2011 Draft eligible players will look to impress at CHL Top Prospects Game

By Jason Menard

The annual Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects game is a veritable buffet of talent for NHL franchises looking to restock their cupboards. Elite players competing against their peers for an opportunity to shine in front of a bevy of player personnel staff and general managers is always a recipe for excitement.

However, before the main course, the two-day event features a dynamic appetizer that’s sure to whet the appetite before Wednesday’s big event.

The event features 40 of the top prospects who are eligible for the 2011 NHL entry draft. Tuesday’s skills competition sees those players divided into groups participating in four separate events: fastest skater, hardest shot, shooting accuracy, and a showdown breakaway contest. After the skills competition, the players will then participate in a little 3-on-3 shinny.

The events will be broken down as follows:

Fastest Skater — Team Cherry: Mark McNeil, Ryan Murphy, Richard Rakell, and Tobias Rieder; versus Team Orr: Nathan Beaulieu, Daniel Catenacci, Dougie Hamilton, and Shane McColgan;

Hardest Shot — Team Cherry: Myles Bell, Scott Harrington, Duncan Siemens, and Tyler Wotherspoon; versus Team Orr: David Musil, Stuart Percy, Reece Scarlett, and Vincent Trocheck;

Shooting Accuracy — Team Cherry: Sean Couturier, Phillip Danault, Shane Prince, and Matthew Puempel; versus Team Orr: Colin Jacobs, Boone Jenner, Lucas Lessio, and Zack Phillps; and

Showdown Breakaway Contest
— Team Cherry: Niklas Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Joe Morrow, Ty Rattie, Mark Scheifele, and Ryan Strome; versus Team Orr: Sven Bartschi, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Xavier Ouillet, and Brandon Saad.

Suiting up between the pipes for the tournament/game are David Honzik and Christopher Gibson for Team Cherry and Jordan Binnington and Liam Liston representing Team Orr.

The main event takes place Wednesday night in Toronto, ON’s Air Canada Centre, in an all-star game of sorts, between Team Cherry and Team Orr. Sean Couturier will wear the ‘C’ for Team Cherry, and he’ll be assisted by Ryan Murphy and Ty Rattie; while Doug Gilmour’s Team Orr will be captained by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins assisted by Jonathan Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton.

While most of the elite prospects for the 2011 draft will be in attendance, there is one notable exception — Kitchener’s Gabriel Landeskog, who has impressed all season long. Landeskog continues to feel the effects of an ankle injury and will not be able to showcase his talents before the amassed crowd of fans, scouts, and NHL personnel. The Swede’s injury opened up a roster spot that was filled by Prince.

But even without a star the caliber of Landeskog, who is currently the top-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting the event certainly won’t be lacking in marquee names. Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins will likely be battling with the absent Swede for the remainder of the year for the right to go first overall, with Couturier currently holding the edge as Central Scouting’s second-ranked North American skater.

In fact, 20 of the top 25, including eight of the top 10 ranked North Americans will be in attendance. Only Tyler Biggs (ranked fifth), who is playing in the USHL, won’t be there. The tournament will also feature the four top-ranked blueliners in Hamilton (7), Beaulieu (9), Murphy (10), and Siemens (14).

Between the pipes, Gibson is Central Scouting’s second-ranked goaltender, while Liston is fourth, Binnington is seventh, and Honzik currently sits eighth.

Despite only featuring players from the Canadian Hockey League’s three participant leagues (WHL, OHL, and QMJHL), the game will have a distinctly international flavour. In addition to the usual complement of Canadians and Americans, the game will feature a Dane (Jensen), a pair of players from German descent (Rieder and Scheifele), a Russian (Namestnikov), a Slovak (Jurco), a Swede (Rakell), a Czech (Honzik), and a player from Switzerland (Bartschi). The presence of these elite players from around the world continues to prove the CHL’s prominence as the NHL’s marquee developmental league.

The WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks and the QMJHL‘s Saint John Sea Dogs are the clubs who have sent the most players to the game, with four apiece representing their junior clubs. However, the OHL certainly is no slouch either, with both the Kitchener Rangers and Oshawa Generals sending three players each to the game. In total, the OHL has 18 representatives in the game, the WHL features 13, and nine players from the QMJHL round out the squads.

The rosters were set courtesy of a vote of 30 general managers and NHL’s Central Scouting department.