CHL notebook: Ducks defenseman prospects flourishing
Future NHL stars are developing in the Canadian Hockey League this season. Each week, NHL.com will highlight a few of the top NHL-affiliated prospects in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
The top scoring defensemen in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL have one thing in common: they’re each an Anaheim Ducks prospect.
Pavel Mintyukov leads OHL defensemen with 86 points (23 goals, 63 assists) in 66 games with Ottawa and Saginaw. Tristan Luneau leads with QMJHL defenders with 76 points (18 goals, 58 assists) in 61 games for Gatineau. Olen Zellweger is tied for first among WHL defensemen with 74 points (28 goals, 46 assists) in 49 games for Kamloops and Everett.
“We do have some really good young defensemen in the pipeline,” Ducks director of player development Jim Johnson said. “That’s a credit to our [amateur] scouting staff and [assistant general manager] Martin Madden for the job that he’s done in the draft. Now these kids are starting to develop into really top-notch players.
“Some of them are showing us they’re getting close to being ready to play at the next level.”
Mintyukov, the No. 10 pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, might be the closest to landing in Anaheim. The 19-year-old could be the first to lead OHL defensemen in goals, assists and points since Ryan Ellis with Windsor in 2008-09 (89 points; 22 goals, 67 assists).
“I thought Pavel in development camp where he was making plays well beyond his years, thinking the game, and then in NHL training camp, when he played exhibition games, his thought process and how quickly he processes with the puck to me was outstanding,” Johnson said.
Mintyukov has 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists) in 29 games since being traded to Ottawa on Jan. 10. Johnson said Mintyukov needed an adjustment period following the trade, which was helped by having Luneau and defenseman Noah Warren, another Ducks prospect, just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. The three have had lunch together and text occasionally.
“It feels great to have friends around me,” Mintyukov said.
Luneau, a second-round pick (No. 53) in the 2022 draft, had 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) during an 11-game point streak from Feb. 11-March 12, tied for the longest in the QMJHL by a defenseman this season.
“Tristan just continues to impress me every time I watch this kid play,” Johnson said. “He’s just getting better and better, and his skating is now getting smoother and he’s powerful and he plays with an edge and he’s also putting up the points like he is, so we’re pretty excited.”
Luneau has nearly doubled the 43 points (12 goals, 31 assists) he had in 63 games last season. Keeping an eye on Mintyukov and Zellweger has provided motivation for the 19-year-old.
“I definitely keep looking at what they’re doing and how they’re doing and try to beat them every night, that’s for sure,” Luneau said. “It’s kind of a fun competition between each other.”
Zellweger’s 28 goals are the most by a WHL defenseman since Connor Hobbs (31) and Ethan Bear (28) in 2016-17. The 19-year-old, selected in the second round (No. 34) of the 2021 NHL Draft, has 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 26 games since being traded to Kamloops on Jan. 8.
“He might be one of the finest skating defensemen I’ve seen in a long time,” Johnson said. “Really good with his edges, his transitions are dynamic. He’s just got a real good sense of balance on his skates, and he’s got some power with that.”
It’s unlikely any of the three join the Ducks this season because their teams are expected to have deep runs in their league’s postseasons.
But the future projects to be very bright for Anaheim.
“It’s fun to watch these kids grow and develop into the players that we think they’re going to be,” Johnson said. “You look at our young [defensemen] corps, that’s exciting for an organization that could say we’re in a rebuild here in Anaheim. I think these are guys that are going to help us get out of this and have a bright future ahead in the next 3-5 years.”
OTHERS TO WATCH
Nolan Burke, C, Sarnia, OHL (Nashville Predators): Burke had a five-game goal streak (nine goals) and 13-game point streak (27 points; 18 goals, nine assists) end Friday; each was the longest active streak in the league. The 20-year-old has 49 goals in 54 games and can become the first Sarnia player to score 50 in a season since Reid Boucher (62) in 2012-13. The Predators signed the undrafted Burke to a three-year, entry-level contract Nov. 14, 2022.
Jacob Melanson, RW, Sherbrooke, QMJHL (Seattle Kraken): Melanson had four assists in a 7-1 win against Rouyn-Noranda on Friday to extend his point streak to 28 games (49 points; 22 goals, 27 assists), the longest in the QMJHL since Mathieu Joseph had a point in 28 straight in 2016-17. The 19-year-old has a point in every game since Sherbrooke acquired him in a trade with Acadie-Bathurst on Jan. 2. A fifth-round pick (No. 131) in the 2021 draft, Melanson has 93 points (47 goals, 46 assists) in 55 games this season.
Matthew Seminoff, RW, Kamloops, WHL (Dallas Stars): Seminoff had a single-game WHL-high eight points (four goals, four assists) in Kamloops’ 11-1 win against Victoria on Wednesday. He scored two goals in the first period and two more in the second for his first four-goal game in four WHL seasons. The league record for points in a game is 10, done five times, most recently in 1990. The Stars selected the 19-year-old in the sixth round (No. 179) of the 2022 draft.
Photos: Dominic Charette (Luneau); Tim Austen/OSEG (Mintyukov)