GUELPH, Ontario -- Forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina, the two top players in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of North American skaters eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, are among 40 blue chip prospects scheduled to participate in the 2018 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Sleeman Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports).
The game will feature seven of the top 10 players in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters, and 15 of the top 31 for the 2018 draft, which will be held June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Svechnikov, a 6-foot-2, 186-pound right wing in his first season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, is No. 1 in Central Scouting's midterm rankings. He has 32 points (19 goals, 13 assists) in 24 games. Zadina (6-0, 196), in his first season with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, ranks seventh in the league with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games.
Five other North American prospects will play in the game among the top 10 in Central Scouting's midterm rankings: defenseman Evan Bouchard (No. 5) of London (OHL); center Barrett Hayton (No. 6) of Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); defenseman Noah Dobson (No. 8) of Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL); right wing Serron Noel (No. 9) of Oshawa (OHL); center Akil Thomas (No. 10) of Niagara (OHL).
The game will include 18 OHL players, 16 QMJHL players and six from the Western Hockey League.
Here are five questions to consider entering the 2018 Top Prospects Game:
1. Is the pressure on Svechnikov to impress as the No. 1-ranked player?
Svechnikov has played well for Barrie since missing 17 games because of a hand injury on Oct. 14. Scouts won't think any less of him if he doesn't have a superstar-type performance in the game, although he could use the event as a springboard for a strong second-half push to maintain the top ranking in April. The left-handed right wing had five points, all assists, and four shots on goal in a playmaking role with limited ice time in five games for Russia at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
2. Which goaltender can open some eyes with a solid performance?
The four top goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings for North American goalies will participate in the game. Halifax goalie Alexis Gravel is No. 1, followed by No. 2 Olivier Rodrigue of Drummondville (QMJHL), No. 3 Jacob Ingham of Mississauga (OHL), and No. 4 Kevin Mandolese of Cape Breton (QMJHL).
Mandolese (6-3, 181), who will play for Team Orr, has the best chance of boosting his stock since he is the lowest-rated goalie of the four. He is 8-8-2 with a 3.61 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 23 games for Cape Breton.
3. Who could surprise in the Top Prospects Game?
Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Rasmus Sandin (5-11, 183), No. 15 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings, or Rimouski left wing Dmitri Zavgorodny (5-8, 175), ranked No. 54, are good candidates. Sandin will play for Team Cherry; Zavgorodny for Team Orr.
Sandin has exceptional hockey sense, is elusive and mobile all over the ice. The native of Uppsala, Sweden, has 28 points (five goals, 23 assists), a plus-24 rating and 49 shots on goal in 32 games in his first season in North America. The smaller ice surface has benefitted Zavgorodny, selected No. 8 in the 2017 CHL import draft. The native of Omsk, Russia, a great competitor and solid on his skates, has 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) and 93 shots on goal in 41 games.
4. Could any prospects boost their draft stock?
Sudbury right wing Kirill Nizhnikov (6-2, 190) hopes to change a few minds with a solid showing for Team Orr as the lowest-rated prospect participating in the game at No. 161 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters.
The native of Moscow, Russia, has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 42 games. He was traded by Barrie to Sudbury for four future OHL draft picks on Dec. 7, and has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 17 games since.
Saskatoon center Eric Florchuk (6-1, 174), No. 93 in Central Scouting's midterm list of North Americans, has 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 48 games this season, including seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games since being traded by Victoria to Saskatoon for three future WHL draft picks on Jan. 10. He'll play for Team Cherry.
5. Is more expected of Drummondville center Joseph Veleno?
Veleno is the first player from the QMJHL to be granted exceptional player status, and was drafted No. 1 by Saint John in the 2015 QMJHL draft as a 15-year-old. He had 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) and a minus-10 rating in 31 games with Saint John this season before being traded to Drummondville on Dec. 19. He has 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) and a plus-4 rating in 10 games since. The Top Prospects Game is a good spot for Veleno to showcase his speed in creating good offensive opportunities for Team Cherry. If Veleno, No. 13 in Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, can kick it into high gear with Drummondville over the second half of the season, it's possible he is selected among the top 10 in the first round of the 2018 draft.
2018 CHL/NHL TOP PROSPECTS ROSTERS
TEAM BOBBY ORR
Coach: Eric Lindros
GOALTENDERS: Alexis Gravel, Halifax (QMJHL); Kevin Mandolese, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
DEFENSEMEN: Calen Addison, Lethbridge (WHL); Kevin Bahl, Ottawa, (OHL); Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL); Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL); Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL); Xavier Bernard, Drummondville (QMJHL); *Jett Woo, Moose Jaw (WHL)
FORWARDS: Luka Burzan, Moose Jaw (WHL); Cole Fonstad, Prince Albert (WHL); Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL); Anderson MacDonald, Moncton (QMJHL); Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL); Allan McShane, Oshawa (OHL); Kirill Nizhnikov, Sudbury (OHL); Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL); Riley Sutter, Everett (WHL); Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL); Dmitry Zavgorodniy, Rimouski (QMJHL); Liam Foundy, London (OHL); *Milos Roman, Vancouver (WHL)
TEAM DON CHERRY
Coach: Don Cherry
GOALTENDERS: Jacob Ingham, Mississauga (OHL); Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)
DEFENSEMEN: Giovanni Vallati, Kitchener (OHL); Evan Bouchard, London (OHL); Xavier Bouchard, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL); Nico Gross, Oshawa (OHL); Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL); Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); #Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)
FORWARDS: Aidan Dudas, Owen Sound (OHL); Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL); Eric Florchuk, Victoria (WHL); Gabriel Fortier, Baie-Comeau, (QMJHL); Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL); Cameron Hillis, Guelph (OHL); Vladislav Kotkov, Chicoutimi (QMJHL); Philipp Kurashev, Quebec (QMJHL); Egor Sokolov, Cape Breton (QMJHL); Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL); Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL); Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL); *Kody Clark, Ottawa (OHL)
*-Invited but unable to play due to injury
#-Invited but unable to play for personal reasons