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Posted On Thursday, 01.16.2014 / 1:36 AM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Fight nearly costs two Top Prospects chance to shine

CALGARY -- For a brief moment, Jacob Middleton and Aaron Haydon thought they had lost their chance to shine.

Middleton, from Team Cherry and Haydon, from Team Orr, renewed Ontario Hockey League acquaintances and dropped the gloves at 17:41 of the first period, a staged-but-spirited tilt that brought the Scotiabank Saddledome crowd to its feet during the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday.

But prior to the bout, both removed their helmets -- and under Canadian Hockey League rule, each was assessed a game misconduct. However, the ruling was rescinded in the first intermission thanks in part to Team Cherry assistant coach Paul Reinhart.

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 3:52 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Butterflies settling in for roommates Virtanen, McCann

CALGARY -- Jake Virtanen has played many memorable games at Scotiabank Saddledome. His biggest will come Wednesday.

The Calgary Hitmen forward will serve as alternate captain for Team Orr at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"It's pretty cool," the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder said. "Obviously playing in front of the Hitmen fans, I'm used to that. Playing in front of the Flames fans will be pretty cool too. I played the Teddy Bear Toss here and it was fully packed for that. It was pretty cool as well. I'm kind of used to that. It'll be pretty fun to just get the game going and have fun out there."

Former NHL player Tim Hunter, who saw action in 815 games in parts of 16 seasons, put Team Orr through the paces at the morning skate.

It's the most nervous Virtanen, ranked ninth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm rankings, has felt over the course of the three-day event.

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 3:28 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Nedeljkovic, Billia face tough task as backups

CALGARY -- Alex Nedeljkovic and Julio Billia face a challenge unlike any the 38 other players assembled for the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) have to deal with.

The goaltenders will square off against each other at opposite ends of the ice but won't do so until the first stoppage of play after the midway mark of the second period.

In other words, they pulled back-up duty.

"We flipped a coin for it and unfortunately I got the second half of the game," Nedeljkovic, who will play for Team Cherry, said. "I'd rather start and come out after the first 30 [minutes] just because I'm already warm after the warmups. It's how it goes. I'm not too worried about it.

"You always have to be ready to go in no matter what, whether you're starting or whether you're backing up. You never know what's going to happen so you always have to be ready to step in and give your team a chance to win."

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 2:46 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Fun and games for Reinhart family

CALGARY -- There was a moment during practice for Team Cherry at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday when Sam Reinhart engaged in a 1-on-1 battle with his father at center ice to the delight of those in attendance.

There were no high sticks or taps to the shin, just an all-out game of keep-away. Paul Reinhart acknowledged afterward that long gone are the days when he used to win those little scrums with his sons.

"It's not even close anymore with any one of them [Sam and older sons Max and Griffin]," Paul Reinhart said. "I stopped trying to compete with them a while ago. I used to have an advantage with a little bit of knowledge but that's long gone. Their strength and puck control and their stamina is way too much for most of us."

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.15.2014 / 10:19 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

A family affair at Top Prospects Game

CALGARY -- The last time center Ryan MacInnis stepped on the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome was two years ago when his father, Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis, was being honored as "Forever A Flame" to a capacity crowd.

The elder MacInnis, who played in 12 NHL All-Star Games and won the 1989 Norris and Conn Smythe trophies, was accompanied on the ice by his family and Flames alumni during a special pregame ceremony that was established to honor members of the Flames organization.

"It was pretty cool," Ryan MacInnis told NHL.com. "I walked out onto the ice with my family and dad made a speech. It was awesome to see how Calgary just loves him."

Ryan MacInnis returned to the Saddledome this week for the first time since that February 2012 evening to represent Team Cherry at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet). The 6-foot-4, 185-pound MacInnis, who is in his first season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, is one of five players in the game with fathers who played in the NHL.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 11:37 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Clarke out to impress scouts, show he belongs

CALGARY -- Saginaw Spirit left wing Blake Clarke has dealt with many off-ice distractions in what should have been a season to impress scouts considering him for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Clarke, No. 93 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, changed teams last month when the North Bay Battalion dealt him to Saginaw in exchange for forward and fellow 2012 first-round Ontario Hockey League draft pick Zach Bratina.

