The 2004 CHL Prospect Game was held in London on Wednesday, January 21, 2004 and the top 40 CHL players eligible for the NHL draft put on a show. Many observers feel that the number one pick in the draft is a no brainer in Russian winger Alexander Ovechkin, but don’t tell some of these kids that.
Unfortunately the top ranked skater in North America by Central Scouting, Kyle Chipchura was injured and unable to play, but the big names that were there put on a show.
The team coached by Bobby Orr won the game 6-2, but it wasn’t as one sided as the score might indicate. Losing coach Don Cherry commented after the game, “What we said to the kids is that even though you are losing by a big score, you can’t play by the score, you gotta go out and play because all the guys are looking at you. Brian (Kilrea) said it so good, ‘they are going to see if you quit and they’ll see what character you have,’ and they didn’t quit.”
The player of the game for Team Orr was a local product, Robbie Schremp a center with the London Knights had a dream first period, his line scored on its first three shifts and had excellent scoring chances on shifts 4 and 5. The International Scouting Service currently ranks Schremp 4th in the world and Central Scouting has him 7th in North America and he gave plenty of examples of why he is so highly regarded. He drew a second assist on the game’s first goal scored by linemate Blake Comeau a right winger with the Kelowna Rockets. On his next shift, Schremp ragged the puck while the referee signaled a delayed penalty, allowing his team to get an extra attacker on the ice. Then he came off the half boards in the offensive end and put a hard shot on net which goalie David Shantz was unable to control and the rebound was knocked in the net.
On his third shift, Schremp really wowed the crowd when he took a pass at full speed at the attacking blue line and turned a defender inside out with a series of swift stick handling, easily avoided the attempt to body check him. He walked in on Shantz all alone and put the puck top shelf, knocking the water bottle off. That goal stood as the winning goal and was the last of his points, but he had one more magic trick up his sleeve. In the third period Schremp came out of the corner into the high slot and looked poised to shoot or make a pass. He fooled everyone by cupping the puck on his stick and whipping it behind his back in lacrosse like fashion, narrowly missing the top corner of the net. The puck appeared to deflect off someone in front or it may have gone in. This wowed the crowd as it is something that you almost never see and in the post game media conference, it was compared with a goal scored by Sidney Crosby, who is the runaway favorite to be the 2005 NHL number one pick.
That goal and the way it was celebrated was highly criticized on Hockey Night in Canada by Cherry who was coaching against Schremp this night. When Cherry was asked if he thought it was hot dogging he replied “I suppose in a game like this it was OK, but I still don’t like it. If it was 1-1 Robbie you can do it, but not when its 4-1, I might have to say something about that on Coaches Corner, just kidding Robbie.” When Scremp was asked if he ever scored a goal like that in a game he replied “No not in a game, I did try it once in an exhibition game, with Mississauga against London and I just missed.” When it was commented that it would take a lot of guts to try a move like that in front of a lot of NHL scouts, Schremp smiled and said “Yeah it was a lot of fun, you gotta have the balls to do it.” It was a night that Schremp had a lot to smile about and you could tell that after the game that he was enjoying every minute of it and why not? He had just showed the entire hockey world why he will challenge to be a Top ten selection at the NHL draft. Schremp also finished third in the puck control race in the skills contest that was held the night before.
Comeau didn’t hurt his draft status with a strong game on what turned out to be the most dangerous line. A winger with some size at 6’1″ and 195 pounds, he made the best of his time in the spotlight. Ranked 43rd in North America by Central Scouting he was the one player who may have made a move up in the minds of some scouts. He made a beautiful wrist shot on the first goal using a defenceman as a screen. He made a nice outlet pass to the speeding Scremp on the third goal. He picked up an assist on the power play in the third period and threw his weight around in the corners. He ended the night with one goal and three assists.
The left winger on the big line for Team Orr was Andrew Ladd from the Calgary Hitmen who stands in at 6’2″ and 200 pounds. He was the top ranked skater in the game by Central Scouting at No. 2 in North America and ISS has him at 15th overall in their world rankings of all players. He showed why teams are drooling over him with a big hit to free up the puck on Comeau’s first goal, driving the net to cash in on the rebound in the second goal. He was a physical presence all night and one can definitely envision a long pro career as a power forward for this guy.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk of Kamloops put on a goaltending clinic putting his huge frame in front of shot after shot. Standing in at 6’5″, there isn’t much room for a puck to get by him and he is athletic as well as strong positionally. Central Scouting ranks Dubnyk as the third best goalie in North America and he did nothing to hurt that status in the half of the game he played as he stopped all 13 of the shots fired at him. A ranking like that could see him go late in the first round or sometime in the second. At age 17, there is no telling if he might grow more yet.
