The Difficult 2020-21 Season For Prospects

Photo: AP

By Thomas Harrington

It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 Pandemic turned the world on its head, and hockey was no exception. The 2019-2020 NHL season was paused and finished in a bubble several months later. The 2020-2021 season didn’t start until 2021, as each team played 56 games and the playoffs aren’t expected to finish until July.

Development League Impact

Every development league was impacted in some way, and I don’t think there was a league in the world that didn’t have at least a couple teams have their games delayed or cancelled because of the pandemic.

The AHL had its season outright cancelled in 2019-2020, and while a shortened 2020-2021 season has been completed without any Calder Cup Playoffs. The Pacific Division is having a postseason tournament, but it’s not the same.

In Canada, the Memorial Cup was cancelled for the 2019-2020 season, and there will be no Memorial Cup awarded this summer either. All three junior leagues dealt with things differently; the QMJHL played the most games, with teams playing between 26 and 43 games, the WHL played a shortened regular season with most teams getting 24 games, and the OHL failed to play any games.

Stateside, some NCAA teams played, some did not, and many players looked for time in the USHL as a result.

The Impact Amongst Anaheim Prospects

For Anaheim’s prospects, some of them had their seasons greatly impacted, while others had something kind of close to a normal season. The good news is that almost every player did play some games this year, but I don’t think any played as many games as they normally would have. As a result, when I get to the individual prospect reports this summer, I’ll take that into account when I look at whether players were able to meet expectations or not.

The Ducks actually have a few prospects who likely benefited from this situation. Because of the OHL cancelling their season, Jamie Drysdale and Jacob Perreault both spent the entire year playing against professional competition, after being drafted in 2020. Drysdale ended up playing 24 games for the Ducks and will likely make the roster out of camp next season. If not for the lockout, he would have spent this season in juniors, and potentially next as well.

Perreault spent the entire year in the AHL, recording 17 points in 27 games. I do expect him to return to juniors next season, but I think this experience will be great for him going forward. I’m hoping that he can go back and just dominate in the OHL next season. Brayden Tracey split time between the AHL and WHL. He played in a dozen games for the Gulls and was scoreless. While I don’t think Tracey was ready for the AHL this season, I do think it was beneficial for him, and when the WHL started back up, he had 21 points in 22 games.

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Unfortunately, some prospects were also very negatively affected. The biggest one is Henry Thrun. He had a wonderful freshman season at Harvard in the 2019-2020 season, but Harvard didn’t play because of the pandemic. As a result, Thrun played in the USHL this past season, a step below the NCAA. Before the season, I had him listed as one of Anaheim’s top 10 prospects. Hopefully spending a year in the USHL won’t hinder his development too much.

The other player who was severely impacted was Mathew Hill. Hill was supposed to be in the OHL, but when their season was delayed, he went to Denmark to play. Unfortunately, he only played in three games before their season ended, and those were the only three games he played all season. The good news is that he did score two goals and five points in those three games. As a result of Hill barely playing, there will be no prospect update written for him this summer.

The Ducks actually had one prospect who did not play in any games this past season, William Francis. However, it wasn’t because of the pandemic. A serious knee injury in the 2019-2020 season ended things for him prematurely. Things got worse from there, as days before the pandemic shut things down across the country, Francis was diagnosed with leukemia. The good news is that he plans on suiting up for the 2021-2022 season. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to make that goal, but hopefully he will.

Final Thoughts

It will likely take years to know the full impact the pandemic has had on the next generation of hockey players. Hopefully, it will be minimal overall, but there clearly will be some impact. The only real positive was for the few junior players who played in the AHL and NHL this past season. However, most played significantly fewer games, played in lower leagues, and some barely played at all.

Assuming all developmental leagues are able to operate at full capacity for the 2021-2022 season, it will be very interesting to see which players excel and which struggle. That will be the first sign of what impact the pandemic has had on hockey’s future.

The first graduated prospect of the summer will be about Max Comtois.

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June 5th, 2021


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