Huntington out of the Q last week, and Alex Barre-Boulet back in 2018. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at a list of CHL players who are undrafted “free agents” who could score their way to NHL contracts with their performances this season.

Before it was announced that he had been signed by the Dallas Stars, Ottawa 67’s forward Tye Felhaber had been the best CHL overage player without NHL rights this season. He began the season on a torrid scoring pace, becoming the first player to score 50 goals this season. And he did it in 47 games. When I was compiling this list, Felhaber was at the top of it. He’ll be great for the Stars.

With Felhaber off the market, the attentions of scouts now turn to the next best available players. There are a plethora of undrafted overagers having massive, point-producing seasons. Their one last chance at major junior — their final season to catch NHL teams by surprise — could very well lead to NHL contracts at the end. Here are four players to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.

Kevin Hancock

OHL — Owen Sound Attack
March 2, 1998
C/LW — 5’11, 181 lbs

If Hancock’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he actually attended the Bolts development camp back in 2017. He obviously impressed Steve Yzerman and company enough to earn an invite to their NHL training camp a few months later, though he was cut and sent back to junior without a contract. Hancock was also invited to camp with the New York Rangers last summer, after a 69-point season with the Owen Sound Attack, but returned to the OHL as an overager and without an NHL deal.

Hancock got off to a slow start in his draft year (2016), which also happened to be his first full season in the OHL, putting up an underwhelming 28 points in 66 games. His best chance to have been drafted would have been the following year, as he put up an impressive 85 points in 68 games.

Well, he’s reached new heights this season, with 101 points in 65 games, split between the Attack and the London Knights. Hancock is 3rd in OHL scoring behind Flyers prospect Morgan Frost (108 points) and Stars prospect Jason Robertson (105 points). He also has the third-most powerplay goals in the league with 17. Here’s a scouting report on Hancock from 2017:

An incredibly intelligent player with an excellent hockey IQ, Hancock has the ability to sense his teammates on the ice before creating scoring chances with crisp, accurate passes. Complimenting Hancock’s skill on the ice is his tireless work ethic and drive. Never willing to let up on a play or an opponent, Hancock has become one of the OHL’s most relentless forwards – a technique which has, quite clearly, paid dividends. [The Hockey Writers]

Kyle Maksimovich

OHL — Ottawa 67’s
March 10, 1998
LW — 5’9, 187 lbs

Yes, Maksimovich’s size isn’t eye-candy to NHL scouts, but the Lightning have certainly proven they know what they’re doing with under-sized players. Maksimovich has had the opportunity to play with some very good players in Erie, and was former teammates with Bolts prospect Taylor Raddysh and current Bolts Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. Maksimovich was invited to Toronto Maple Leafs development camp in 2017 after Erie’s Memorial Cup run. He also attended camp with the Chicago Blackhawks and played four games with their AHL affiliate in Rockford last season.

Maksimovich plays a game very similar to former teammate and current Blackhawk Alex DeBrincat. Both are undersized players, offensively gifted, and are incredibly smart at stripping players along the boards. But more than that, neither are afraid to play the body and challenge larger opponents physically.

One might have thought that after Erie’s plethora of offensive catalysts graduated from the OHL, Makismovich’s offensive production would falter. That’s not the case at all. The former captain of the basement-dwelling Otters led the way with 56 points in 39 games before being dealt to the powerhouse Ottawa 67’s, adding 25 more points in 22 games with his new team. He isn’t among the OHL’s top ten scorers, but Maksimovich has proven this season that he doesn’t have to rely on more talented players to drive offense.

Justin Brazeau

OHL — North Bay Battalion
February 2, 1998
RW — 6’6, 225 lbs

Brazeau is far and away the biggest player on this list, but the power forward has all the tools to make it in the NHL. In fact, with his size and hands, it’s surprising he went undrafted at all. Brazeau is very similar to James van Riemsdyk, in stature and in play. His skating isn’t terrible, but like most bigger players, it needs some refining. However, Brazeau does most of his damage around the net, and his extremely deft hands and tall stature make him a difficult player for goalies to stop.

Like Hancock, Brazeau had a quiet draft season, only managing 13 points in 65 games with North Bay. However, his point totals have been increasing steadily, putting up 75 points in 68 games last year. The Battalion are not a strong championship contender this season, sitting fourth-last in the conference. And yet, Brazeau has flourished again this season, with 98 points in 62 games — good enough for fifth in OHL scoring.

Brazeau has attended development camps with the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, and San Jose Sharks. The Sharks made it clear to Brazeau that they believe he is worthy of an NHL deal:

“When I left San Jose, it was to make sure I came back and dominated the league,” said Brazeau. “That was kind of the message.” [North Bay Nugget]

So in all likelihood Brazeau won’t necessarily end up in Tampa, given that he’s done exactly what the Sharks have asked of him. But he’s been having a stellar overage season with the middling Battalion, and he deserves an NHL deal.

Tristin Langan

WHL — Moose Jaw Warriors
October 15, 1998
C/LW — 6’0, 205 lbs

Moose Jaw has been my favourite CHL team to watch this season, and for good reason. They boast the most dangerous line in the entire country (and one of the best defense pairs as well). That line features undrafted overager Tristin Langan, Penguins prospect Justin Almeida, and 2019 draft-eligible Brayden Tracey.

Langan was never really on any team’s draft radar. He made the transition to the WHL in the middle of his draft year, and didn’t break the 50 point mark until this season. Both he and Almeida have developed incredible chemistry with Tracey, and it’s done wonders for all three players. Tracey might just vault into the first round in June.

But Langan has been the driver of that line all season. He ended last year’s campaign with 10 points in 9 games and picked right up where he left off this season. Langan is second in WHL scoring with 102 points in 61 games, and has obliterated his previous career-highs. As a former teammate of Brayden Point, Brett Howden, and Oleg Sosunov, the Lightning are no stranger to scouting the Warriors. However, the scouting staff may not have noticed Langan much until after all three players had moved on from Moose Jaw.

Originally asked to play a depth, checking role (that included killing penalties) behind more talented players on the Warriors, Langan has surprised his head coach (and himself!) with what he is capable of offensively:

“Shame on me; he has more skill than I thought he had,” Warriors head coach Tim Hunter said with a smile. “Maybe we misused him at times last year but we had some pretty good players in front of him. We’re really proud of what he has become for us and he should be proud of himself.” [Regina Leader Post]

Langan is more of a passer, but he’s two goals shy of the 50-goal mark and the heaviness and precision of his shot has surprised more than a few WHL goalies this season. He’s flourished in a larger offensive role (including playing on the powerplay), and it just might lead to an NHL contract at the end.

Honorable Mentions

Peter Abbandonato (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies)
2018-19: 104 points in 62 games
Attended St. Louis Blues training camp in 2018

Samuel Asselin (Halifax Mooseheads)
2018-19: 83 points in 63 games
2018 Memorial Cup champion with Acadie-Bathurst

Keeghan Howdeshell (Soo Greyhounds)
2018-19: 72 points in 63 games
Attended Arizona Coyotes training camp in 2018