"Nate or Seth" might not have the same ring to it that "Taylor or Tyler" had a couple years ago, but phonetics aside, Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones find themselves in a similar situation to Hall and Seguin before them: competing to be the first player drafted in the upcoming NHL Draft.
For MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads and Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, that competition will be played out on the ice next month when the pair face-off against one another as opposing captains at the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
It is a highly anticipated match-up, not just because the duo is considered by many to be the top candidates to be drafted first overall, but also because of what each player represents. On one side is Nathan MacKinnon, a talented Nova Scotia native playing junior hockey in front of his hometown. A skilled center, MacKinnon's combination of explosive speed and game-breaking scoring ability has made the lives of QMJHL goaltenders miserable over the past two seasons and has him challenging for the QMJHL scoring lead so far this season.
Seth Jones, on the other hand, is a U.S.-born rookie defenseman playing for one of the few American teams in the CHL. Skating is also his strong suit and Jones's size and two-way ability makes him equally handy at stopping a goal as he is at participating in a scoring play.
Entering into the game, MacKinnon will have the advantage because, for the first time since 1994, the game is taking place in Atlantic Canada. And it's for good reason as both teams' rosters are studded with a number of QMJHL talents – 12 in total, which is four more than last year's game.
On Team Cherry, MacKinnon will be joined by Mooseheads teammates Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale playing in front of the hometown crowd in Halifax. For the past month, Halifax has been listed as the #1 team in the CHL through the league's weekly rankings. The dynamic scoring chemistry of MacKinnon and Drouin, coupled with Fucale's steady play between the pipes are the primary factors for the Mooseheads' dominance so far this season. The trio will be counted on to have a similar impact for Team Cherry as celebrity coach Don Cherry looks for his seventh win in his 15th appearance at the Top Prospects Game.
Outside of their local stars, fans in Halifax will find plenty of other familiar faces on Team Cherry. Joining MacKinnon, Drouin and Fucale are five more young talents from the QMJHL. Anthony Mantha of the Val-d'Or Foreurs is one of the league's top goal scorers with 26 markers on the season, while William Carrier is doing everything he can during a trying year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Despite Carrier being among the top 20 scorers in the QMJHL, the Eagles have the third worst record in the QMJHL. Both Valentin Zykov's Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Frederik Gauthier's Rimouski Oceanic are among the top teams in the “Q”, with near identical records. Zykov, a Russian import player, leads all QMJHL rookies in scoring. Meanwhile, Gauthier will be joined by teammate Samuel Morin, a towering defensemen who takes care of business in his own end first.
The other two leagues will be just as equally well represented on Team Cherry. Headlining the six man contingent from the OHL and leading the defensive corps is Sault Ste. Marie's Darnell Nurse, a tough shut-down defenseman, who, like Seth Jones (son of former NBA player Popeye Jones), has his own sport background with his father being a former Canadian Football League player.
Up front, forwards Jason Dickinson of the Guelph Storm and Ryan Hartman of the Plymouth Whalers boast similar stat lines, but the similarities stop there. Hartman, a rookie this season, has played a key role this year for the Whalers, a team still looking to establish themselves after high expectations entering into the season. Meanwhile Dickinson is well on his way to surpassing last season's totals as his team finds themselves in a dogfight of a division in the OHL's Midwest.
One of the teams that Guelph is competing with in that division is the Owen Sound Attack, where Zach Nastasiuk is always ready to throw a check or block a shot. Ryan Kujawinski of the Kingston Frontenacs is another player who doesn't shy away from the physical play although he hasn't been able to duplicate his scoring pace from last season that saw him finish at a point-per-game pace after being dealt during the middle of his rookie year. Finally, 15-year-old wunderkind Connor McDavid may be a few years away from getting his chance to play at the Top Prospects Game, but his Erie Otters teammate and roommate on the road, forward Stephen Harper, rounds out the Ontario Hockey League players on Team Cherry.
The WHL contribution to Team Cherry also starts on the blue line. Four of the team's six defenders come from the West, led by Josh Morrissey and Ryan Pulock. Morrissey finds himself among the WHL's top scoring defensemen and his Prince Albert Raiders are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A puck moving defender, Morrissey's smooth skating and great puck moving should complement Nurse's shut-down ability.
Ryan Pulock's Brandon Wheat Kings might not be doing as good this season as the Raiders, but Pulock is second on the team in scoring at over a point-per-game. He's the top goal scorer among WHL defenders and he's joined on Team Cherry by teammate Eric Roy. Roy is no slouch when it comes to the offensive side of the game, either, and he pairs that scoring ability with good size and attention to his own zone.
Rookie Mirco Mueller completes the “Dub” defensive quartet. Mueller's Everett Silvertips are at the bottom in the U.S. Division, but they might have to do without the Swiss native for quite some time. In addition to being named to the Top Prospects Game, he's also playing for the Swiss team at the World Juniors tournament. Losing Mueller is a tough blow for a Silvertips blue line that is already missing Ryan Murray.
Morgan Klimchuk's Regina Pats are also in tough with the second worst record in the Eastern Conference, but the forward is already finding personal success. In less than half the games played, he's already matched last year's offensive output and is one of his team's top scorers. Despite playing in the WHL, Klimchuk already has some chemistry with MacKinnon and Drouin, having played alongside that duo at this past summer's Ivan Hlinka U-18 Tournament, helping Canada win the gold medal.
Finally, Tristan Jarry will join Fucale between the pipes for Team Cherry. Splitting time with Laurent Brossoit with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Jarry boasts a formidable stat line playing behind one of the stingiest defenses in the WHL.
As mentioned, Team Cherry will be opposed by Team Orr, led by Seth Jones. And, like MacKinnon, Jones will be joined by some familiar faces from his junior club.
