CHL Top Prospects game preview

By Phil Laugher

Forty of the top prospects from the Canadian Hockey League will descend on the Pepsi Colisée in Quebec City on Jan. 17 to participate in the 12th annual CHL Top Prospects Game. The game, nationally televised in Canada, is one of the final opportunities for 2007 draft eligible prospects currently playing in the CHL to display their talents for scouts and fans alike as a collective group prior to the NHL Entry Draft in July.

Like most Top Prospects games in past years, this year’s game features a wide array of immensely talented forwards and a bumper crop of solid defensively responsible blueliners. However, it is hoped that the on-ice product this year will be superior to last year’s sloppy, disappointing match, despite the high level of talent competing on the ice. This year’s game should be all the more entertaining, given the fact that 20 of the top 30 prospects rated by the International Scouting Service will be participating in the game.

Up front, the game will be headlined by top-ranked Canadian-playing forward (fourth overall), the Czech-born Halifax Mooseheads winger Jakub Voracek; Central Scouting’s top ranked player, Quebec Remparts forward Angelo Esposito (tenth, according to ISS); perhaps the most complete player eligible for the draft in fifth-ranked Ottawa forward Logan Couture; dynamic London Knights offensive duo (and World Junior combatants) in American-born Patrick Kane and Canadian Sam Gagner (ranked sixth and ninth respectively); and the slick, imposing Saskatoon centerman Colton Gillies (ranked 11th by ISS). This game could go a long way towards clearing up the logjam at the top of the draft rankings, as several players are still in the conversation as far as who will be the first overall selection. A strong showing in Wednesday’s match will go a long way towards improving a particular player’s draft stock.

Voracek, in particular, has seen his rating drop a few spots in the past few weeks, due in large part to a slump with his junior squad, and a mediocre performance in the World Juniors for his native Czech Republic. A strong performance could re-assert the Czech’s position atop the rankings. On the other hand, Kane had a very strong tournament for the United States, finishing among the scoring leaders come tournament’s end. If he could parlay the strong performance in Sweden into a dominant game in Quebec City on Wednesday night, he too could go a long ways towards securing a top-three draft position come July.

Several lower-ranked players have used this game as a launching pad in order to right a mediocre season, or to garner more of a look from scouts for the remainder of the season. One such player in last year’s game, Spokane winger Michael Grabner (VAN), had a very strong game, putting his name on the map after what had been an up-and-down season up to that point, ended up finishing strongly, and was eventually selected 14th overall by the Vancouver Canucks, in spite of the fact that many scouting services had ranked Grabner far down the list coming into last year’s game. The year before, it was Moose Jaw forward Kenndal McArdle (FLA) who benefited greatly from a strong performance. McArdle entered the game ranked 78th overall by ISS. After potting a couple goals, and being named the MVP for his team, McArdle’s draft rating began to rise. Florida eventually selected the winger with the 20th overall selection in the 2005 draft. Will a Grabner or McArdle emerge from the players rated in the second or third round this year? Only time will tell.

As far as the defensive players that will be participating in the game go, it will largely be a WHL affair, as nine of the 12 invites play in the Western League. Only Sarnia’s Mark Katic (ranked 14th by ISS) represents the OHL, while only Lewiston’s Kevin Marshall and Saint John’s David Stich have been added from the QMJHL.

The group of WHLers that will play in the Top Prospects Game are not only among the top defensemen in the country, but represent most of the best 2007-eligible defensemen in the world. Karl Alzner’s name should be readily on the tips of everyone’s tongues due to his steady performance on Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior Championships squad earlier this month, and will likely be a player to watch in Wednesday’s game as well. The Calgary Hitmen defender is ranked second overall by ISS, and places eighth according to the CSS. But so too should Kamloops Blazers defenseman Keaton Ellerby, ranked 13th, a tough stay-at-homer who, like Alzner, garnered an invite to the Canadian selection camp. Other defensemen to watch include Kootenay stay-at-homer John Negrin (ranked 17th) and slight puck-moving Vancouver Giants blue-liner Jonathan Blum (ranked 19th by ISS; 7th by Central Scouting).

