Prospect Faceoff: Canadian WJC teammates go head-to-head, two top QMJHL goalies in the same game, and more prospect matchups

By David Hahn
Connor McDavid - Erie Otters; Darnell Nurse - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: Prospect Faceoff 2/6/15

Photo: Erie Otters forward and 2015 prospect Connor McDavid goes head-to-head this weekend against World Junior teammate Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in a marquee OHL matchup (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images (L) and Terry Wilson/OHL Images (R))


This week’s Prospect Faceoff feature includes one of the best matchups in the OHL this season, a look at top goalies facing off against each other in the QMJHL, and two more matchups featuring key prospects for their respective organizations. We also look back at how a game turned out for a pair of talented imports in Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nikita Scherbak.

Prospect Faceoffs for 2/6-2/7

Darnell Nurse (Sault Ste. Marie) vs. Connor McDavid (Erie) – OHL

The tops teams in the OHL’s Western Conference will meet this weekend, which means a clash of former Canadian WJC teammates and standout performers in the OHL. Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid has been called a generational talent by numerous scouting outlets, and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound’s defenseman Darnell Nurse has already played in the NHL. The two captains face off this weekend in one of the premier games in junior hockey.

Nurse gained valuable experience with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this season, playing in two NHL games before being assigned back to the OHL for his final season of junior hockey. He teamed up with McDavid at the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship, winning a gold medal where he was recognized as one of the best defensemen in that tournament. He has been on a point-per-game pace with Sault Ste. Marie this season, leading them to the top of the OHL’s Western Conference.

As obviously talented as Connor McDavid is, he has consistently achieved at all levels despite frequently high expectations that have been placed on him. He began the 2014-15 season scoring at a nearly three points-per-game pace until an injury in November sidelined him for nearly a month. McDavid returned in time for the World Juniors, though, and led all WJC tournament players in assists with eight while winning a gold medal with Canada. McDavid has an absurd 72 points in only 28 games this season, cementing his place as one of the best junior hockey players on the planet.

Mason McDonald (Charlottetown) vs. Marvin Cupper (Shawinigan) – QMJHL

Two goaltenders who are enjoying career seasons will matchup against each other this weekend. Calgary Flames prospect Mason McDonald is coming off being named as one of the QMJHL Stars of the Week for the Charlottetown Islanders. For the Shawinigan Cataractes’ Marvin Cupper, he’s hoping to continue where he left off in January, notching eight wins for his squad.

After being given a more prominent role last season following a deal that sent him from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Charlottetown Islanders, McDonald this season is the undisputed starter for the Islanders. He currently sits third in the QMJHL in save percentage with a .908 rating, and fifth in that league with a 2.89 goals-against average.

A native of Cologne, Germany, Cupper currently ranks second in the QMJHL in save percentage (.910), has posted four shutouts on the season, and has led Shawinigan to their first winning season since his arrival in the 2012-13 season.

Rourke Chartier (Kelowna) vs. Ryan Rehill (Kamloops) – WHL

Drafted 18 selections apart at the 2014 NHL Draft, Kelowna Rockets forward Rourke Chartier and Kamloops Blazers defenseman Ryan Rehill will go head-to-head this weekend. The two of them play a decidedly different style which makes for an interesting game to watch.

One commodity that never goes out of style in hockey is goal scoring, something Rourke Chartier does in bunches. This season in particular, Chartier is beginning to display his supreme goal scoring talents, as his 41 goals currently leads the WHL in that category. Chartier was named the WHL’s November Player of the Month after scoring 18 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. December was good to Chartier, as well, as the San Jose Sharks rewarded him by signing the goal scorer to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Where Chartier is known as a goal scorer with a grand total of 30 penalty minutes in his WHL career, Ryan Rehill is a physical defenseman whose time in the league has featured many trips to the penalty box . In 2013-14, Rehill contributed offensively for the Blazers, tallying four goals and 16 assists in 72 games while also maintaining his reputation as a truculent defenseman with a WHL-leading 182 penalty minutes. Following the season, the New Jersey Devils made Rehill their fifth round pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, adding him to a deep group of defensive prospects. This season, Rehill has set a career high in goals with five in the current campaign and has continued to be reliable for the Blazers.

