When the initial 40 invitations were sent out for the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Shane Prince
found an empty mailbox.
However, being No. 41 never felt so good for the Ottawa 67s forward. Prince was an injury replacement for Gabriel Landeskog
, and used his opportunity to score the only goal for Team Cherry in Wednesday's game, a 7-1 victory for Team Orr.
"It's a good feeling to get a goal in a game like this," said Prince. "I think I kept things simple and kept to my game and it worked out in the end."
Not only did Prince get to play, he skated on Team Cherry's top line, alongside Sean Couturier
, a contender for the top pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, and Tomas Jurco
, ranked No. 24 by NHL Central Scouting in its mid-term evaluation of North American skaters.
Prince is No. 35 on that list, but after performances like the one he turned in Wednesday, as well as his outstanding start to the season, his standing could rise as the 2010-11 season goes on.
"I think he's a pretty good player," said Couturier. "He sees the ice pretty well. He found me a couple times in the slot and we just couldn't bury it."
Creating scoring chances is something Prince has done a ton of this season. Prince leads the Ontario Hockey League with 55 assists, and he's second in scoring with 76 points, right behind his linemate, Tyler Toffoli
"We were disappointed when he didn't make the team and we were elated when he was added," Ottawa GM and Team Cherry assistant coach Brian Kilrea
told NHL.com. "That meant he was that close. I'm glad for him because he's come in this year and worked hard. He's made the difference with (Ryan) Martindale and Toffoli. He's got great speed. He distributes the puck to everyone."
It's been a rocket-like ascent for Prince, who had just 15 goals and 30 points all of last season, which he split between the Kitchener Rangers and 67s.
"I'm always trying to work hard on my speed and the strength in my legs," Prince, a native of Rochester, N.Y., told NHL.com. "I definitely worked hard over the summer at that with my trainer back home and I think that's carried over into the season as far as my speed goes."
More than anything he did over the summer, however, Prince credits the opportunity he's gotten in Ottawa that he wasn't getting on a stacked Kitchener team for his success this season.
"I think it has a lot to do with the opportunity," said Prince. "I've been looking for an opportunity like this for a couple years now. I've definitely worked hard for it. It's a great experience to finally get this opportunity that I can finally show what I'm capable of and what I can bring to the table. It's a great feeling."
Kilrea, who orchestrated the deal last season that brought Prince to Ottawa, said he saw Prince turn the corner at training camp this summer.
"I think he's utilizing his speed, he's passing the puck," said Kilrea, "but he's also more confident. That started at camp when he realized he was as good as anybody on the team. He had the chance to prove it, got to the No. 1 line. In junior hockey you're on one line one day and another line the next, but he's stayed there and he's made the difference. With his speed, he was carrying the puck in a lot and making the plays to Martindale and Toffoli and that's why they appreciate him so much."
Playing with a pair of high 2010 NHL draft picks -- Toffoli was a second-round pick of the Kings, Martindale was a third-round pick of the Oilers -- can be fun, but also a lot of work. Kilrea said Prince has risen to the challenge.
"It was a challenge, but there was no doubt he accepted the challenge," said Kilrea. "I think it was his natural ability that's made the difference in that line."
Now Prince hopes to keep his fast rise going, thanks in part to his performance Wednesday -- whether he was on the original guest list or not.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with all these players in a game like this," said Prince. "A lot of us will move on to NHL, and it's a great experience you'll never forget."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org