Each of the first five Champions Hockey League seasons included a crop of players who were chosen in the following summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Players such as Mikko Rantanen, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujärvi, Miro Heiskanen, Elias Pettersson, Rasmus Dahlin, Filip Zadina, Adam Boqvist, Dominik Bokk, Kaapo Kakko and Moritz Seider all debuted in the CHL prior to becoming first-round draft picks. This year, several more are projected to join that list.
With Canadian Alexis Lafrenière the near-unanimous choice to be taken first overall, the first European to be drafted will be Tim Stützle of Adler Mannheim, probably either second or third. The DEL’s rookie of the year with 34 points in 41 games, Stützle was also one of Mannheim’s best players in the CHL with five points in eight games while playing on the team’s top line and got experience in the Round of 16. Representing Germany, Stützle has also stood out, dominating the U18 Division 1-A tournament as a 16-year-old, and then proving himself as a patient playmaker in the World Juniors at 17. Stützle also has the ability to play wing or centre.
Following Stützle, three other players with CHL experience could be top-ten picks: Lucas Raymond of the Frölunda Indians, Alexander Holtz of Djurgården Stockholm and Anton Lundell, IFK Helsinki. Raymond has played 10 CHL games over the past two seasons, although the youngster didn’t play in the Final either year. Holtz played in 10 of Djurgården’s CHL games last season right up to the Semi-Finals and recorded three points, and led the SHL in assists for a U18 player with 16. Both players won bronze medals with Sweden at the World Juniors. Lundell, projected to go anywhere between sixth and 16th, played three CHL games in 2018/19 – the same season he won a World Junior Championship with Finland. Last season he had 28 points in 48 Liiga games.
Noel Gunler had a breakout season with Luleå Hockey, which included a fine showing in the CHL – the tall, lanky winger recorded six points in 11 games and also played in the Semi-Finals. Gunler is projected to be a mid-first-round pick. Another player who could be taken in the first round is Red Bull Munich’s John-Jason Peterka, who is projected to go anywhere from the middle of Round 1 to early Round 2. Possibly overshadowed by several other highly touted German prospects, Peterka showed the world his nose for the net in the World Junior Championship as a teammate of Stützle, and played in all 10 of Munich’s CHL games up to the Quarter-Finals, recording three points.
After that, a trio of defencemen have a chance of being taken as early as the second round. Topi Niemelä has done well to crack the tough Kärpät Oulu lineup, playing most of their Liiga contests and getting into four CHL games. Tappara Tampere’s Kasper Simontaival is a dangerous offensive defenceman whose only hindrance might be his size. And big Helge Grans of the Malmö Redhawks dressed in two CHL games in 2018/19 as a 16-year-old.
There are also several players with CHL experience that could be picked from the third round onward. They include 19-year-old winger Oscar Lawner of Färjestad Karlstad, 19-year-old centre Albin Sundsvik of Skelleftea AIK and 18-year-old centre Sebastian Malat of HC Pilsen. And then there’s the curious case of Benjamin Baumgartner, the diminutive 20-year-old playmaking centre who is just coming off a breakout season with HC Davos (27 points in 37 games) and also helped his native Austria advance to the top group of the World Junior Championship. Baumgartner appeared in the CHL for Davos as a 17-year-old in 2017/18.