Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid will have a sizable stage on which to display his talents when the 2015 World Junior Championship begins on December 26th. But McDavid and 39 other prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft will have their own showcase less than a month later when the 2015 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game takes place in St. Catharines, ON.
The CHL today announced the rosters for the two teams of prospects that have been chosen to take part at this event, with those players hailing from the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League – the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL. The 40 players will be split into two, 20-man clubs, one coached by Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr, the other coached by former NHL coach and long-time Hockey Night in Canada commentator, Don Cherry. Orr and Cherry will renew their friendly rivalry for the first time since the 2013 contest.
The 2015 class is considered to be a strong one by most scouts, with McDavid being the cream of of a very good crop. McDavid was leading the OHL in scoring by a wide margin before suffering a hand injury that has kept him out of action since early November, but the Otters’ star forward should return to action at the upcoming World Junior tournament.
McDavid will compete for Team Orr, coincidentally coached by his agent, the aforementioned Bobby Orr. McDavid is pleased to have the opportunity to play for the man looking after his future.
“It’s pretty funny, I guess,” said McDavid. “He’s obviously been very good to me, and to have him behind the bench is going to be pretty special.”
McDavid has fairly regular contact with Orr, but admits that the advice given to him by the former Boston Bruins’ great can be boiled down to one, main point.
“Everytime he texts me, he tells me to sleep more, that’s probably the one thing…probably two, three times a month to make sure I’m sleeping more. That’s probably his main advice.”
Other top prospects joining McDavid on Team Orr include Mathew Barzal of the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting (OHL), and Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL). All three players are currently ranked among the top 10 prospects for the 2015 draft by ISS Hockey.
For Crouse, being a part of this event has great meaning, but he also wants to take a business-like approach to the job at hand.
“It’s obviously a special feeling,” said Crouse of being a part of the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. “Anytime you participate in a game like this, against the top players of your age, it’s pretty special.
“Obviously, you’re just going out there and playing your game, and playing the game that you love. You just have to bring your game and do it to the best of your ability.”
Joining Crouse on the Team Orr roster is his former teammate from the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs, Travis Konecny. Crouse is looking forward to the chance to play with Konecny rather than against the Ottawa 67’s star.
“Yeah, we got reunited again,” said Crouse. “It was a lot of fun playing minor hockey with him, and we’ve had a lot of great times, so I’m looking forward to this opportunity.”
Team Cherry features two players currently ranked in the top 10 of the ISS rankings. Forwards Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters and Mitch Marner of the London Knights will lead a squad that also includes a top goaltending prospect, Callum Booth of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
Two Team Cherry players will be competing in familiar surroundings at the Top Prospects Game. The Niagara IceDogs’ Graham Knott and Vince Dunn will be playing in front of the hometown crowd as the game is taking place at the newly-built home of the IceDogs, the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines.
As would be expected, Dunn is looking forward to the unique opportunity that awaits him next month.
“It’s an honor, of course, it’s going to be really fun to be out playing the top guys of your age for the upcoming draft’” said Dunn. “Playing against your own coach is going to be a little neat, and playing with your teammate is even better.”
The coach Dunn referred to above is the IceDogs’ head coach, Marty Williamson. Williamson will be an assistant coach for Team Orr at the Top Prospects Game. He will be joined behind the bench by his assistants from the IceDogs, David Bell and Billy Burke.
Williamson’s advice to the players taking part in this game is to simply go with what you know.
“There’s a reason they got to this game – and they all have wonderful assets – is to play their game,” stated Williamson. “It’s tough to get one practice and get the chemistry and that, so the best thing is to go out there and do what you do best – if you’re an abrasive player, then finish your checks and do those kind of things, if you’ve got a speed game, then play to your strengths. That will usually serve you the best.”
While the Top Prospects Game has the look of an all-star affair, several past games have featured more intense fare that would not normally be expected in a game with this much star power. For his part, Williamson thinks this game’s intensity level is what most observers are looking for from this event.
“That’s what the scouts want to see, and that’s what everyone wants to see,” said Williamson. “We don’t want an all-star game; you’ve got to have some structure, and you’ve got to play up and down the ice, battle for turnovers, and when that gets involved you get physical play and sometimes tempers flare. That’s the kind of hockey that you want to see in this game.”
In addition to the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game being a showcase event for this year’s top NHL Draft prospects, the game will also serve as a sort of coming out party for the OHL’s newest arena, the Meridian Centre. Although the IceDogs will be the primary tenant for this facility, the 5,000-seat arena will also host concerts and other events.
During the roster release event, St. Catharines’ Mayor Walter Sendzik made it clear that the city and the region is ready to put its best foot forward as the host of this event.
“This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for the city, for Niagara, to showcase such a wonderful facility of which (Niagara IceDogs’ owner) Bill (Burke) played such a large role in ensuring that we have a state of the art, new arena here in St. Catharines,” said Sendzik. “And as you’ve seen from this week, what we can do here, the passion that our community has for hockey runs long and deep, and we’re looking forward to the Top Prospects Game.”
The BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will take place starting at 7 PM EST on January 22nd. Those without tickets may have to settle for watching the game from the comfort of home, however, as Burke indicated that the game is officially a sellout. The game will be broadcast in English on Sportsnet and in French on TVA Sports. The current rosters can be found by clicking on this link.
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