The 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game might be the first time some of these players will skate in an NHL arena, but it certainly won't be the last.
Forty of the best prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft playing in the Canadian Hockey League will take to the ice at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Jan. 18-19 for this year's Top Prospects Game.
Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- NHL Central Scouting's top-rated players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League, respectively, in its preliminary rankings -- top the list of 40 prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft named to this year's game.
The two-day affair features a skills competition and a regulation game, and is a can't-miss event for NHL scouts and GMs.
"This has become a very important event on the hockey calendar for those young players in their (NHL) Draft eligible years," said CHL President David Branch. "Last year 17 players were selected in the first round of the 2010 Entry Draft. It's a great opportunity for these young men to display their talents in front of hundreds of NHL scouts and general managers."
While the game will feature All-Star rosters, it will have a completely different feel. Last year's game featured a pair of fights and numerous hard hits as players are doing anything they can to impress future employers.
"This is not an All-Star game in the friendly sense of the word," said NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire. "There'll be no taping of shin pads and there will be growling at faceoffs. … It's a showcase in once sense, but sometimes the talent the NHL scouts are looking for is intensity and meanness. We've had tempers flare to the point where gloves come off and the hits are hard. They're playing for keeps out there."
Team Cherry will be coached by hockey icon Don Cherry, with Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Kilrea assisting him. Team Orr will be led by Doug Gilmour, coach of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, with Brampton Battalion coach Stan Butler assisting him. Orr, who has coached teams in this event in the past, is unable to participate this year due to the impending birth of a grandchild.
It will be a busy month for Couturier, the Drummondville Voltigeurs center who is a candidate to be taken with the first pick of June's Draft. He also was selected to play for Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship. The gold medal game at the WJC will be played Jan. 5.
"I'm really looking forwards to it," said Couturier. "It's a great opportunity and a great honor. I can't wait to start that game. It's going to be a great opportunity. I'm going to work hard to showcase myself."
A 6-foot-4, 195-pound center, Couturier is fifth in the QMJHL with 52 points in 32 games.
"He possesses a very good work ethic and he's out there for every important faceoff," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told NHL.com. "He's very responsible in the defensive aspect of the game -- a rare quality for such a young player in junior hockey."
Couturier will be a part of Team Cherry along with Landeskog, who will play for Sweden at the WJC. A 6-foot, 207-pound left wing, he blends the physical North American game with the skills of a European scorer. He's tied for third in the OHL with 25 goals, and his 45 points are third on the team.
"He plays the game with so much passion, he plays the game hard, he's a great mentor for players that are younger and older," Kitchener coach Steve Spott told NHL.com. "It's maturity beyond his years. That kid doesn't need one game in the American league next year -- he should step right into the NHL. I think the team that gets him next year is going to get a player that helps them win a Stanley Cup."
Joining Landeskog on Team Cherry will be a pair of Kitchener teammates, forward Tobias Rieder and defenseman Ryan Murphy.
Nugent-Hopkins, a 6-foot, 170-pound center, was one of the final cuts from Team Canada's WJC team but he'll be a player to watch on Team Orr. The Red Deer Rebels center leads the WHL with 35 assists and is first on his team with 45 points.
"This guy has very good puck-handling capabilities," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "His on-ice awareness is very good. He's just one of those guys that knows where everyone is and where they should be and where the puck should go."
Joining Nugent-Hopkins on Team Orr will be a pair of forwards from the OHL's Oshawa Generals -- Boone Jenner and Lucas Lessio -- and two forwards from the OHL's Saginaw Spirit -- Brandon Saad and Vincent Trocheck. Saad was one of the final players cut from Team USA's WJC training camp.
Three of the top-rated defensemen for the 2011 Draft will skate for Team Orr -- Nathan Beaulieu of the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, Dougie Hamilton of the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and David Musil of the WHL's Vancouver Giants.
Beaulieu is one of four Sea Dogs named to the Top Prospects Game. He'll be joined on Team Orr by forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips. Another forward, Tomas Jurco, will skate for Team Cherry.
Three members of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks will skate for Team Cherry -- forward Ty Rattie and defensemen Joe Morrow and Tyler Wotherspoon. Another Portland player, forward Sven Baertschi, will skate for Team Orr.
Team Orr's goalies will be Liam Liston of the Brandon Wheat Kings, the No. 1-rated goalie in the WHL, and Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack, the top-rated goalie in the OHL. Team Cherry will feature Central Scouting's top two rated goalies in the QMJHL -- Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and David Honzik of the Victoriaville Tigres, respectively.
Saint John and Portland each had four players picked, while Oshawa and Kitchener each had three players selected. Five teams had two players picked -- Victoriaville, Niagara, the OHL's London Knights, the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Saginaw.
The 40 players are selected through a survey of the NHL's 30 general managers conducted by NHL Central Scouting.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com