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Injuries force changes at Top Prospects game

by Mike G. Morreale /
KELOWNA, B.C. -- The injury bug certainly reaped havoc on the rosters for the 17th CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game, which is slated for Wednesday at Prospera Place.
In fact, seven players had to be replaced for the game (10 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) due to injury and an eighth -- London Knights defenseman Olli Maatta -- is suffering from the flu. Maatta was recently ranked No. 6 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm release in January.
There were six players among the top 42 rated North Americans unable to go, including No. 1 Nail Yakupov (knee) of the Sarnia Sting, No. 16 Cody Ceci (stiff back) of the Ottawa 67's, No. 17 Slater Koekkoek (shoulder) of the Peterborough Petes, No. 21 Jarrod Maidens (concussion) of the Owen Sound Attack, No. 42 Matia Marcantuoni (shoulder) of the Kitchener Rangers, and the No. 1-rated North American goalie, Malcolm Subban (groin) of the Belleville Bulls.
"It's shocking to see all the guys that are in this draft class getting injured but you can't really play careful …. that's kind of hard to do," the top-rated North American defenseman on the board, Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, told "I had an injury earlier in the year, and a few guys have had major injuries. It's just bad luck."
Chicoutimi Sagueneens left wing Charles Hudon (wrist), ranked No. 96, is also on the shelf. On top of that, two players who most certainly would  have been invited, but weren't due to season-ending knee surgery were center Alex Galchenyuk of Sarnia and defenseman Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
With so many players sidelined by injuries, would there be any major cause for concern for NHL scouts or general managers at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, June 22-23?
"Is there a concern with all the injuries we've been seeing … absolutely," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told "I think the other thing, though, is how much more the teams are paying attention to the health of the player nowadays. The mentality to just play the guys through injury isn't the right thing to do anymore. That might have been the mentality 20 years ago, but not anymore."
While all the scouts would give anything to see those top prospects in action against their peers, the truth of the matter is all of them have already seen those players in question.
"I suppose the number of injuries to potential first-round ranked prospects is unusual, but it's not going to effect the process too much because these kids were viewed a lot last year," Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told "It does make the process a lot more difficult because now you do want to see them in games and this event gives some guys a leg up to see these guys in this environment."
Seeing them this season would have been an added bonus.
"The injuries aren't going to be a stumbling block for these players getting ranked and drafted by other teams," Marr said. "These are players in good condition for their age group, and they have the advantage as being quick healers. The rehabilitation programs are strict and nobody gets rushed back. There are no indicators or red flags on any of these injuries going forward."
While that may be the case for skaters, what about a goalie suffering from a groin injury, as is the case with Subban?
"I don't think it'll effect where he's going to be drafted," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told "Goalies get groin injuries throughout their career. Maybe this will allow him to be aware with the nature of the style he plays. Malcolm plays such an athletic, quick style. He's very flexible, so when I hear groin, it surprised me. He makes unbelievable, athletic saves. I don't believe this will effect where he gets drafted."
There's no question, however, that one player's loss is another's gain. The Canadian Hockey League was able to find more-than-capable substitutes for each of the ailing prospects.
Stepping in for Subban is Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitman. According to Jensen, the 6-foot-2 3/4, 190-pound Driedger has certainly moved up the ranks from where he was only a month ago, which was No. 12 among North American goalies.
"To me, he's improved a lot and now he's going to show he belongs in this group for sure," Jensen told "I know he does belong in this group, and it could only get better for him."
Driedger, who'll play for Team Orr, is currently 15-7-3 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .900 save percentage for the Hitmen.
Also filling in for the injured and ill are defenseman Dalton Thrower of the Saskatoon Blades and forward Branden Troock of the Seattle Thunderbirds for Team Orr. Substitutes for Team Cherry include defensemen Dillon Fournier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Brett Kulak of the Vancouver Giants, and forwards Tim Bozon of the Kamloops Blazers, Mike Winther of the Prince Albert Raiders and Dane Fox of the Erie Otters.

Bozon, in fact, finished second in the showdown breakaway challenge during Tuesday's Top Prospects Skills Competition.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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