Blay: Outstanding CHL playoff performers

By: Jeff Blay, Executive Editor
@JeffBlay

It’s been an exciting post-season throughout the Canadian Hockey League. While several top-ranked teams have had no trouble sweeping their respective series, others have been involved in highly competitive and intense playoff matchups – all with the same goal of making it to the 2012 Memorial Cup.

While catching every CHL playoff game is certainly unachievable, I’ve paid close attention as many series as possible throughout the Western, Ontario and Quebec Hockey Leagues. Some second-round battles are still occurring, while others have wrapped up and the winners are waiting to find out which team they face in the next round.

Below is a list of players from each of the three leagues that, in one game or another, have caught my attention as outstanding players for their respective teams. While trying to avoid some of the obvious names or league-leaders, some were simply unavoidable. That said, I’ve tried to pick players who I’ve seen play many times and that may be under-the-radar of those who may not follow all three leagues closely. In addition, the players I’ve chosen are all on teams that are still in the playoffs as of April 16. Without further ado, my personal favourite performers of the 2011-12 CHL playoffs (so far).

Ontario League (OHL)

Tobias Rieder, Kitchener Rangers – A fourth round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2011, Rieder not only finished the regular season with 42 goals and 42 assists, but has also helped lead the Rangers in the playoffs. His nine goals and 11 assists place him second in the OHL in points only behind teammate Michael Catenacci. What’s especially interesting about this ’93-born native of Landshut, Germany, is of his eight playoff tallies, four have been game-winners, proving he can score when his team needs it most.

(Joel Smith Photography)

Alex Friesen, Niagara IceDogs – Currently placed fourth in OHL playoff scoring with six goals and 17 points, this over-ager is leading the surge for the dangerous Niagara IceDogs. His 11 assists are second-best in the league and the speedy, physical playmaker is an asset on the penalty kill, power play, at the faceoff dot and in the dressing room. While Friesen, a draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, has the whole package as far as being an all-around player, the icing on the cake is definitely he’s tenaciousness and passion. He never takes a shift off, he’s often the first player to the puck, and he’s not afraid to get physical despite being just 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds. Watch for Friesen, the ‘Dogs assistant captain, to continue leading the team through the Eastern Conference final.

Olli Maata, London Knights – Ranked eighth overall among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings, this explosive rookie defenseman currently sits 14th in OHL playoff scoring. Boasting 12 points in 10 games, Maata is third in assists league-wide with 11, and his defensive play has been superb for the Knights as well. This solid two-way defenseman has been crucial on the Knights’ special teams, certainly making for a great power play quarterback as seven of his 11 assists have come on the man advantage. With the NHL draft looming around the corner, you can bet the ’94-born Maata won’t be slowing down as the Knights battle for the Western Conference title.

Western League (WHL)

Sven Bartschi, Portland Winterhawks – While teammate Ty Rattie leads the WHL in points and goals, Bartschi, a prospect of the Calgary Flames, leads the league in assists (14) and his 19 points have him nipping at Rattie’s heels. The aforementioned dynamic duo have been crucial to Portland’s success thus far. His exceptional post-season performance must be making the Flames happy, as Bartschi is showing great signs of progression and could potentially earn a roster spot by next season; Calgary is in need of a flashy and skilled forward. Watch for Bartschi to continue his hot-streak alongside Rattie.

Mike Aviani, Spokane Chiefs – This ’93-born centre had an exceptional sophomore season in Spokane, finishing with 45 points and a plus-28 rating. Known primarily as a playmaker, Aviani has proven that assumption in the playoffs. Currently sitting fifth in league scoring with 14 points, Aviani has notched just three goals while getting the majority of his 11 helpers even strength. Currently a plus-7, Aviani is sound defensively and has the potential to be the type of player that makes those around him better. On a young Chiefs squad, Aviani is thriving even under the post-season pressures. It will certainly be interesting to see how Aviani develops in years to come.

Curtis Lazar, Edmonton Oil Kings – While the Oil Kings veterans are doing a solid job leading the team through the playoffs, at the other end of the spectrum, rookie Curtis Lazar has also played a crucial role in the team’s success. Currently leading the team with four goals and 10 points in just eight playoff games, Lazar is nearly a third of the way to reaching his regular season total of 31 points in 63 games. To see a rookie thrive in the post-season on a deep and dangerous team such as the Oil Kings is promising to say the least, and the ’95-born should gain some extra attention from scouts, who will be taking notes for the 2013 draft.

Quebec League (QMJHL)

Charlie Coyle, Saint John Sea Dogs – It’s hard to overlook a guy who’s racked up a league-leading 11 playoff goals in just eight games. Coyle, playing in his first QMJHL season after spending the previous two with Boston University (NCAA), has made the already dangerous Sea Dogs that much more scary. His 21 points are second best in the league to teammate Zack Phillips, his 10 assists are fourth, his three power play goals are also fourth, his three game-winners are second, and his whopping plus-18 is first. Need I say more? The Minnesota Wild must be happy as they acquired Coyle, a first round pick, from the San Jose Sharks this past summer.

Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads – After an exceptional rookie season where he notched 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games, this ’95-born machine hasn’t let up in the post-season. Currently sitting seventh in QMJHL scoring (second among rookies), MacKinnon also leads his team with 10 goals and five assists, along with a plus-9 rating. He’s second to Charlie Coyle in goals – three have come on the power play – and he’s second in the league in shots with 43. Although he’s not draft eligible until 2013, watch for MacKinnon to turn heads throughout the remainder of the playoffs and into next season.

Jess Tanguy, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada – Leading his team in scoring with eight goals and 12 assists, Tanguy also sits third in league scoring with a total of 20 points in 10 games. He’s tied for first in power play goals with four, fourth in the league in goals and third in assists. He also leads the league in shots with 44. As a ’92-born player on an exceptionally young team, Tanguy has certainly been a key factor towards Blainville-Boisbriand’s success both in the regular and post-season

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