The CIS has become a league notorious for seeing players seemingly come out of nowhere to have dynamite seasons and become star players. Sometimes they come straight from junior, other times they take some time to get a handle for the CIS game. Today we look at six players already with experience in the league who may find themselves near the top of the points leaderboard before too long.
1. Robert Polesello: Western Mustangs
There was a time when Robert Polesello was being hyped as the 'Canadian Johnny Gaudreau'. Although it's nearly impossible to imagine a player going on from CIS to have the impact Johnny Hockey has had on the NHL, it's not a stretch to find similarities between the way they play the game. Polesello possesses one of the best sets of hands in not just the OUA, but the entire CIS. Even drawing back to his days in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs, Polesello was a standout offensive player. After transferring from Vermont (NCAA) to Kingston in the early part of 2013-14, Polesello registered 38 points in 48 games, quickly solidifying his legitimacy on a Kingston team packed with talent. Unfortunately for Polesello, injuries hampered his 2014-15 season, cutting his season short at just 38 games, with 36 points on the board.
The Western Mustangs had an issue finding a spot to fit Polesello's style of play last season. Part of it had to do with Polesello missing the first half of the season, and another part can be attributed to Western's injury crisis which left them with a disheveled roster structure. This season, Polesello will finally get his chance to shine with the Western Mustangs. On a team where not a single player scored more than nine goals a season ago, Polesello could turn out to be a huge catch for a team searching for an offensive stalwart early in the season. Polesello's quick hands and offensive ability could serve him and his team very well this season, and if that turns out to be case, we'll see the true 'Robbie Hockey' Kingston Frontenac fans saw for two seasons.
2. Connor Rankin: Mount Royal Cougars
Transitioning from junior hockey to CIS can be a difficult jump, but transferring from pro into CIS midway through a season should be considered just as difficult, if not, even more so. Connor Rankin was one of those players last year who after a 13 game sample with the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL, joined the Mount Royal Cougars midway through the season. Not only is the midway point of the CIS hockey season basically the stretch run to the playoffs, but Rankin was thrown into a cutthroat Canada West Conference on a team expecting to contend with the best in the west on a nightly basis. Rankin certainly had an adjustment period coming into the CIS, but can you blame him?
Rankin's two goals, both of which came in seven-goal blowout wins, aren't a true demonstration of what he's capable of on the scoresheet, as indicated by two 32 goal WHL seasons on his resume. Now that Rankin has had a full offseason to prepare and commit to the CIS hockey season with 11 games under his belt, it's go time. Now on a Mount Royal team without Tyler Fiddler, there will be a big role up for grabs at the start of the season, and Connor Rankin is the type of player who has the potential to fill that void. One of the best recruits available out of the WHL in 2015, Rankin has the ability to help Mount Royal in all three zones, and if the Cougars have any thoughts of being a top three Canada West team again, that type of contribution from Rankin will be a very welcome addition.
3. Marcus McIvor: UNB Varsity Reds
Marcus McIvor never made a name for himself by headlining the boxscore, and if the second year UNB defender has everything go according to plan, that won't change in 2016-17. Known as one of the best defensive defencemen under Stan Butler's North Bay Battalion in the OHL, McIvor was easily one of the best OHL defenders available when UNB recruited him in the summer of 2015. Having spent five years in the OHL, his last as the captain of the Battalion, McIvor enjoyed a couple of deep playoff runs, and served an integral part of North Bay's 2014 OHL Finals run. Unfortunately for McIvor, his roll of momentum came to a halt after an ankle injury limited him to just seven regular season games in 2015-16 with UNB.
Even though the roster turnover for UNB was minimal this offseason, and the introduction of Matt Murphy into the lineup adds another top-end junior hockey defenceman into the fold, McIvor will have a chance to be a pivotal part of UNB's defence. Chances are McIvor will never provide the offensive punch that Matt Petgrave or Jordan Murray supply for UNB, but his gritty style of defensive play and constant reliability can be enough for him to make a difference on the ice every night. With a clean slate and a new beginning at training camp for McIvor, don't be surprised if he emerges as one of the best defenders in the AUS this season.
