Calgary Hitmen teammates Ben Thomas and Jake Virtanen can expect the loudest ovation when introduced to the hometown faithful on Jan. 15 during the 19th annual BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.
CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Rosters
Team Orr (Coach Jim Peplinski)
Goalies: Ty Edmonds, Prince George Cougars, WHL; Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth Whalers, OHL.
Defense: Roland McKeown, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL; Alexis Vanier, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL; Haydn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels, WHL; Anthony DeAngelo, Sarnia Sting, OHL; Aaron Irving, Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL; Nelson Nogier, Saskatoon Blades, WHL.
Forwards: Chase De Leo, Portland Winterhawks, WHL; Robert Fabbri, Guelph Storm, OHL; Nick Ritchie, Peterborough Petes, OHL; Matt Mistele, Plymouth Whalers, OHL; Sam Reinhart, Koontenay Ice, WHL; Nikita Scherbak, Saskatoon Blades, WHL; Daniel Audette, Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL; Ivan Barbashev, Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL; Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa Generals, OHL; Ryan MacInnis, Kitchener Rangers, OHL; Nikolay Goldobin, Sarnia Sting, OHL; Conner Bleackley, Red Deer Rebels, WHL.
Team Cherry (Coach Lanny McDonald)
Goalies: Mason McDonald, Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL; Julio Billia, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL.
Defense: Alex Peters, Plymouth Whalers, OHL; Brycen Martin, Swift Current Broncos, WHL; Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts, OHL; Julius Honka, Swift Current Broncos, WHL; Ben Thomas, Calgary Hitmen, WHL; Aaron Haydon, Niagara IceDogs, OHL.
Forwards: Eric Cornel, Peterborough Petes, OHL; Brendan Perlini, Niagara IceDogs, OHL; Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen, WHL; Jared McCann, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL; Brendan Lemieux, Barrie Colts, OHL; Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL; Clark Bishop, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL; Josh Ho-Sang, Windsor Spitfires, OHL; Blake Clarke, North Bay Battalion, OHL; Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL; Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL; Spencer Watson, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL.
The Top Prospects Game will showcase the Canadian Hockey League's top 40 NHL draft-eligible players featuring talent from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The rosters for Team Orr and Team Cherry were released by the CHL on Friday.
Virtanen, a 6-foot-0.75, 208-pound right wing, was given an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's December players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft. He is one of 26 players invited to the game tagged with an A rating, or a potential first-round candidate for the draft. There are also 11 B-rated players or potential second- or third-round candidates, and three C-rated prospects.
Thomas, a 6-1.25, 192-pound defenseman, is a B-rated player. Virtanen and Thomas will play for Team Orr, which will be coached by Lanny McDonald. The WHL's Hitmen have had the most players compete in the history of the event with 24.
"This is an event that all NHL scouts look forward to attending," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "The 40 players competing in this game were chosen by the 30 NHL clubs with the game being a unique opportunity to evaluate 40 of the top draft-eligible prospects on a single stage in what has annually become an intense competition."
The rosters include many of the best players recognized by Central Scouting for the top levels of North American junior hockey. Those players include a trio of A-rated standouts from the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs: defenseman Roland McKeown of Team Cherry and forwards Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson of Team Orr.
Kootenay Ice center and A-rated prospect Sam Reinhart, projected by many to be the first player off the draft board in June, will play for Team Cherry and coach Jim Peplinski. Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, an A-rated prospect from the OHL playing for Team Orr, might be the first blueliner chosen.
Also invited from the QMJHL are A-rated forwards Nikolaj Ehlers of the Halifax Mooseheads and Ivan Barbashev of the Moncton Wildcats. The only A-rated goalie of the four invited is Alex Nedeljkovic of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
Last year's game featured 19 players who were ultimately drafted in the first round, including top-10 selections Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay Lightning), Seth Jones (Nashville Predators), Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames), Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers) and Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks).
Since the event was first introduced in 1996, the game has featured 11 players chosen with the first pick in the NHL Draft, including Chris Phillips (Ottawa Senators), Joe Thornton (Boston Bruins), Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning), Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets), Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), John Tavares (New York Islanders), Taylor Hall (Oilers), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers) and MacKinnon (Avalanche).
The first choice of the 2012 draft, Nail Yakupov of the OHL's Sarnia Sting, did not participate in the Prospects Game after suffering an ankle injury at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship playing for the Russian National Junior Team.