Portland Winterhawks forwards Nicolas Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand will head to Halifax with their teammate Jones. Petan is the leading scorer for the Winterhawks, one of the WHL's top teams this season, which also makes him one of the top scorers in the league as a whole. Meanwhile Bjorkstrand, a rookie from Denmark, is adapting quickly to the Western Hockey League.
The star of the Team Orr attack will be Hunter Shinkaruk, a high-flying forward from the Medicine Hat Tigers. Like Petan, Shinkaruk is among the top scorers in the WHL, even though his Tigers are near the bottom of the Central Division. Curtis Lazar and the Edmonton Oil Kings are much closer to the top of that same division and he will be another key part of the Orr attack. Lazar will no doubt be licking his chops at the chance to compete against his teammate, goaltender Tristan Jarry, in a game situation.
Meanwhile, on the blue line, Jones is joined by Madison Bowey of the Kelowna Rockets and Shea Theodore of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Bowey is a capable player in all three zones, but he might be used in more of a puck moving role considering the defense-first focus of some of his teammates at the Top Prospects Game. Theodore is another scoring defender, with his puck movement and decision making being his top skills.
Filling out the Western forces on Team Orr is Eric Comrie, a goaltender for the Tri-City Americans who is challenging Fucale to be the top goaltender drafted next summer. Inheriting the starting goaltender duties this year, Comrie is close to matching his game-played numbers from the previous season already.
Spencer Martin of the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads will be joining Comrie in net for Team Orr. Like Comrie, Martin is now a starting goaltender in his second year of junior hockey and has stepped up to the challenge and improved on his previous season's numbers.
As a whole, the Ontario Hockey League is well represented on Team Orr with the London Knights being front and center. Forwards Max Domi and Bo Horvat, as well as defenseman Nikita Zadorov, come from a Knights organization that has been absolutely torching the OHL as of late. Though teammates, the three players could not be more different.
Domi, the son of former NHL tough guy Tie, is a great skater and a dangerous playmaker. One of the top scorers in the OHL, his skills are complemented by Horvat's dedication in all three zones. Zadarov, on the other hand, is a towering, hard-nosed, stay-at-home defender who has established himself well so far this season as a rookie. The Russian import will be joined by Owen Sound Attack defenseman Chris Bigras on the Team Orr blue line. Lining up on the opposite side of the ice from Owen Sound teammate Zach Nastasiuk, Bigras is a two-way defenseman who has shown the ability to contribute at both ends of the ice.
Team Orr has plenty of offensive weapons and, in addition to the duo from London, the OHL offers a number of other noteworthy forwards. Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's will wear an 'A' in the game and is one of top draft eligible forwards this year. His combination of size and scoring ability make him tough to stop and he's already in his third season in the OHL. Kerby Rychel is also in his third year in the OHL and, like Monahan, he's a power forward who is one of the top scorers for his team. Closing out the OHL group is Justin Bailey from the Kitchener Rangers. A rookie this season, Bailey was originally scheduled to attend Michigan State University, but now finds himself in the OHL and heading to the Top Prospects Game.
Last but not least on Team Orr is the QMJHL contribution, where a trio of Quebec Remparts forwards will be yet another offensive option for Team Orr coach, Mike McPhee. American Adam Erne, Quebec native Anthony Duclair and Nick Sorensen, an import player from Sweden, have quite different backgrounds but all share the ability to make an impact on the scoresheet. The play of this trio is a main reason why the Remparts are one of the top teams this year in the QMJHL.
Defenseman Jan Kostalek finds himself on the opposite team from Rimouski Oceanic teammates Gauthier and Morin but his steady play should not suffer as a result. A native of the Czech Republic, Kostalek has adapted to the QMJHL quickly and his great poise and positioning should be a great attribute to Team Orr.
The 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will take place on January 16th, 2013 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Head Coach – Don Cherry
Zachary Fucale (Halifax Mooseheads)
Tristan Jarry (Edmonton Oil Kings)
Samuel Morin (Rimouski Oceanic)
Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert Raiders)
Mirco Mueller (Everett Silvertips)
Darnell Nurse (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
Ryan Pulock (Brandon Wheat Kings)
Eric Roy (Brandon Wheat Kings)
William Carrier (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles)
Jason Dickinson (Guelph Storm)
Jonathan Drouin (Halifax Mooseheads)
Frederik Gauthier (Rimouski Oceanic)
Stephen Harper (Erie Otters)
Ryan Hartman (Plymouth Whalers)
Morgan Klimchuk (Regina Pats)
Ryan Kujawinski (Kingston Frontenacs)
Nathan MacKinnon (Halifax Mooseheads)
Anthony Mantha (Val-d’Or Foreurs)
Zach Nastasiuk (Owen Sound Attack)
Valentin Zykov (Baie-Comeau Drakkar)
Head Coach – Mike McPhee
Eric Comrie (Tri-City Americans)
Spencer Martin (Mississauga Steelheads)
Chris Bigras (Owen Sound Attack)
Madison Bowey (Kelowna Rockets)
Seth Jones (Portland Winterhawks)
Jan Kostalek (Rimouski Oceanic)
Shea Theodore (Seattle Thunderbirds)
Nikita Zadorov (London Knights)
Justin Bailey (Kitchener Rangers)
Oliver Bjorkstrand (Portland Winterhawks)
Max Domi (London Knights)
Anthony Duclair (Quebec Remparts)
Adam Erne (Quebec Remparts)
Bo Horvat (London Knights)
Curtis Lazar (Edmonton Oil Kings)
Sean Monahan (Ottawa 67’s)
Nicolas Petan (Portland Winterhawks)
Kerby Rychel (Windsor Spitfires)
Hunter Shinkaruk (Medicine Hat Tigers)
Nick Sorensen (Quebec Remparts)
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