5 things learned from CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 2:50 AM | Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- Victoriaville (QMJHL) center Pascal Laberge, No. 31 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, had two goals and an assist to lead Team Bobby Orr to a 3-2 victory against Team Don Cherry before 10,113 fans at the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Pacific Coliseum on Thursday.

The game included 20 prospects from the Ontario Hockey League, 12 from the Western Hockey League, and eight from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The players competing in the game were chosen by the 30 NHL teams; the rosters were set by NHL Central Scouting.

Laberge, who was named player of the game for Team Orr, leads Victoriaville in assists (25) and shots on goal (124), and is second in points (39) in 36 games.

"I sure hope this performance will help me," Laberge said. "I've been injured a lot during the season and maybe this will help with my ranking. I broke my hand two times this season so I missed some games. But I have to take advantage of these opportunities."

Laberge certainly did that Thursday.

"[Laberge] is a high-skilled forward with good hockey sense," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "He's a strong skater with an extra gear to pull away with the puck. He has soft hands and good vision to make plays and finish scoring chances."

It isn't unusual to see an unlikely star at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

"This game never hurts anyone; someone will make a play and be that player who stands out," Marr said. "No one tournament will change the big picture."

Cape Breton (QMJHL) right wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, No. 7 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking, had a goal and two assists for Team Orr.

Team Cherry got goals from No. 82-ranked left wing Ty Ronning (Vancouver, WHL) and No. 14 center Logan Brown (Windsor, OHL). Team Cherry goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick (Sherbrooke, QMJHL), No. 2 on Central Scouting's midterm list of North American goalies, stopped all 18 shots he faced.

Team Orr goalie Dylan Wells (Peterborough, OHL), No. 5 on Central Scouting's list, made 19 saves on 20 shots in relief. Team Orr starting goalie Carter Hart (Everett, WHL), Central Scouting's top-rated goaltender, made 15 saves on 16 shots. Team Cherry goalie Zachary Sawchenko (Moose Jaw, WHL), No. 3 on Central Scouting's list, made seven saves on 10 shots.

"I've been a part of a lot of these games and that was probably the best yet," said Hockey Hall of Fame member Bobby Orr. "It was a heck of a hockey game and every kid on the ice played very well. There was some great goaltending, strong defense. And it's the best game in this event that I've been a part of."

Here are five takeaways from the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game:

1. Tkachuk vs. Chychrun: Left wing Matthew Tkachuk (London, OHL), No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, keyed the top line for Team Orr. Whenever the 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward was on the ice he usually was closely guarded by defenseman Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia, OHL), No. 2 on Central Scouting's list.

It was an intriguing battle between the top two North American prospects. Each time Tkachuk attempted to gain position in the slot, Chychrun would be there to greet him.

"It's a battle that's kind of carrying over from our last game against London," Chychrun said. "Our teams have some bad blood going right now and it's making for some good competition. [Tkachuk] is a battler and I am as well. So when we meet it's a fun battle. It's all part of the game but I love it."

2. Goalie of the game: Not only did Fitzpatrick stop all 18 shots he faced in his 31:02 of playing time, he did it on his 18th birthday.

"I was a little bit more excited playing on my birthday, especially in a big game like this," Fitzpatrick said. "As soon as I got that first shot the puck seemed to grow in size. I was able to see it well and our team did a really good job of moving players. So I give a lot of credit to them."

Fitzpatrick (6-3, 222), No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American goalies, made 12 saves in the first period, including consecutive point-blank stops against left wing Jack Kopacka (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) midway through the period.

"[Fitzpatrick] has a very big presence in the net, has great angle play and he plays mostly at the top of the paint on initial shots while not giving much room to shooters," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He has good strength in the crease, holding his ground and battling hard to either track the puck through traffic or grab a loose puck in the crease area. He has very good butterfly coverage for both the low and high shots and can extend his pads out quickly to protect the low corners."

3. Best skater at the game: Mississauga (OHL) forward Michael McLeod exhibited plenty of speed and energy on most shifts. He was able to maneuver well in tight spaces and on occasion skated end-to-end. McLeod (6-2, 188), No. 6 on Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, was named player of the game for Team Cherry.

"I thought McLeod was unbelievable; his speed reminded me of [Colorado Avalanche forward[ Nathan MacKinnon when this game was in Halifax [2013]," Cherry said. "I don't like to pick out guys but McLeod was outstanding and he's got a long, long future in the NHL. Remember, I'm never wrong."

In 45 games this season McLeod is second in scoring on Mississauga with 50 points (18 goals). On Thursday he McLeod centered a line with left wing Timothy Gettinger (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) and right wing Alexander DeBrincat (Erie, OHL).

McLeod figures to be in high demand at the draft; big, physical centers with blazing speed and even greater upside are rare.

"McLeod is an excellent two-way forward with speed, quickness and smarts," Marr said. "He plays with determination and drive and he's very hard to check, and is very effective generating chances on the rush or on the forecheck. He's also capable and consistent in all situations."

4. Top-line magic: The trio of Laberge centering Kopacka and Dubois had great chemistry all night long.

"Me and [Dubois] played together at the [Hockey Canada] under-16, under-17, and under-18 camp so we had a good chemistry out there; it went well [Thursday]," Laberge said.

The line combined for three goals and six points for Team Orr.

Dubois gave his team a 3-2 lead at 11:35 of the third period when he scored off a 2-on-1 with Laberge. The goal came 11 seconds after Team Cherry's Brown had tied the game 2-2 with a shot from the right circle past Wells.

5. Hometown hero: Vancouver (WHL) left wing Ty Ronning, son of former NHL player Cliff Ronning, gave the local fans something to cheer about 3:09 into the game when he gave Team Cherry a 1-0 lead on a quick snap shot from the slot past Hart.

"It was a pretty special night for sure," Ronning said. "I really wanted to just do the best I could and have some sort of an impact."

Ronning, No. 82 on Central Scouting's midterm list, was an injury replacement for Vancouver teammate Tyler Benson, who had to miss the game because of a lower-body injury. His father played five of his 17 NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.

"[Benson] is such a good friend and good captain of the Giants," Ronning said. "It's difficult because I wish I could have been here with him. But things didn't work out that way and I was given an opportunity to be here. I know he's happy for me. I just didn't want to let him down.

"I was excited to be here and hear our rowdy fans; it was a lot of fun."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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