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Top prospect skills and thrills

by Mike G. Morreale /
As you might expect, the hot topic during the morning practice at Air Canada Centre and the afternoon interview sessions at the Westin Harbour Castle was on Tuesday night's Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition.
Between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer, Sven Baertschi of Portland and Tomas Jurco of Saint John, the Showdown Breakaway Challenge was something to behold.
There were headers, one-handed shots, and lacrosse-style whips into the cage.
Jurco won the event with his dazzling lacrosse-style scoop from between the circles that was followed by some twisting and twirling of the puck before unleashing a wicked backhand off a spin-o-rama. Nugent-Hopkins skated down the middle of the ice while maintaining control of the puck with a left-footed toe drag. At the last second, he'd do a 180 turn, kick the puck to his backhand and deposit a shot.
Then there was Baertschi, who offered a soccer-style header of the puck that was turned away by the opposing goalie and a one-handed, through-the-legs scorcher that found the back of the twine.
Baertschi was asked if he contacted Winterhawks teammate and fellow Switzerland native Nino Niederreiter for some breakaway advice prior to taking his two shots.
"I called him and texted him and gave him my ideas and he thought they were great," Baertschi said. "He told me to try them. But the player who went before me (Nugent-Hopkins) did exactly my move when he put the puck in his hands and went between his legs. So, I had to find a new move in two minutes and the (one-handed rocket from between the legs) is what I came up with."
Gee, wonder what Baertschi would have though up with an extra five minutes to spare?
"I might have to practice that and maybe next week it'll be on YouTube," Jurco said.
Matthew Puempel, who won the shooting accuracy event after knocking out four targets in five tries, is certainly looking to impress those scouts and general managers in attendance this week at the Top Prospects event. Puempel, who was named the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year in 2009-10 after scoring 33 goals, enters the second half of the season ranked No. 29 according to NHL Central Scouting.
"I found out Monday morning I would be in the shooting accuracy event," Puempel said. "So it wasn't too much practice time involved, but once I got the first shot away, and I was pretty nervous to start, it went pretty good. You just put everything else out of your mind and just concentrate on hitting the next three. I was close to hit the bar on the second one or else maybe I could have gone 4-for-4."
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