Top Prospects Shine for NHL GMs, Scouts
While 40 of the top draft-eligible players competed for every inch of ice at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday, a handful of NHL general managers and about 100 scouts from the 30 clubs watched from the stands.
There are reasons why the annual showcase event is scheduled for this time of the year.
One is that the game comes a couple of weeks after the NHL releases its annual midseason rankings of draft-eligible players.
A second is how it comes after a majority of NHL teams have held their midseason draft rankings.
"For someone like me, who won't see all the players play this season, this is a chance to see how they skate, how they handle the puck," said Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher. "This is an overview of the top prospects."
"I have been reading the scouts reports all year so I know these players through their eyes. Our scouts have seen these guys all season and this is another game, another part of the evaluation."
Nashville had its midseason draft meeting a week ago and every player who competed in the Top Prospects Game was talked about and rated.
"We are not making any decisions based on tonight. But this helps give me a flavor of the quality of the draft and the type of player we might be looking for,'' said Predators GM David Poile.
The game, in which Team Orr beat Team Cherry 7-1, featured two players who are mentioned as the possible top pick in the draft, Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior League and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.
Couturier played for Team Orr and was impressive for the most part.
But on this night, he was outdone by Nugent-Hopkins, who made a pretty cross-ice pass to Sven Bartschi, who scored into wide open net.
"I am pretty happy with my game, '' said Nugent-Hopkins. "I had a lot of fun and hopefully the scouts liked what they saw."
Goalie Liam Liston of the Brandon Wheat Kings also had an impressive showing. He stopped the 18 shots he faced in his 30:30 of action, holding Team Orr in it early when Team Cherry came out strong.
The Top Prospects Game is not an All-Star Game because it is restricted to players eligible in the upcoming NHL Draft. And with the NHL bloodhounds in the stands, you can understand how nerves would kick in.
The game started slowly and perhaps that had something to do with jitters and for the fact the prospects really don't know each others' games and it took a while for their comfort level to kick in.
By the midway point of the match, there was a lot of entertaining back-and-forth action.
There was even a fight. David Musel of the Vancouver Giants jumped in to defend Bartschi when he was leveled and roughed up by Duncan Siemens of the Regina Pats.
In the end, the players, scouts, general managers and fans went home happy.
"I went to the (scouting) meetings and I've got the ratings and now have I have a chance to view the players that our scouts feel will be in the range of our pick," said Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray. "It is just to put a face and style to a name."
"This is a one-stop thing where you have a look at players in a real competitive situation."
Prospect Zach Phillip, who had a goal and two assists in a winning effort, hoped he caught someone's attention.
"There might be some NHL teams that don't see a lot of us but we're working hard and, hopefully, tonight we showed the scouts that there are a lot of premier players out there," said Phillips, who plays for the Saint John Seadogs of the Quebec league. "We don't get as much exposure as maybe the Ontario Hockey League, but when we do, we want to make the best of it."
That they did.
"It's a pretty big stretch to think four guys will go in the first round, but we made a pretty good case for ourselves (Wednesday)," Phillips added. "Hopefully, the scouts noticed."