Clarke sustained a shoulder injury in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Pittsburgh in September that limited him to 21 games with North Bay. He'll play for Team Orr at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) with hopes of turning some heads.

"I look at this as a big opportunity for me," Clarke said. "I was invited because people still believe in what I can be as a player in the future, so I have to prove them right.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 10:35 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Goldobin latest Russian starring in Sarnia

CALGARY -- Sarnia Sting right wing Nikolay Goldobin knows all about Nail Yakupov and how he was selected first by the Edmonton Oilers at the 2012 NHL Draft.

Yakupov spent two seasons in Sarnia, totaling 31 goals and 69 points in 42 games during an injury-shortened 2011-12 season. As a rookie in 2010-11 he had 101 points to lead the Sting and all Ontario Hockey League first-year players. His scoring also surpassed Steven Stamkos' team records for goals (42) and points (92) by a Sarnia rookie.

Does Goldobin consider himself the best Russian out of Sarnia since Yakupov?

"I want to be drafted high, in the top five," Goldobin told NHL.com. "We don't talk much about Yakupov but we do talk about his play in the NHL. It's been a big transition for me playing in Canada the last two seasons. In Canada the hockey is way faster than Russia."

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 10:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Nedeljkovic admires Devils' Brodeur

CALGARY -- Plymouth Whalers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic never has seen live any of the three goals scored by New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, but admits to watching replays on the Internet every chance he gets.

"I've always wanted to score a goal and I keep that in the back of my head sometimes and envision myself doing it," Nedeljkovic said. "Marty was my favorite goalie growing up and still is. Just the way he plays the game and the accomplishments he'd had … it's been an incredible career."

Nedeljkovic (6-foot, 182 pounds) acknowledged he blew his one good opportunity to score a goal, during his midget-minor season.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 9:34 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

De Leo a veteran of Top Prospects games

CALGARY -- When it comes to playing in prospects games, Chase De Leo is close to qualifying for veteran status.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Portland Winterhawks forward will make his second appearance in an event that pits the top peers of his age group against each other when he participates in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

De Leo played in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 26 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but the 18-year old admitted his participation in that game doesn't give him an advantage in this one.


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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 7:28 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top prospects get put to the test

CALGARY -- Aaron Haydon can be forgiven if he was a little winded after Tuesday's activity at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome.

He might've been running a little low on energy.

After skipping two games on the weekend with a bout of the flu before returning Sunday to play for his Niagara IceDogs, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound defenseman admitted both off-ice and on-ice components to Tuesday's testing left him gasping for air.

Divided into their respective teams, those chosen to participate in the Top Prospects Game were put through the paces by Sport Testing in a plethora of dry land drills designed to grade, measure and quantify their abilities in hand grip, medicine ball toss, vertical jump, standing broad jump and pro agility.

After a 45-minute recovery break, prospects hit the ice to test their skills in a 30-meter sprint as well as drills to evaluate reaction time, lateral agility, multi-directional changes and transitional agility, both with and without pucks.


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Posted On Tuesday, 01.14.2014 / 12:24 AM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Players focus on Top Prospects game, not rankings

CALGARY -- Ranked first or 101st, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad knows his journey to the 2014 NHL Draft isn't close to being finished.

Ekblad, the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking, admitted that while the distinction is an honor, his focus is elsewhere since there's plenty of hockey left to play before draft day in June at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

"It is what it is," Ekblad said. "You could rate me one, two or 10. It is what it is. I think the most important thing is winning games with your team in the CHL and playing big on teams like this [the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game]. If you have team success, individual success will come quickly after that. I'm not worried about that. It is what it is and I've just got to keep working hard and doing the things I like to do."

