BUFFALO -- If there's one person involved in the CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game who gets what it's like to be an American player, it's Ed Olczyk.
Olczyk will be behind the bench at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network) for the annual showdown between two sides of the best prospects in the United States, and as a former member of the United States Olympic team, seeing the number of top young stars is encouraging.
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"It speaks to where USA Hockey has come, really in a short period of time when you look at the big picture. The size aspect of it is amazing," Olczyk said. "Just being out on the ice with them for 30 minutes kind of puts it all in perspective, because when you watch them through the glass or watch them from the press box or in the stands as a hockey parent -- you understand, because, I mean, I lived it -- but once you're out there with them up close in a practice or like looking forward to tonight, you get a true appreciation for the talent level and the want to, and that's something that really separates a lot of these kids."
Highlighting Team Olczyk's lineup are forwards Paul Bittner, Tom Novak, and Colin White as well as defenseman Noah Hanifin. With that level of skill there will be pressure to perform on such a big stage in front of not only a lot of fans but scouts as well.
"It's like anything else, you can tell kids a lot of things and they're going to get caught up in it," Olczyk said. "I think most importantly for Team Olczyk is that we're going to tell our guys, 'Look, don't try to be overly pretty; don't try to do too much. If you think it's right, do it.' You'll see guys try to make some plays that probably they shouldn't, but it's hard not to get caught up in the surroundings and being in a place like Buffalo."
Hanifin and White are set to attend Boston College this season and will face off against Jack Eichel, who will be playing for Mike Grier's team Thursday and is set to attend rival Boston University.
"He's a great kid," White said of Eichel. "I'm friends with him, but I'm definitely looking forward to playing against him. We'll see what happens."
With Eichel on the other side of the ice and regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2015 NHL Draft class, he figures to put a lot of pressure on Team Olczyk's defense.
"We're here to allow them to play the way that they can to their strengths," Olczyk said. "Now there's a certain point where you just can't be a riverboat gambler. I'm not expecting us to get down a couple of goals, but if we happen to we'll call the dogs on and we'll pressure up."
As for how the players are looking to play the game, there was a common theme.
"Just play my game and do the things they like to see in me and do them out here like I do in Portland," said Bittner, who plays for the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks. "Just stick to my game and hopefully good things will happen."
With Olczyk set to let the players do their thing, the only issue he’ll have is making sure everyone gets enough ice time.
"Everybody's going to play and everybody's going to play in every role and I'm sure a lot of these guys aren't used to not getting on the power play," Olczyk said. "But hey, if line three is up and the power play's going, they're staying and line four is going to go and then maybe line two never gets a sniff. That's just the way it needs to be in a situation like this."
Here are the lines Team Olczyk ran with in practice and may go with against Team Grier:
Brendan Warren - Colin White - Christian Fischer
Paul Bittner - Tom Novak - Brock Boeser
Erik Foley - Tanner Laczynski - Dennis Yan
Chase Pearson - Troy Terry - Robby Jackson
Grant Gabriele - Joseph Cecconi
Noah Hanifin - Nick Boka
Steven Ruggiero - Jack McNeely