By any measure, Rimouski Oceanic is a top-three team in the QMJHL this season, mostly due to the play of presumptive 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere. The team holds a 14-5-4 record and the second-best goal differential in the league, with Lafreniere leading charge with a league-best 51 points in just 23 games. However, things are about to get more difficult for Rimouski. The team announced today that Dmitri Zavgorodny, an impressive Calgary Flames prospect and a line mate of Lafreniere’s, is set to miss the next two to three months. Zavgorodny suffered a broken collarbone and the team anticipates an 8-to-12 week recovery timeline. The talented forward has surely played his last hockey of the 2019 calendar year, but the focus now will be on making sure he is at full strength for the stretch run and postseason when he returns to action, likely in February. In the meantime, Lafreniere and Cedric Pare will try to keep their incredible level of play up; Zavgorodny was third on the team in scoring, but amazingly also third in the league as well, with his 43 points trailing only his line mates. Oceanic will also look for someone to step up and fill Zavgorodny’s slot on the first line, while also expecting their secondary scoring to shoulder some of the burden of his absence. The Quebec league contenders will also likely look into a trade. If Lafreniere and company can survive Zavgorodny’s loss over the next few months, they will remain a formidable opponent in the 2020 playoffs. Perhaps the biggest loser in this situation is Russia’s World Junior team; a key piece will now miss the tournament.
- 2020 NHL Draft prospect Luke Mylymok is jumping leagues mid-season. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit, who some expected to be with the Bulldogs this season, instead remained in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers. However, he is making a switch, as the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks announced that Mylymok has joined their team. Beginning the 2017-18 season as a 16-year-old, Mylymok nevertheless finished the year as a top-six scoring forward for the Gamblers. However, after a relatively slow start to this new campaign – six points in 14 games – the skilled forward will try something new in British Columbia. It’s hard to peg where Mylymok may fall in the draft this spring, but the endorsement of Minnesota-Duluth, one of the top programs in college hockey, has to be worth something. If Mylymok can improve his play with a change of scenery, his name could be getting more attention later this season.
- The New York Rangers may have to wait a while longer to see 2019 draft selection Leevi Aaltonen in action in North America. Fortunately, the team has a deep pipeline and can allow for the intriguing young forward to develop at his own pace. Aaltonen has signed a two-year extension with KalPa of the Finnish Liiga, where he is enjoying a regular role for the first time in his young career. A product of the system in KalPa, Aaltonen has already played in a career-high 14 games this season and clearly wouldn’t mind playing with the team for a while longer. After putting up good numbers at the top junior level in Finland last year, Aaltonen was well-regarded entering the draft and considered by many to be a steal by the Rangers in the fifth round. A small, shifty forward, Aaltonen’s skating ability and skill are apparent, but he has a ways to go physically and in developing a more mature, well-rounded game. Patience by New York will likely pay off as Aaltonen continues to grow in KalPa.
- There will be no more Peewee, Midget, and Bantam in Canada. After a meeting this weekend in Montreal, Hockey Canada has announced that they will be re-naming their age divisions in youth hockey to simplify the structure of the game. No longer will each level have its own unique title; instead, age groups will largely be categorized as being under a certain odd number age. The new titles are U-7, U-9, U-11, U-13, U-15, U-18, and U-21. These changes will be implemented almost immediately for next season. While the oldest age group will surely continue to be referred to as “Junior” hockey, the other titles that many have come to know will cease to exist. A helpful simplification of the game for many, but at the cost of novelty to others.