What Ekblad's done throughout his junior career has been impressive. The 17-year-old has 14 goals in 31 games, tops among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, and his 31 points are tied for ninth. He also earned his way on to Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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Posted On Monday, 01.13.2014 / 10:03 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top Prospects Game's a reunion for golden Canadians

CALGARY -- At his billet's home back in Kingston, Ontario, Spencer Watson has a reminder of Canada's golden performance at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

His locker room at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game will have plenty more.

Fourteen members of Canada's gold medal-winning entry are represented at the Top Prospects Game, making it a reunion of sorts for Watson and his teammates.

"Everywhere you look, you see someone you know," said Watson, who led the August tournament with 10 points in five games. "That way, it's a nice little reunion. It's great to play with players you've already played with before."

"Just to know you're part of that group and just know you're right there and you're just as good as all these other guys," he added. "It's a huge honor to be playing with all these great players for sure."

The memories didn't stop at Watson.


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Posted On Monday, 01.13.2014 / 9:44 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Snowstorm can't stop Top Prospects event

CALGARY -- A snowstorm in Calgary couldn't stop 40 of Canada's top draft-eligible players from invading the city.

Calgary, which will host the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet), was blanketed with heavy snowfall from dusk until dawn, throwing a wrench in some players' travel plans.

"It was pretty interesting," Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. "A lot of guys got delayed on the plane so it's kind of been a little hectic getting to the airport and getting here, but it's been pretty cool.

"My flight was delayed a little bit. Just enough to make things hectic."

Nedeljkovic wasn't alone.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.12.2014 / 10:06 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Hitmen duo ready to host CHL's top prospects

CALGARY -- There's something to be said for home-ice advantage.

Calgary Hitmen teammates Jake Virtanen and Ben Thomas will have 'Dome ice advantage in the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"It gives me a little bit of confidence right from the start," Virtanen said. "It's in the [Saddledome]. Others are probably not used to playing in an NHL rink. I'm really excited for that. I'm really comfortable with that. I've been here [in Calgary] for almost two years now. I think it gives me and Ben a little bit of confidence more than most guys."

Virtanen and Thomas will be teammates Wednesday as members of Team Orr.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.12.2014 / 3:11 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Brayden Point to replace Samuel Bennett

Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett, an A-rated skater on the NHL Central Scouting's December players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft, will not participate in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) after sustaining a lower-body injury.

Moose Jaw Warriors center Brayden Point will replace Bennett on Team Orr roster the Top Prospects Game, which will be played in Calgary at Scotiabank Saddledome.

Point, a 5-foot-9.5, 160-pound forward, has team-highs of 19 goals and 42 points in 44 Western Hockey League games.

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Posted On Friday, 01.10.2014 / 3:26 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2014 Top Prospects Game blog

Top prospects to undergo testing before game

Before 40 of the top 2014 NHL Draft-eligible prospects from the Canadian Hockey League showcase their ability at the 2014 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday, they'll undergo a series of on- and off-ice tests that will provide scouts and general managers an instant profile on each player.

All 40 of the players competing in the game will be put through those tests Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, home of the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League and the site of the Top Prospects Game on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

These standardized tests, which will be conducted by Sport Testing Inc., have been completed in all three CHL leagues for the past four years and will be performed on all athletes participating. This will provide players, coaches and scouts detailed comparative data on an athlete's athletic ability.

The CHL has been using Sport Testing since 2010 at various skills combines at the bantam and minor-midget level to assess top OHL, WHL and QMJHL draft prospects for such gameplay qualities as speed, agility, explosiveness, stick handling and reaction time. Highly accurate measurement technologies and standard test protocols provide apples-to-apples benchmarking data that has shown a tight correlation to hockey performance.

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Quote of the Day

I think I'm lucky to be here and you definitely don't take very many things for granted, if you take anything for granted. I definitely put my family and my wife and my close family in perspective, that they're the most important thing in the world. I want to do whatever I can to play hockey, but like I said, under the right circumstances.

— Stars forward Rich Peverley to "The Musers" radio show on The Ticket 1310 AM in Dallas