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Top 11 players at Traverse City Prospects Tournament

by Mike G. Morreale

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Columbus Blue Jackets became the second team to win a fourth championship in the 17-year history of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament following a 5-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday at Centre Ice Arena.

The Blue Jackets, also champions in 2005, 2006 and 2014, equaled the St. Louis Blues (1999, 2000, 2001, 2004). They received effective play from their top line of Kerby Rychel (2013 NHL Draft, No. 19), TJ Tynan (2011, No. 66) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (2013, No. 89), and solid goaltending from Joonas Korpisalo (2012, No. 62).

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is pleased his organization has many solid prospects waiting in the wings, including Bjorkstrand, Rychel, Sonny Milano (2014, No. 16), Josh Anderson (2012, No. 95), Dillon Heatherington (2013, No. 50) and Zach Werenski (2015, No. 8), who returns to the University of Michigan in 2015-16.

"Drafting well is how we're trying to build this organization; we have depth in this area and you can never have too much depth," Kekalainen said. "There may come a situation where you might be able to package something together and get something, which we did in the Brandon Saad trade [with the Chicago Blackhawks]. Good drafting and developing can help do that."

Bjorkstrand, who will likely begin the season with the Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate in Lake Erie, sees positives and negatives to having a deep prospect pool.

"There's a lot more competition, but when there's more competition you work harder and you want to be the best player on the ice so you have the best opportunity to make the team," Bjorkstrand said.

Bjorkstrand led the Blue Jackets in scoring during the 2014 tournament when he scored four goals and six points in four games. He did it again this year, leading all tournament scorers with four goals and eight points in four games. He was one of more exciting players to watch during the five-day event.

Here's a look at's top 11 players from this year's tournament (listed alphabetically):

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets: The 6-foot, 170-pound wing provided plenty of energy on every shift, and even when it appeared he would be checked off the puck he was in hot pursuit to regain possession. The native of Denmark earned Western Hockey League player of the year honors with the Portland Winterhawks in 2014-15 after scoring 63 goals and 118 points in 59 games and led the league with a plus-60 rating. Bjorkstrand, 20, signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Dec. 26, 2014.

Oliver Bjorkstrand of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Haydn Fleury of the Carolina Hurricanes were two standouts at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. (Photo: Getty Images, Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)

"Every year we've had him, his progress has gotten better," Blue Jackets development coach Chris Clark said. "He didn't dominate the WHL, but came awfully close. He's going to take the next step, whether it's the American Hockey League or NHL, and it's a big step. But I see him making that transition quicker than others. It's just a matter of how quick and where we see him after camp."

Robby Fabbri, C, St. Louis Blues: Fabbri (5-11, 170) is quicker than most and relentless on the puck. The 19-year-old had three goals and five points at the tournament for the third-place Blues. A first-round pick (No. 21) in the 2014 draft, Fabbri overcame a shoulder injury he sustained in a preseason game with the Blues prior to the 2014-15 season, and then a high ankle sprain while playing for gold medal-winning Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Toronto.

"He was our best player [in Traverse City] last year and had a great training camp," said St. Louis prospects coach John Anderson, coach of their AHL affiliate in Chicago. "You certainly notice him every time he's out there. He came to Chicago (for three games) and played very well. He played games in the playoffs, so we have total confidence in him. The injuries didn't seem to bother him at any point."

Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes: Fleury, 19, got stronger as the tournament progressed and led defensemen in scoring in with six points (all assists) and a plus-5 rating in four games for fourth-place Carolina. A 2014 first-round pick (No. 7) in the draft, the odds are Fleury (6-3, 207) will be returned to Red Deer in the Western Hockey League.

"He's a more confident player now than when we drafted him, especially with where he is mentally," Hurricanes director of scouting Tony MacDonald said. "The things he does well, he'll learn to be more consistent at, and he has to have a little more sense of urgency in his game. But we think he's progressing very well and he should be in a position to push some people for a job [in Carolina]."

Ryan Hartman, F, Chicago Blackhawks: Hartman (5-11, 191) added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and appears faster and feistier. Hartman, who turns 21 on Sept. 20 and was a first-round pick (No. 30) in the 2013 draft, served as captain for seventh-place Chicago. Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said Hartman is the type of player who can play any style of game, and he does so with such ferocity and determination, he's tough to ignore; some have even said he is a clone of Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw. He had 13 goals, 24 assists and 120 penalty minutes in 69 games for Rockford in the AHL last season.

"Consistency is a big thing at this level; if you're not playing good one or two nights in a row you're probably not going to play the next," Hartman said. "As the season went on, I improved in that and my goal was to get bigger this summer and I did, so coming to camp I feel faster and stronger."