Mario Lucia (Notre Dame) vs. Devin Shore (Maine) – NCAA

The University of Notre Dame will head into Maine to face the Black Bears in a pair of games this weekend. Both schools are led by players who have numerous accolades to their names, including being their team’s respective leading goal scorers.

For Notre Dame, Mario Lucia is a player with a history of producing offense. After totaling 16 goals and 31 points in the 2013-14 season, Lucia this season leads Notre Dame in goal scoring with 17, good for ninth in the nation. Lucia’s ability to score efficiently has been a key in the Notre Dame attack, as his 29.3% shooting percentage leads all NCAA players. While the Fighting Irish have struggled some this season – they are not currently ranked among the top 20 teams – Lucia has not been a part of those struggles as he is producing offense as expected.

Like Lucia for Notre Dame, Devin Shore leads Maine in goal scoring. As a sophomore in 2013-14, Shore led Black Bears in scoring, totaling 43 points in 35 games. This season, the Dallas Stars‘ prospect again tops Maine in scoring, and has been a key in their success. In nine of their 10 wins, Shore has tallied at least one point and when he scores two or more, Maine has gone 6-0-0. Known as an iron man, he has never missed a game in his collegiate career, and recently reached his 100th consecutive game on January 30th against the University of Connecticut.

Prospect Faceoffs from 1/30-2/1

Oliver Bjorkstrand (Portland) vs. Nikita Scherbak (Everett) – WHL

The newly-minted CHL Player of the Week, Oliver Bjorkstrand, factored into every goal for Portland in a 6-3 victory over Everett. Bjorkstrand netted three goals and three assists in the game, as the Winterhawks extended their current win streak to eight games. Nic Petan sparked a four-goal third period by scoring only 16 seconds into the period to go along with 4 assists. For Everett, Nikita Scherbak assisted on a goal by Remi Laurencelle for his only point in the game. Ivan Nikolishin was productive on special teams, adding one goal and one assist with the man advantage.

Jeremy Gregoire (Baie-Comeau) vs. Ivan Barbashev (Moncton) – QMJHL

Jeremy Gregoire led the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to a first period lead, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Moncton machine took over in an 8-5 Wildcat victory. Gregoire’s first period goal and two assists, combined with Luca Ciampini’s two goals, put Baie-Comeau ahead early. The lead wouldn’t hold up, however, as Connor Garland enjoyed a breakout game to the tune of two goals and three assists. Ivan Barbashev finished a lackluster month of January with a bang, assisting on a career-high five Moncton goals.

Josh Ho-Sang (Niagara) vs. Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie) – OHL

The Niagara IceDogs shot early and often on Barrie Colts goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, but it wouldn’t be enough as Blackwood stopped 34 shots in a 6-3 Colts win. Kevin Labanc enjoyed another multi-point effort, notching a hat trick and one assist in the victory. For Niagara, Josh Ho-Sang’s lone assist on a Brendan Perlini goal wouldn’t hold up as Barrie cruised in this critical Eastern Conference clash.

Zane McIntyre (North Dakota) vs. Jake Guentzel (Nebraska-Omaha) – NCAA

North Dakota and Omaha displayed why they are both ranked as top teams in the NCAA, splitting a pair of games with both of them ending in dramatic, overtime fashion. Omaha overcame a series of penalties to take the first game into overtime, and Austin Ortega’s shot beat Zane McIntyre on the man advantage to win the game for Omaha. McIntyre was again in net for the second game, stopping 31 shots on the way to his NCAA-leading 19th win. Omaha’s Jake Guentzel was held without a point in the first game, but scored twice the next night to help his team take the game to overtime. There, senior forward Brendan O’Donnell’s game winner topped off a fantastic weekend of NCAA action.

Andreas Johnson (Frolunda) vs. Ludvig Bystrom (Farjestad) – SHL

Frolunda and Farjestad continued their season series last weekend in a tight defensive game. Two young guns led the way for Frolunda, as Boston Bruins prospect Anton Blidh’s first period goal ended up as the game-winner in a 2-0 win. Andreas Johnson scored his 18th goal of the season, marking a new career high. For Farjestad, their top defensive pairing of Ludvig Bystrom and the well-traveled Anssi Salmela couldn’t slow down the Frolunda offense.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey