BUFFALO -- Matthew Tkachuk had a funny suspicion his coach in the fourth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game would be retired NHL player Jeremy Roenick.
Roenick is a good friend of Matthew's father, Keith Tkachuk, with whom he played five seasons on the Phoenix Coyotes (1996-2001). He'll get the opportunity to coach Matthew in the game Thursday at First Niagara Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN).
"It's pretty wild because I was there when Matthew was born (Dec. 11, 1997) and I watched him grow up," Roenick said. "When I saw his name on the list, I made a couple of phone calls to make sure he was on my team. Keith said that I better play his kid a lot because he needs to be drafted high."
Tkachuk won't need much assistance from Roenick because he is listed as an 'A' rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft. Tkachuk will play for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League this season after a successful two-year stint with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program; he scored 38 goals and 96 points in 65 games with the under-18 team in 2014-15.
Tkachuk highlights a list of 42 of the best American-born players participating in the game.
"I asked Matthew if he had some similarities to dad," Roenick said. "I said I hope you're a better skater than dad and a better stick-handler, but I hope you have the grit and ferocity and the leadership that your dad had."
Team Roenick might have difficulty containing the top line for Team Derek Plante, which consists of USNTDP U-18 members Kieffer Bellows (the son of retired NHL player Brian Bellows) and Clayton Keller, and Erie Otters right wing Alex DeBrincat. Bellows and DeBrincat are also 'A' rated skaters on Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2015-16 season.
Bellows was named the 2015 United States Hockey League rookie of the year after scoring 33 goals and 52 points in 58 regular-season games with the Sioux Falls Stampede. DeBrincat, who skated alongside Connor McDavid, the first selection in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, was named the 2015 Ontario Hockey League rookie of the year.
"They are both really good players; I've played with Keller (at the NTDP) but not with DeBrincat," Bellows said. "But DeBrincat is a very skilled guy. You all saw what he did in the OHL last year. He's a fantastic player but an even better guy off the ice."
DeBrincat, who had 51 goals and 104 points in 68 games to lead all rookies in the OHL last season, is looking forward to the challenge.
"The two players I'm with are exceptional and they obviously play together on their team so hopefully I can build some chemistry with them," DeBrincat said. "I'm just looking to play my game."
Roenick is looking forward to watching the best American-born prospects in front of 150-plus NHL scouts at the game.
"They will play in front of more scouts than they've ever played in front of in their lifetime and for me it's all about seizing the opportunity, seizing moments and getting yourself noticed," Roenick said. "These players are amazing. I didn't see an ab on a hockey player until I was 26-years-old and all these kids are shredded up and built like men, but look like boys.
"These kids are machines and have been bred by USA hockey since they were 8-years-old; it's a treat to watch them skate."
Here are the projected lineups:
Kieffer Bellows - Clayton Keller - Alex DeBrincat
Max Jones - Logan Brown - Willie Knierim
Garrett Wait - Trent Frederic - Tage Thompson
Keenan Suthers - Drake Rymsha - Matt Filipe
Ryan Lindgren - Charlie McAvoy
J.D. Greenway - Mitch Eliot
Derek Daschke - Alex Green
Matthew Tkachuk - Luke Kunin - Joey Anderson
Riley Tufte - Nick Pastujov - Will Lockwood
Tim Gettinger - Mitch Mattson - Graham McPhee
Jack Kopacka - Luke Kirwan - James Sanches
Chad Krys - Adam Fox
Griffin Luce - Andrew Peeke
Michael Campoli - Ben Gleason