Yes, the Traverse City Prospects Tournament has given fans and NHL executives a unique opportunity to witness tomorrow's stars today.
In addition to a horde of top draft picks, there are free agents invited to attend the five-day event who view participation as a chance of a lifetime. Others look at the chance to prove their worth to the organization that drafted them.
"We try to keep track the best we can how many players have performed at the tournament and are now playing in the NHL," said Peter Correia, the tournament's organizer. "Those guys in Traverse who then attend training camp are a step ahead -- some didn't even go to the AHL or another team, but straight to the big club. We're at about 170 players that have come through and are playing now in the NHL."
Of course, there are a few who will be closely scrutinized -- those first-round draft choices regarded as the best of the best among the prospects. At this year's tournament, 11 first-round selections will be in action. Here's the lowdown on those first-round choices prepared to hit in Traverse City.
Evander Kane, No. 4, 2009 -- Kane became the highest drafted black player in draft history -- the previous highest pick was Kyle Okposo chosen seventh by the New York Islanders in 2006. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound forward finished first in scoring for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League this past season with 48 goals and 96 points -- the second-highest total in the WHL -- in 61 games. In 2007-08, his first WHL season, he was nominated for Rookie of the Year after scoring 24 goals and 41 points in 65 games. Kane won a gold medal with Team Canada during the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ottawa, recording 6 points in six games. It marked his second international gold medal in six months after winning the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in Slovakia as a member of Canada's Under-18 team.
"We did a lot of research and spent a lot of time with Evander and he was exceptional at the World Junior Championships as an underage player," Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell said. "We kept a close eye on him in Vancouver and were very impressed. We think he's going to be a power forward and, eventually, a first-line player. We're real excited about adding him to our hockey club."
Brandon Sutter, No. 11, 2007 -- Perhaps the most accomplished and experienced of any player participating in the Prospects Tournament this year, Sutter completed his first full professional season with the Hurricanes in 2008-09, notching 6 points in 50 games. The son of Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter joined Carolina after completing his junior hockey career with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League in 2007-08. He scored 68 goals and 154 points in 205 career games with Red Deer while exhibiting great potential at both ends. He also skated for the AHL's Albany River Rats at the end of the 2007-08 regular season, posting 4 goals, 12 points and a plus-2 rating in 22 games.
Zach Boychuk, No. 14, 2008 -- Boychuk played for Team Canada in the 2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic and '09 WJC in Canada, helping lead his country to a fourth and fifth straight gold medal. He was cleared to play during the 2008-09 NHL preseason after
"It was remarkable what he was able to do in joining camp towards the tail end of things and then jump into games, which was basically unheard of," Hurricanes' Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos told Paul Branecky of carolinahurricanes.com. "He's an exciting player, and that's the best way to describe Zach. He's one of those guys that can pick people out of their seats."
Philippe Paradis, No. 27, 2009 -- Considered to be more of a checking-line forward, Paradis is very similar to the fellow Quebec Major Junior Hockey League power-forward Jordan Caron (Rimouski) drafted two slots earlier by Boston with pick No. 25 last June. Paradis offers a physical presence and some scoring touch, possessing a hard shot while making room for himself and his teammates on the ice. He isn't a player to back down from a challenge as evidenced by his 74 penalty minutes with Shawinigan of the QMJHL. He might be a third-line player out of the gate, but is very attentive in his own end. Perhaps most impressive is the fact Paradis played on a veteran team at Shawinigan and despite the lack of quality minutes that he might have gotten on a weaker team, still managed 19 goals and 50 points in 66 games in 2008-09.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
John Moore, No. 21, 2009 -- Moore scored 14 goals and 39 points in 57 games as captain of the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2008-09 and was named the USHL Defenseman of the Year. The Winnetka, Illinois native won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2008 World Junior "A" Challenge and had 2 assists in five games. He scored 18 goals and 54 points in 113 career USHL contests. He'll likely join the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL in the fall.
"John is an outstanding prospect and we look forward to seeing him bring his offensive ability and skill set to Columbus in the not too distant future," said Columbus GM Scott Howson.
