USA Hockey and the Buffalo Sabres announced a partnership Tuesday that will see the team and First Niagara Center host the 2014 and 2015 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospect Games.
"We're extremely pleased to be returning to Buffalo, the site of the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game in 2012," executive director of USA Hockey Dave Ogrean said. "The enthusiasm and support for hockey in Western New York will provide a great environment for the future stars of the NHL who will play in this game. It's terrific to be working with the Sabres organization and we appreciate their continued commitment and support of hockey at all levels."
The event, started in 2012, brings together 40 of the best American-born prospects eligible for that season's NHL draft. In the past, players in the game have come from the United States Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League, the NCAA, and high school and prep school teams.
The inaugural game was played in Buffalo in September 2012 and featured defenseman Seth Jones, who went on to be taken by the Nashville Predators with the fourth pick of 2013 NHL Draft. The 2013 game was held at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and among those taking part was Boston College freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko, who is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American goaltenders for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Part of USA Hockey's interest in returning to Buffalo is the strong relationship the organization has had with the Sabres, owner Terry Pegula and the Western New York region. Another reason is the construction of the Harbor Center, a $172 million project that will house two NHL-size ice rinks, a hotel, a restaurant, street-level retail outlets and a parking garage that currently is under construction adjacent to First Niagara Center and is expected to open in October.
"We're really glad to be coming back here," Ogrean said. "And with the Harbor Center development, this is a place we'll be coming back to a lot."
That's just what the Sabres want, as team president Ted Black said his goal is to have "the path to the NHL go straight through Buffalo. To make it to the NHL you're going to make a stop in Buffalo. That day is in our sights.
"Hosting the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game two years ago and now bringing it back to our city is central to our continuing strategy to transform Buffalo into an international hockey destination. We are thrilled to again partner with USA Hockey to provide our terrific fan base with a glimpse at the future stars of the NHL."
Among those expected to take part in the 2014 game is center Jack Eichel, a native of North Chelmsford, Mass., who is expected to be among the top players picked at the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel, 17, has 21 goals and 40 points in 24 games this season with the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team. He also centered the second line for the U.S. at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, finishing with one goal and four assists in five games as the U.S. finished fifth.
Eichel, a 6-foot-2, 193-pound forward, is committed to Boston University starting with the 2014-15 season.
"Jack will probably be the premier kid as far as draft status," USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johansson said. "We're hopeful for him to be next great No. 1 pick in the NHL draft."
In addition, a number of the players that won the championship at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia earlier this month will be part of the 2014 All-American Prospects game. That includes Colin White, who led the tournament in scoring with 18 points in six games; Noah Hanifan, a 6-2, 200-pound defenseman; forward Jeremy Bracco, who had three goals and 11 points in six games and was born in Freeport, N.Y.; and 6-4, 214-pound forward Jordan Greenway from Potsdam, N.Y.
"I can tell you it's going to be a fantastic [2015 draft] class," Johansson said. "They're not projected by Central Scouting yet, but there's going to be a lot of first-round picks at that game."