Julius Honka, D, Dallas Stars: The Finnish defenseman appeared a lot more confident and polished in his return to Traverse City. Not only was he in command at the point, but he also had a few big hits to the surprise of the opposition. Honka, 19, had an added edge to his game this year after spending 2014-15 in the AHL with Texas, where he had eight goals and 23 assists in 68 games. Honka (5-11, 185) had one goal, two assists and a plus-4 rating in four games for fifth-place Dallas.

"He's a highly skilled guy and everything we hoped for when we picked him (No. 14 in the 2014 draft)," Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. "He has a ways to go, but he can run power plays, has a tremendous shot from the point and loves to shoot the puck. Playing one year in the AHL really helped him."

Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings: If he wasn't setting up teammates, Larkin (6-1, 190) was winning a faceoff, working the power play or killing penalties. The 2014 first-round pick (No. 15), who signed a three-year, entry-level contract on May 21, had one goal, five points and a plus-4 rating in four games for the second-place Red Wings. The 19-year-old played between left wing Andreas Athanasiou and right wing Anthony Mantha and was calm and collected.

"Teams don't come here just for the experience or for fun; it's a competitive tournament and everyone is being evaluated by their respective clubs and want to win," Larkin said. "You have to have a good showing. I feel we were right there to answer the bell every time, so that's the sign of a good team."

Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues: It's rare to find a 6-5, 218-pound right-shot defenseman in any league these days, but the Blues uncovered the St. Albert, Alberta, native in the third round (No. 86) of the 2012 draft. As captain for the Blues prospects, Parayko had two goals, two assists and 15 shots on goal. The 22-year-old has spent the past three seasons with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and had 17 goals and 49 assists in 104 games.

Parayko, who signed a two-year, entry-level contract on March 10, had four goals and three assists in 17 games in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves in 2014-15.

"He's an NHL player," Anderson said. "We got him last year and he fit right in right away. I think he's probably going to stick with St. Louis [this season]. He's big and strong, he carries the puck, shoots the puck very hard and is physical. He's the complete package and also a good person."

Jake Paterson, G, Detroit Red Wings: Paterson (6-1, 183) was a workhorse for the Red Wings, winning three games and playing four times in five days. The 21-year-old finished with a 2.80 goals-against average, .900 save percentage and one shutout. Selected in the third round (No. 80) in the 2012 draft, Paterson allowed 11 goals on 110 shots. Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard said Paterson is probably fifth on their depth chart.

"I feel playing another year of junior hockey [with Kitchener in the OHL] really helped him in the maturing process," Bedard said. "We figured it would be good for him to play in a lot of games for the Saginaw Spirit (24 games), and then Kitchener (26 games) needed some help down the stretch and traded for him and his save percentage was great."

Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota Wild: Reilly, 22, certainly didn't look out of place in his first competitive tournament for the sixth-place Wild. A two-time All-American and finalist for the 2015 Hobey Baker Award at the University of Minnesota, Reilly signed a two-year contract with the Wild on June 26. Selected in the fourth round (No. 98) of the 2011 draft by the Blue Jackets, Reilly (6-2, 187) led his team with five points, all assists.

"The offensive instincts come right out when you watch him," said John Torchetti, coach of the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa. "He's pretty natural at joining the rush, and that's a big plus. Those are things players are afraid to do. Even when getting in on the forecheck on dump-ins. I like his game, and he's calm with the puck on the power play, makes good reads and good selections. He has wheels on breakouts and makes a good first pass.

"It was good for our young kids to see someone like Reilly come and play the game the right way."

Brady Skjei, D, New York Rangers: Skjei (6-3, 211), a first-round pick (No. 28) in the 2012 draft, played two games in the tournament after sustaining an upper-body injury. He appeared poised and refined in his decision-making on defense. As a shutdown defender at the University of Minnesota, he had a goal, nine assists, a plus-7 rating and 29 blocked shots in 33 games as a junior before signing his entry-level contract with the Rangers on April 1. The 21-year-old could challenge for a roster spot out of training camp, but the likely scenario has him spending a full season learning the professional game with Hartford in the AHL. Skjei played eight games in Hartford under coach Ken Gernander in 2014-15.

"When you watch him play, the most noticeable thing is the way he skates and can get up in the play, so we're looking forward to getting to work with him," Gernander said.

Sergey Tolchinksy, RW, Carolina Hurricanes: Tolchinsky (5-8, 170) has always been exciting to watch in Traverse City, and this year was no exception; the 20-year-old had three goals, one assist and a plus-2 rating. After scoring 30 goals and 65 assists in 61 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) in 2014-15, Tolchinsky will likely spend a season with Charlotte in the AHL.

"Sergey can play over that size limitation," MacDonald said. "He's learning to play more give-and-go, which he has to do to succeed at the pro level. You can't try to beat the same guy three times at this level, you can do that in junior. He's such an explosive and dynamic talent with a great shot; he's a quick strike kind of guy."


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