Five things to watch at CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

Wednesday, 01.27.2016 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- The top seven skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2016 NHL Draft will be among the 40 players taking part in the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Thursday at Pacific Coliseum (9 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports).

Topping that list is Matthew Tkachuk, Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound left wing in his first season with London of the Ontario Hockey League, Tkachuk is fourth in the OHL with 70 points in 37 games. He also tied for the United States lead with 11 points to help the U.S. win the bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The six players ranked behind Tkachuk on Central Scouting's midterm list also will be in the game: Sarnia (OHL) defenseman Jakob Chychrun; Mississauga (OHL) left wing Alexander Nylander; Val-d'Or (QMJHL) right wing Julien Gauthier; London defenseman Olli Juolevi; Mississauga center Michael McLeod; and Cape Breton (QMJHL) left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois.

In all eight of the top 10 and 20 of the top 30 in Central Scouting's midterm North American skater ranking will be in the game.

Coaching the teams will be Hockey Hall of Fame member Bobby Orr and Don Cherry, host of "Coach's Corner" on CBC. It will be the 13th time they have coached against each other in the game.

"I've coached a lot of exceptional kids in this game from Nathan MacKinnon (2013) to Sam Reinhart (2014), and the one thing you can't do is favor certain guys," Cherry said. "When you start doing that someone else gets short-changed and that's not what this is about. You just let them go and play."

The game will include 20 prospects from the OHL, 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.

Here are five questions to consider before puck drops on the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game:

1. Is the pressure on Tkachuk to impress as the highest-ranked player in the game?

Tkachuk has had a marvelous season so far and earned the top spot among North American skaters. Scouts won't think any less of him if he does not have a superstar-type performance at the Top Prospects Game. However, he did have one goal and three points in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in September.

"I'm really looking forward to the top prospects game," Tkachuk said. "I've watched the game the past two years, so it was with Aaron Ekblad in 2014 and Connor McDavid in 2015. It's an intense game but also a little bit of showcasing yourself. It's a head-on collision with the other OHL, WHL and QMJHL players and we're all out to prove ourselves. I personally want to showcase myself there and I want to lead my team to victory and everyone looks better if you're a winner."

Tkachuk will captain Team Bobby Orr.

2. Which goaltender can boost their draft stock with a solid performance?

The goalie with the most upside might be Carter Hart (6-foot, 177) of Everett in the WHL; he's No. 1 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American goaltenders. Hart leads the WHL in wins (27), minutes played (2,548) and shutouts (six), and is second in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.929).

Hart will play for Team Orr.

"He's excellent in the butterfly coverage and seals the ice well with his pads," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He keeps his body upright to protect the upper corners, has a good glove hand and very good rebound control. He's got very good technique and crease management."

The other goaltenders looking to impress are No. 2-ranked Evan Fitzpatrick of Sherbrooke (QMJHL) and No. 3 Zachary Sawchenko of Moose Jaw (WHL), who will play for Team Cherry, and No. 4 Dylan Wells of Peterborough (OHL), who will play for Team Orr.

3. Who could be the surprise player at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game?

There's a lot to like about center Logan Brown of Windsor (OHL). He's a big (6-6, 222), playmaking forward with size, deceptive speed and is solid in the faceoff circle. Brown, who will play for Team Cherry, also starred in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in September.

The native of Chesterfield, Mo., has eight goals, 43 points and a plus-20 rating in 38 games. He already has equaled his point total as an OHL rookie last season. Brown is No. 14 on Central Scouting's midterm rankings. Scouts have compared his style of play to San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton.

4. Which players would benefit most with an impressive showing?

It would have to be right wing Ty Ronning of Vancouver (WHL) and center Noah Gregor of Moose Jaw (WHL) for Team Cherry.

Ronning (5-9, 165), the son of retired NHL player Cliff Ronning, is No. 82 in the midterm ranking of North American skaters. He is the lowest-ranked player participating in the game and received his invitation after an injury to Vancouver teammate Tyler Benson. Ronning has 26 goals and 41 points in 45 games; now he'll get the chance in a comfortable setting to showcase his skills for NHL scouts.

Gregor (5-11, 180) is No. 75 on Central Scouting's North American list. He has 20 goals and 43 points in 48 games.

"Ronning is smart with good hands; willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals and has a high compete level," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "Gregor is a solid two-way center, excellent on the penalty kill and a hard worker for linemates."

5. Are the high expectations on Mississauga defenseman Sean Day warranted?

It's been three years since Day was granted exceptional-player status and allowed to enter the OHL as a 15-year-old in 2013. Now a 6-3, 230-pound defenseman, he wants his play on the ice to be what people most know about him.

Day followed John Tavares (2005), Ekblad (2011) and McDavid (2012) as players granted exceptional-player status by Hockey Canada, and he's constantly been compared to them because of it. But the reality is he doesn't resemble any of those players. Day is a powerful, smooth skater, and the odds of him performing well in the on- and off-ice testing Wednesday are very good.

Day, who will play for Team Cherry, has three goals and 14 points in his third OHL season. He is No. 43 on Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters; a projected second-round choice.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL



GOALTENDERS: Evan Fitzpatrick, Sherbrooke (QMJHL); Zach Sawchenko, Moose Jaw (WHL)

DEFENSEMEN: Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia (OHL); Kale Clague, Brandon (WHL); Sean Day, Mississauga (OHL); Samuel Girard, Shawinigan (QMJHL); Lucas Johansen, Kelowna (WHL); Markus Niemelainen, Saginaw (OHL)

FORWARDS: Vitaly Abramov, Gatineau (QMJHL); Tyler Benson*, Vancouver (WHL); Logan Brown, Windsor (OHL); Alexander DeBrincat, Erie (OHL); Dillon Dube, Kelowna (WHL); Julien Gauthier, Val-d'Or (QMJHL); Tim Gettinger, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); Noah Gregor, Moose Jaw (WHL); Max Jones, London (OHL); Jordan Kyrou, Sarnia (OHL); Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL); Ty Ronning, Vancouver (WHL); Sam Steel, Regina (WHL)


GOALTENDERS: Carter Hart, Everett (WHL); Dylan Wells, Peterborough (OHL)

DEFENSEMEN: Jake Bean, Calgary (WHL); Luke Green, Saint John (QMJHL); Libor Hajek, Saskatoon (WHL); Olli Juolevi, London (OHL); Mikhail Sergachev, Windsor (OHL); Logan Stanley, Windsor (OHL)

FORWARDS: Nathan Bastian, Mississauga (OHL); Will Bitten, Flint (OHL); Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton (QMJHL); Brett Howden, Moose Jaw (WHL); Boris Katchouk, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); Jack Kopacka, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); Pascal Laberge, Victoriaville (QMJHL); Alexander Nylander, Mississauga (OHL); Taylor Raddysh, Erie (OHL); Otto Somppi, Halifax (QMJHL); Simon Stransky, Prince Albert (WHL); Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL)

*- injured and unable to participate.

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