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Top Prospects Game features future NHL players

by Adam Kimelman
Until recently, General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ont., was the best place to go to see the top prospect for the 2009 Entry Draft.

On Jan. 13-14, it will be the place to go to see all the top players available for the NHL selection process.

John Tavares might not play his home games in Oshawa any more, but he'll be back as one of 40 of the best players available for the 2009 draft from the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League -- the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- on hand for the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game.

The event, held annually since 1996, pits the best of the best head-to-head on the ice, and also features a skills competition, including fastest skater and hardest shot contests.

According to NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, the Top Prospects Game is the best available measure to settle what he called "apples and oranges arguments."

"Wouldn't it be nice if we brought together all these (players) and had them play head to head?" said McGuire. "There's 60-some teams across Canada; let's bring the best guys there, and that's how this was born."

All 30 NHL teams submit a list of players they would like to see, and NHL Central Scouting coordinates the event, including making the rosters for the game.

"We send a ballot (to the teams)," McGuire said. "Give us the four goalies you want to see, the 12 defensemen you want to see and the 24 forwards you want to see in a head-to-head competition. We tabulate the votes and announce it."

This year, one team will be coached by Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and will feature Tavares, the projected No. 1 choice for the draft who recently was traded by Oshawa to the London Knights. Among those joining him on Team Orr will be Windsor Spitfires defenseman Ryan Ellis and hometown favorite Calvin de Haan, an Oshawa Generals defenseman.

Famed broadcaster Don Cherry will lead the other team. Among the prospects on Team Cherry are Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene, Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked North American skater; top QMJHL defensemen Simon Despres of the Saint John Sea Dogs and Dmitry Kulikov of the Drummondville Voltigeurs; and Edward Pasquale of the OHL's Saginaw Spirit, the top-rated North American goalie.

The skills contest will be held Jan. 13, and the game will be Jan. 14 (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-U.S., Rogers Sportsnet, RDS).

While the Top Prospects Game will be an all star-type contest, it will be the opposite end of the spectrum from most all-star games. There will be lots of hitting as each player tries to showcase his skills and toughness in front of future employers, and the intensity of the game will reach playoff-level heights.

"Steven Stamkos at the end of the last game fought," said McGuire of a late-game scrap between Stamkos, the first pick of the 2008 draft, and Yann Sauve. "It was a genuine fight, not a staged thing. … It's that kind of hard-hitting, intense game.

"It's not your father's all-star game."

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