Scott Glennie, No. 8, 2009 -- Glennie, who compares his style to Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers, spent the 2008-09 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL and scored 28 goals and 70 points in 55 games. In 12 playoff games, he helped the Wheat Kings reach the WHL Conference Finals finishing with 15 assists and 18 points. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka and also won bronze at the 2008 World Under-17 Challenge as a member of Team West.
"Scott brings a lot of speed and skill," Stars Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Bernhardt told dallasstars.com. "He has very good vision and sees the ice well. He's a right wing, but also a centerman, so we don't know what he'll play down the road. His coach said he will play center next
Ivan Vishnevskiy, No. 27, 2006 -- The Stars have high hopes for the 5-foot-11, 180-pound defenseman, who came to North America from Russia in 2005-06. He played for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL last season, producing 19 points and a minus-5 rating in 67 games while adjusting to a smaller ice surface. He played in Dallas' final three regular-season games, collecting 2 assists. Vishnevskiy had 17 goals and 45 points for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec League in 2007-08 and manned the blue line for the Stars prospects at last year's Traverse City tournament. In all likelihood, Vishnevskiy will start the season with the Stars' new AHL affiliate in Texas.
"A lot of looseness to his game at start of season, but over time he bought in and understood how to contribute," Peoria coach Davis Payne told the Peoria Journal Star. "His defense improved, and offensively he had some big moments. He could be a dynamic player in the making."
DETROIT RED WINGS
Tomas McCollum, No. 30, 2008 -- The 6-foot-2, 205-pound McCollum, who finished with a 1.52 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in three appearances with Detroit during last year's Prospects Tournament, was among the best goalies in the Ontario Hockey League in 2008-09 with a 2.11 GAA, .927 save percentage and seven shutouts with the Guelph Storm and the Brampton Battalion.
"He's come a long way in a short period of time, from walking on in Guelph and not being drafted (into the OHL) to being a first-rounder (in the NHL draft)," Red Wings Director of Amateur Scouting Joe McDonnell told RedWingsCentral. "He's a big guy, he moves well, he's coachable, he works great with (goalie coach) Jim Bedard. The sky's the limit for him."
Tyler Cuma, No. 23, 2008 -- Cuma returns to Traverse City after almost earning a roster spot with the Wild right out of training camp last year. He recorded 9 points and 27 penalty minutes in 21 games for the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League in 2008-09 and participated in Team Canada's World Junior Selection Camp before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in February. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound defenseman, who signed an entry-level contract with the Wild in July, has posted 60 points and 141 penalty minutes in 143 career games in Ottawa. Cuma earned a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 IIHF Under-18 World Championships and was named Ottawa's Rookie of the Year in 2006-07 after posting 19 points in 63 contests.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Mike Del Zotto, No. 20, 2008 -- Del Zotto, a returnee to the Prospects Tournament, skated in 62 games with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights of the OHL in 2008-09, registering 13 goals, 63 points and 78 penalty minutes. The two-time OHL All-Star finished the season ranked sixth among all OHL defensemen in scoring and assists and he also ranked fifth in the league with 32 power-play assists. In the postseason with London, Del Zotto, whose defensive partner was Washington Capitals top defensive prospect John Carlson, led the team with 16 assists and tied for fourth on the Knights with 19 points in 14 games.
"My goal is to make the New York Rangers, and I'm going to do everything it takes to come into camp and be ready and make the coaching staff take me on the team," Del Zotto said.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Alex Pietrangelo, No. 4, 2008 -- Pietrangelo, another repeat performer to Traverse, played 70 games for four teams this past season -- the Blues, their AHL affiliate in Peoria, Niagara of the OHL and Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. There's an outside chance Pietrangelo, the Blues' top prospect entering the 2009-10 season, sticks with the big club. If not, he'll finish his junior eligibility in the OHL with Niagara, where he posted 8 goals and 29 points in 36 games in 2008-09.
"I think everyone can agree it was a pretty crazy year," Pietrangelo said. "It's kind of tough when you're always on the go. But every single team brought something to the table I could learn from, and I feel I did a pretty good job of it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com