The Top Prospects Game–Makes or Breaks??
On February 10, 1998 at Maple Leaf Gardens, 40 of Canada’s top junior draft prospects will take to the ice for one final chance to impress the scouts. The Chrysler Cup Challenge, a.k.a. Top Prospects Game, will be held for only the third time and the importance of the game varies. For consensus number one picks of the past, such as Joe Thornton, who collected only two assists at last year’s game, average showings did nothing to jeopardize their standings. The case should be the same for QMJHL whiz kid Vincent Lacavalier this year as he goes against the top 17-year-olds in the CHL. But that’s not to say that the players, superstars and alike, take this game lightly. “It’s going to be really, really intense because we all want to prove ourselves. The scouts are all there to watch you play and if you play good, it’s going to be good for you,” said Lacavalier while promoting the game in Toronto last month. Another player touted to go high in the first round in Guelph Storm center Manny Malhotra but who isn’t all that concerned about the game. “If you go out and put on a show for the scouts, they may look at you with a brighter eye, whereas if you go out and play not that great, they realize it’s just another game,” said Malhotra. Players not considered high picks, however, will be giving all they have to put on such a show for the scouts, as well as giving phenoms like Lacavalier, Malhotra and David Legwand a run for their money.
Case in point: in 1996, Dan Focht of the Tri-City Americans(WHL) was considered a late first round pick at best. He went into the Prospects game with determination and desire and had one of the best games of his life. Come June at the Entry Draft, Focht was picked 11th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes. Said the NHL’s director of scouting Frank Bonello, “Maybe a player you didn’t think too highly of can shine and that changes your opinion of him.” Last year’s game presents many examples of how this one game can affect so many opinions. Two players that shined in particular were Quebec goalies Roberto Luongo and Jean-François Damphousse. Luongo was the star of the ‘97 game, stopping 13 of 14 shots in a 7-2 win and was named Player of the Game for Team Orr. He went on to be the highest drafted goalies in NHL history, going 4th overall to the New York Islanders. Damphousse, also of Team Orr, had a fantastic game, stoning 23 of 24 shots from Team Cherry that included snipers Thornton and Daniel Cleary. He saw his CSB ranking go from 8th among North American goalies to 2nd behind only Luongo. J.F. went on to be drafted by the New Jersey Devils 24th overall to eventually apprentice for Martin Brodeur. The Central Scouting Bureau especially seemed to rely heavily on the lower profiled players’ performances at the Chrysler Cup. Defenseman Vratisalv Cech had 2 shots and was a +3 and saw his rating jump from 28 to 18. Winger Adam Colagiacomo had a mediocre game and saw his spot slip to 26 from 13, although he was looked over until the fourth round. Defenseman Kyle Kos also didn’t show anything special and he went from 24 to 36.The game also pushes the top guns to try and beat each other out for the top spot. A strong and complete effort from Patrick Marleau gave him enough in the scouts’ eyes for him to edge out Olli Jokkinen for 2nd overall at the Draft. Centers Daniel Tkaczuk and Jason Ward went head-to-head, vying for a spot behind Thornton and Marleau. They both had excellent games, Ward getting off 8 shots and a +2 and Tkaczuk notching a goal and an assist, and saw their stocks rise from 6 to 4 for Ward and 5 to 3 for Tkaczuk. In the end, there is some importance for the Chrysler Cup Challenge, either in the pressure on the players by themselves or just the fact that never is there as much young talent together at once as there is at this game. Needless to say, though, no matter how each players performs, it’s destined to be an exciting game worth taking notice off. Especially if you’re Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix, holding four first round picks.