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Best of the best to meet at Top Prospects Game

by Adam Kimelman
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.

The game will be televised by the NHL Network-U.S. at 2 p.m. ET on Jan. 20, and again at 2 p.m. ET on Jan. 22.

Eight of the top 10 players in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American skaters will take part in the game, including Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier and Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Nos. 2 and 3 players on the list.

No. 1-ranked prospect Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers will miss the game due to an ankle injury.

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 (from 2010 Top Prospects Game) 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 won't have the typical relaxed feel of an All-Star game. 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 tapping of shin pads and there will be growling at faceoffs. … It's a showcase in one 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."

Hockey icon Don Cherry will coach Team Cherry, with Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Kilrea assisting him. Doug Gilmour, coach of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, will coach Team Orr. Wendel Clark, Gilmour's teammate with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Brampton Battalion coach Stan Butler will serve as Gilmour's assistants. Bobby Orr, who has coached teams in this event numerous times in the past, is unable to participate this year due to the impending birth of a grandchild.

It's been a busy month for Couturier, who started by totaling 2 goals, 3 points and a plus-6 rating in helping Canada to a silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship.

"I'm really looking forwards to it," Couturier said. "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 third in QMJHL with 39 assists and ninth with 56 points in just 34 games. He has 4 points in two games since returning from the WJC, and is among the favorites to be taken with the first pick of the 2011 Entry Draft.

"He possesses a very good work ethic and he's out there for every important faceoff," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told "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 the captain of Team Cherry, where his teammates will include the Kitchener Rangers' Ryan Murphy, No. 10 on Central Scouting's list and No. 3 among defenseman, and Portland Winterhawks right wing Ty Rattie, Central Scouting's No. 11 skater.

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 major player to watch on Team Orr, as well as that team's captain. The Red Deer Rebels center is tied for the Western Hockey League lead with 40 assists, and is first on his team with 51 points.

"This guy has very good puck-handling capabilities," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told "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."

Among those 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. All four are ranked in Central Scouting's top 45, led by Saad at No. 8 and Jenner at No. 18.

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 who will play in 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 -- Rattie and defensemen Joseph 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, Central Scouting's No. 4 domestic goalie, and Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack, Central Scouting's No. 7. Team Cherry will feature Central Scouting's No. 2 netminder, Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL and No. 8 David Honzik of the Victoriaville Tigres, also of the QMJHL.

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, Saginaw, the OHL's London Knights and the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The 40 players are selected through a survey of the NHL's 30 general managers conducted by NHL Central Scouting.

Contact Adam Kimelman at
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