Nine overage CHLers who could play their way into an NHL deal

Their time in major junior is almost over, and none of them have an NHL contract. But these nine players are performing so well, it wouldn't be surprising if the big leagues come calling.
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Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Terry Wilson/OHL Images

If you follow the CHL, you know how important overaged players are to any major-junior organization. Similar to an NHL veteran, they serve to show the way for younger players. They bring leadership, help carry the load while younger players adjust to the next level and possess the experience that comes with the "been there, done that" factor.

The biggest difference is that these CHL veterans aren’t nearing the end of their careers, and if they play their cards just right, they could be at the prologue of a long and fruitful career. In this case, players that were born in 1999 are looking to extend their careers and hopefully chase a pro contract, just like how Dallas signed Tye Felhaber and Toronto signed Justin Brazeau last season. To make this list, a player must not have their rights owned by any NHL team. Either the player was passed over in the draft, or they were drafted and their NHL team decided not to sign them within the two-year window and allowed their possession of rights to expire. Players must also not be listed as committed to a Canadian college or university for the 2020-21 season and must be a player that counts against the team’s three overaged player limit – so, those born in 1999.

Let's take a look at nine overage candidates who could make the jump to pro on an entry-level deal from an NHL club next season:

OHL

Brett Neumann, C, Oshawa Generals
Neumann is one of the OHL’s best-kept secrets. He placed second in the hardest-working player category in the OHL coaches’ poll in 2018 and won the best skater category in 2019 – despite failing to crack NHL Central Scouting’s draft rankings in each of those terms. Neumann was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs' camp in 2018 and the New York Islanders' camp in 2019, but he couldn't find a home with either organization. Neumann’s heavy shot is overshadowed by his elite speed which separates him from the competition and he can kill penalties and unload big shots on the power play. He scored 45 goals last season split between an abysmal Kingston team and the Gens, and he's on pace to crack 50 goals and just under 100 points this year, so a team looking to add scoring depth could take a chance on him.

Noel Hoefenmayer, D, Ottawa 67's
On a team without an official captain, Hoefenmayer is clearly a leader. Aside from being the team’s pick to take ceremonial puck drops, Hoefenmayer brings the poise and scoring gusto of an elite defenseman. After the Arizona Coyotes let his draft rights expire, he has become more defensively responsible and a better skater. Lost in the shuffle of another dominant season from the powerhouse 67's is Hoefenmayer’s elite scoring pace this year – he's sniffing at 100 points which has only been accomplished once by a defenseman since 1995. That man was Nashville Predators cornerstone defenseman Ryan Ellis in 2010-11, and while Ellis was always projected to be a two-way, puck-moving defenseman, that's pretty good company for Hoefenmayer.

Jonathan Yantsis, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Yantsis saw his draft year stunted by being served fourth-line minutes, finishing with just five goals. But last season, Yantsis was one of the OHL's most improved players thanks to a 50-goal season. He’s on pace for just under 50 goals again this season, so at least it wasn't a one-and-done situation. Yantsis has a good frame at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, allowing him to use his size to create havoc around the crease. Yantsis is no stranger to persevering through adversity, finding success with the Rangers after not being picked in the OHL draft and walking in as a free agent. The L.A. Kings brought him to development camp last summer and he springboarded that into an invite to their main camp in September, so don't be surprised if the team explores a future with Yantsis.

QMJHL

Cedric Pare, C, Rimouski Oceanic
The 10th overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft, Pare has seen a significant uptick in production this year. A sixth-round pick of the Bruins in 2017, Pare has shown a more complete game since going to Rimouski via trade last season. With 34 goals. Pare is a goal away from tying his three-season career production of 35 – yes, forming a 1-2 punch for the Oceanic with the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft, Alexis Lafreniere, hasn't hurt. But the skill required to play with elite players is sometimes overlooked, and Pare has been a huge part of Lafreniere's success this season. Pare has a weapon of a one-timer and is elite in the faceoff dot – those qualities, combined with his 6-foot-4 stature, could get him a role in the bottom-six somewhere.

Jeremy McKenna, RW Moncton Wildcats
McKenna got a sniff from the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate Stockton Heat this year but was returned to Moncton for his final season of junior eligibility before getting into action. He's a smaller player at 5-foot-10, but his release is elite and it has shown up on the scoreboard. By the time February began, McKenna had posted 222 points in his last 175 games to give him a beefy 1.27 points-per-game average. McKenna’s work ethic is also elite, earning props from his coaches for transforming his game between his first and second years in the league. A strong playoff run with the Wildcats could help his status as a prospect.

Jerome Gravel, D, Victoriaville Tigres
Gravel bounced around in the early part of his time in the 'Q,' splitting his draft year between Acadie-Bathurst and Drummondville. He started the next year with his current home in Victoriaville and jumped from nine points to 24 in 2017-18. This season, Gravel should hit 20 goals and 40 points for his best offensive totals as a major-junior player. Gravel is a smart young man, having earned the scholastic player of the month for the Tigres on three occasions as he still takes classes at Cegep de Victoriaville. After little to no time on the power play throughout his career, he’s exploded on the man advantage this season, recording 10 goals and 19 points. It’s a major factor propelling him to the league lead in goals by a defenseman, something that wouldn't have been fathomable in the past.

WHL

James Hamblin, C, Medicine Hat Tigers
Across the entire CHL, Hamblin is one of the top candidates to earn a contract. He brings it all, but most notably, skill and leadership. Hamblin is in his second season as captain of the Tigers, and he has NHL camp experience, earning a spot with Boston and Toronto at their respective development camps over the past few years. He has scored 20 goals and at least 47 points over the past four seasons to make him a reliable option. He’s smaller at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds but was a first-rounder in the WHL draft, so he has a history of being highly regarded and has backed it up with strong play over the past four seasons.

Bryce Kindopp, RW, Everett Silvertips
Kindopp is a natural goal-scorer who has found his wings over the past couple of seasons. With 24 goals in his draft year – and not even a sniff from NHL scouts – he continued to grow with 39 last year and has already broken 30 this year. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he is by no means undersized for a forward and doesn’t have a ton of flash in his game, but Kindopp thinks the game well and puts up solid offensive numbers as a result. Kindopp has been a durable player, not missing a game throughout the past three seasons of play – earning the team’s Iron Man Award for the past two seasons. His durability and consistent play could land him a deal.

Max Martin, D, Kamloops Blazers
Martin was overshadowed on the powerhouse Prince Albert Raiders last year, but once he was traded to the Blazers this season, he became the No. 1 D-man the club was looking for. He has been an offensive force to be reckoned with thanks to having over a point-per-game and career-high goal total – while still maintaining his defensive responsibility. Combined over the past two seasons, Martin had posted a plus-69 rating through the end of January. He has the experience that comes with a Memorial Cup appearance and a WHL championship. Martin is not afraid to set the tone when throwing the body and went viral for a big hit he laid out on Halifax’s Keith Getson in the first game of his Memorial Cup appearance.

Near-misses to keep on your radar:

Sean Josling, RW, OHL, Sarnia Sting
Vincent Marleau, C, QMJHL, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Shane Farkas, G, WHL, Victoria Royals

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