TORONTO -- With the competition for the top spot at the 2011 Entry Draft as tight as it's been in a number of years, every little advantage could loom large in the eyes of the scouts.
And scouts from all 30 teams had their sights directly focused on the Air Canada Centre ice Wednesday for the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. A number of them were watching the individual battle between two of the main combatants for that No. 1 spot, Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Couturier, who plays for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Drummondville Voltigeurs, is No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American skaters. Nugent-Hopkins, who plays for the Western Hockey League's Red Deer Rebels, is No. 3.
A 6-foot-4, 195-pound center, Couturier won a silver medal with Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship and is tied for sixth in the QMJHL in scoring with 62 points despite playing just 37 games. He's lauded not just for his offensive play, but his smarts and skills in the defensive zone.
Nugent-Hopkins, a 6-foot, 170-pound center, is tied for sixth in the WHL with 56 points in 43 games, and he was one of the final cuts from Team Canada for the WJC. He's considered one of the elite offensive performers in this year's draft class.
Nugent-Hopkins won the battle on the score sheet Wednesday, registering a pair of assists and earning Player of the Game honors as he captained Team Orr to a 7-1 victory against Team Cherry, captained by Couturier. Despite the lopsided margin of victory, Couturier was not on the ice for a goal-against.
"I thought I tried to play a pretty good two-way game and stay as composed as I could," Nugent-Hopkins told reporters.
His coaches for the night also were impressed.
"He's a very skillful player with a bright future," said Team Orr coach Doug Gilmour.
"The heads-up play with the speed, and how he can handle the puck with speed and moving and judge the play and make plays, that's the big thing," added assistant coach Wendel Clark.
Couturier was satisfied with his play.
"I think it went OK," he said. "I tried not to do too much, be too fancy. I tried to keep it simple and it went OK."
Unlike last season, when Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin played on opposing teams in the Ontario Hockey League, it's almost a certainty this will be the only time Nugent-Hopkins and Couturier will be on the same ice together in a game until they reach the NHL. But since the pair rarely was on the ice at the same time, they were able to keep a bit of an eye on each other.
"Maybe a little bit subconsciously, but I was more focused on playing my game as well as I could tonight," said Nugent-Hopkins. "I think since we're around the same ranking we can kind of use each other and help motivate each other like that."
"I think he played pretty good," said Couturier. "He had a couple points on the score sheet. He's a good player."
So did they settle anything as far as staking claim to the No. 1 spot? Considering Gabriel Landeskog, Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked North American skater, was injured and couldn't play, and Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson plays outside the CHL and wasn't invited to the game, the answer likely is no. And with so much of the season left to play, there's a lot of time for someone to move ahead of the pack based more then just on how they perform in one game.
However, scouts couldn't help but enjoy seeing the two of the candidates for that coveted top spot in action.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com