Between the pipes, perhaps the biggest name is Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American netminder Trevor Cann, who plays for Peterborough in the OHL. Cann gained national notoriety back in December, when he was a late addition to the Canadian World Junior Selection Camp after London Knights goaltender Steve Mason was felled by concussion-like symptoms. Serving as Cann’s likely foil will be the second ranked goaltender Jeremy Smith, who plays with the Western Division-leading Plymouth Whalers, also in the OHL. Vancouver Giants starting goaltender Tyson Sexsmith (ranked sixth according to CSS), who sits third in the WHL in goals against average with a miniscule 1.93, will share duties with Cann for Team Bowman/Demers, while eighth-ranked Regina Pats starting goaltender Linden Rowat will play with Smith between the pipes for Team Burns/Bergeron.

One of the intriguing side-stories in this year’s Top Prospects Game will be that of bloodlines, as the sons of three former NHLers (and the nephew of another) will be competing in the game. The aforementioned Gagner is the son of long-time Minnesota North Stars forward – and his current assistant coach with the OHL’s London Knights – Dave Gagner. Apart from Gagner, Halifax Mooseheads forward Logan MacMillan is the son of former two-time 30-goal scorer Bob MacMillan, who played for seven teams in eleven seasons, and Red Deer Rebels forward Brandon Sutter, the latest player to emerge from the Viking, Alberta based Sutter clan, is the son former Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders, Brent Sutter. Brent also happens to be Brandon’s coach in Red Deer. Saskatoon’s Gillies is also the nephew of Brent Sutter’s former Islanders teammate, Clark Gillies.

Another name would have been included in the bloodlines sidebar, had it not been for injury. Rimouski forward Maxime Tanguay, brother of Calgary Flames forward Alex Tanguay, will miss the game due to an injury. He will be replaced by Lewiston centerman David Perron. Three others will also miss the game, in Erie forward Zach Torquato, Vancouver winger Spencer Machacek, and Tanguay’s Rimouski teammate, Olivier Fortier. Mississauga forward Stefan Legein will replace Machacek on Team Burns/Bergeron, while Belleville’s Bryan Cameron and Kitchener’s Nick Spaling will replace Torquato and Fortier.

The puck drops at the Colisée at 7:00pm EST on Wednesday, January 17th. Given the quality of the participants, it should certainly be an exciting affair.

 

Team Bowman/Demers:

Forwards:
Bryan Cameron, Belleville Bulls; Angelo Esposito, Quebec Remparts; Colton Gillies, Saskatoon Blades; Maxime Gratchev, Rimouski Oceanic; Patrick Kane, London Knights; Brett MacLean, Oshawa Generals; Oscar Moller, Chilliwack Bruins; Michal Repik, Vancouver Giants; Brett Sonne, Calgary Hitmen; Nick Spaling, Kitchener Rangers; Brandon Sutter, Red Deer Rebels; Keven Veilleux, Victoriaville Tigres.

Defensemen:
Karl Alzner, Calgary Hitmen; Jonathan Blum, Vancouver Giants; Taylor Ellington, Everett Silvertips; Mark Katic, Sarnia Sting; Kevin Marshall, Lewiston MAINEiacs; David Stich, Saint John Sea Dogs.

Goaltenders:
Trevor Cann, Peterborough Petes; Tyson Sexsmith, Vancouver Giants.

Injured:

Olivier Fortier, Rimouski Oceanic; Zach Torquato, Erie Otters.


Team Burns/Bergeron:

Forwards:

Akim Aliu, Sudbury Wolves; Ruslan Bashkirov, Quebec Remparts; Drayson Bowman, Spokane Chiefs; Logan Couture, Ottawa 67s; Sam Gagner, London Knights; Zach Hamill, Everett Silvertips; Stefan Legein, Mississauga Ice Dogs; Logan MacMillan, Halifax Mooseheads; Nick Palmeiri, Erie Otters; David Perron, Lewiston MAINEiacs; David Skokan, Rimouski Oceanic; Jakub Voracek, Halifax Mooseheads.

Defensemen:

Eric Doyle, Everett Silvertips; Keaton Ellerby, Kamloops Blazers; Thomas Hickey, Seattle Thunderbirds; John Negrin, Kootenay Ice; Alex Plante, Calgary Hitmen; Nick Ross, Regina Pats.

Goaltenders:

Linden Rowat, Regina Pats; Jeremy Smith, Plymouth Whalers.

Injured:
Spencer Machacek, Vancouver Giants; Maxime Tanguay, Rimouski Oceanic.

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