Evan McGrath played a strong game for Team Orr. The center out of the Kitchener Rangers shoots left and stands at about 6’2″ and weighs around 175 pounds. He makes good use of his reach and is an excellent passer and puck handler. He has above average hockey sense and is very creative with the puck. Think Joe Nieuwendyk and you can imagine a bit what the kid plays like. He was strong on the puck all night and made several nice plays and had a few passes tipped at the last moment that prevented big plays from happening. McGrath is ranked 15th in the midterm CSS North American skater rankings.
Fellow Kitchener Ranger Boris Valabik who stands at a hulking 6’6″ and weighs around 210 pounds joined McGrath on Team Orr. Teamed with Brett Carson of the Calgary Hitmen who is big as well at 6’5″ and 215 pounds; they made life miserable all night for Team Cherry forwards. Valabik was even almost in a rare fight in a game like this but the linesmen stopped it before it could start. He plays with a very nasty edge and will use his size and stick to make sure that you have a very unpleasant time around the net. He maybe one of the toughest European defenceman in quite awhile, the native of Slovakia is far better suited for the style of game in North America. Valabik is ranked 13th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
Mike Green, a defenseman with the Saskatoon Blades, was another player who impressed on Team Orr. He skated well all night and threw his weight around and landed a great check late in the third period. He is one of the older players in the game as he is a late birthday from 1985. Green posted the best time in the faster skater race in the skills contest and put up good numbers in the hardest shot and puck control events. Green is ranked 8th among North American skaters by CSS.
Wojtek Wolski of the Brampton Battalion was the player of the game for Team Cherry. He is a big winger at 6’2″ and nearly 200 pounds and is loaded with offensive skill. He was a first team rookie all-star last season and was picked this fall to play on Team OHL against a Russian select team in a series that was meant to evaluate players for the Canadian World Junior team. He scored a goal in the first period on a nice one time shot and this is how he described it.
“I got a pass from Andy Rogers and I saw an opening and I just put it into it. I know that (Justin) Peters goes down when he comes across as I play him quite often in the season and I just tried to put it as high as I could in the net.”
Wolski was ranked the number one skater in the OHL by Central Scouting in their preliminary rankings and was ranked No. 3 in North America when the mid term rankings came out. ISS has him ranked number 5 overall in their rankings. He had a number of good scoring chances in the game and played well. When asked about the pressure of this game he said, “I guess there is a lot of pressure from all of the scouts that turn out, but everyone has to deal with it but it’s a lot easier to deal with when you have 40 guys in the same situation.”
Peter Pohl of the Gatineau Olympiques was another strong offensive presence for Team Cherry. He displayed some great skating, stick handling and a nice wrist shot. He is very good at darting in and out of traffic and despite being one of the smaller players on the ice at 5’11″ and 175 pounds; he doesn’t shy away from going into danger zones. He is ranked 30th among North American skaters by CSS at midterm.
Cam Barker is the top ranked defenseman in North America by Central Scouting as he comes in ranked at number 5 among skaters at midterm and ISS has him as their top defender and number 6 overall. A smooth skating defenseman who is averaging just under a point a game, he feels that the race for number one overall is far from over. At 6’3″ and 210 pounds he has the size that NHL teams drool over when combined with his skating ability. When asked by Hockey’s Future what his goal was this year, he said “It was to be number one in the draft”. When told that Mr. Ovechkin might have something to say about that he replied, “Well I guess he might but I’m just going to play the best that I can and see what happens.” Barker made a nice play on one of his team’s goals by moving to the middle of the ice with the puck along the blue line and putting a nice wrist shot through traffic on net which produced a rebound that Chris Berti fired home. Barker had the bad luck of having a pass go off his skate into his own net later in the game so he was a factor on the scoresheet.
Berti played a good game for Team Cherry. The winger from the Oshawa Generals is big at 6’3″ and 215 pounds. He also surprised many people by posting the best time in the 60 foot dash and the second best in the 150 foot dash at the skills contest demonstrating his good first step. The goal he scored was a good example of him using his speed and size as he came off the boards following the puck to the net and swept in to grab the loose puck and made no mistake in finding the back of the net. He is a player who uses his size to protect the puck well, but doesn’t normally hit a lot in regular season but he threw a couple of nice hits in this game. Surgery on both knees limited him to only 15 games in his rookie season but he is staying healthy this year. A radio commentator who sees Berti a lot feels that he will be a better player with far more discipline than teammate Ben Eager who was a first round pick by Phoenix last year. Berti is ranked 23rd in the CSS midterm rankings.