4. Joey Champigny: Waterloo Warriors
With the Colin Behenna era over at Waterloo, they're in need of a new hero, especially with Andrew Smith and Brett Mackie also leaving from the top six. It's hard to imagine finding a successful player in this league who's smaller than the 5-foot-8 Behenna, but the 5-foot-7 Joey Champigny might just be that guy. Much like his first season in the CIS, Champigny's rookie year with the Ottawa Jr. Senators in the CCHL wasn't statistically astounding, but by the time he graduated the junior hockey ranks, Joey Champigny was a household name in the CCHL. His final season with the Jr. Senators in 2014-15 yielded 76 points in 60 games, good enough for fourth in the league that season. In his first season of CIS hockey with Waterloo, Champigny registered 14 points in 23 games.
Last season wasn't the most accurate representation of what Champigny is capable of, as a second semester injury certainly slowed his pace. Champigny was nearing a point-per-game pace in January when an injury took him out of action, and who knows how much better Champigny would have looked at season's end if he was healthy. This year, Champigny will undoubtedly get a chance to play top six minutes with the Warriors, and much like his CCHL career, the Warriors hope his OUA rookie season was just a tune up for things to come. A diminutive forward, Champigny will keep OUA opponents on their toes with his deceptive speed and playmaking ability. A breakout season from Champigny would go a long way in replacing Waterloo's key departures, and prove once again that in CIS, sometimes it's the little guys that play big roles.
5. Anthony Repaci: Saint Mary's Huskies
You can make the argument that Anthony Repaci's breakout came at the 2016 University Cup when the rest of the country got to see how good this kid actually is on the national stage. But it's easy to be good for one or two games in the CIS. It's finding consistency in this league that has been the problem for some very talented junior hockey players. But there's more than enough reason to believe that what we saw out of Repaci at the University Cup was more than just a flash in the pan. Repaci is one of the best examples of a player who was passed up time and time again in junior, but after making a strong impression with the OJHL's Toronto Jr. Canadiens, found his way into the CIS as a walk-on with Saint Mary's and has quickly secured his spot as a key player in a competitive AUS conference.
If you ask around the league about Anthony Repaci, you won't hear a bad thing about him. Well-liked as a person by his coaching staff and teammates, Repaci seemed just happy to be on Saint Mary's roster last year, let alone in the University Cup on national TV. Maybe just realizing how good he can actually be in this league, Repaci put in the work last season and captured the opportunity to be an impact player when it arose. Now with another season approaching, Repaci has already proven he can hang in this league, it's just a matter of continuing to improve and having confidence in his ability. Rave reviews coming out of Tampa Bay Lightning development camp this summer certainly won't hurt Repaci's stock either.
6. Jayden Hart: Alberta Golden Bears
Historically, finding breakout players from the University of Alberta can be a difficult task. Not because there's a lack of talent, but rather an abundance, to the point where most 'breakout' players have already broken out in their rookie season. Jayden Hart could be the exception to that, especially with such a large roster turnover on the Golden Bears. Prime ice-time on the forward unit will be at a premium with players such as Trevor Cox, Tyson Baillie, and the returning Jamie Crooks set to be key contributors among others, but Jayden Hart certainly has the capability of making his own impact on Canada West this season.
Never known as a prolific goal-scorer at the WHL level, Hart still received plenty of NHL interest, and at the end of his WHL career, latched on with the Rochester Americans in the AHL for 11 games, scoring four goals. After participating in the New York Rangers main training camp in 2015, Hart went back to Alberta for the start of the season, and posted 15 points in his 26 game rookie season. Listed at 6-foot-2, 209-lbs, Hart is a strong player who has a year of experience behind him, and on a talented team like Alberta, is capable of putting up numbers north of 20 points and becoming a cornerstone of the Golden Bear forward unit moving forward. With all the fanfare and attention from Alberta directed at their shiny new recruit class, seeing a sophomore breakout for the Golden Bears in 2016-17 might catch some off guard.