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Top Prospects Game returns to St. Catharines in 2015

by Mike G. Morreale

The 2015 NHL Draft has the potential to be one of the most memorable in recent years.

Many of those draft-eligible prospects competing in the Canadian Hockey League will be given a chance to showcase their ability at the 2015 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, to be played Jan. 22, 2015 at the new home of the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ontario.

The 20th annual event will include 40 of the top 2015 NHL draft prospects playing in the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"This is an event that all NHL scouts look forward to attending," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "The game is a unique opportunity to evaluate 40 of the top draft-eligible prospects on a single stage in what has annually become an intense competition."

The rosters are expected to be announced in December. Among the top players expected to be taking part in the game is center Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters of the OHL, a potential top-two pick at the 2015 draft. The 17-year-old was fourth in the OHL with 99 points last season and second with 71 assists. He also had one goal and three assists for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship; he was the sixth 16-year-old to play for Canada at the WJC, joining Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and Wayne Gretzky.

"The Canadian Hockey League is excited to bring the Top Prospects Game to the Niagara region showcasing the league's next wave of star NHL talent," CHL president David Branch said in a statement. "Our appreciation is extended to the IceDogs and the city of St. Catharines for all of their efforts towards a beautiful new facility opening this coming season, and to BMO for their event title partnership for the second straight season along with more than 15 straight years of supporting the CHL."

The 2014 Top Prospects Game featured 17 players who were drafted in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, including top-10 picks Aaron Ekblad (No. 1, Florida Panthers), Sam Reinhart (No. 2, Buffalo Sabres), Leon Draisaitl (No. 3, Edmonton Oilers), Michael Dal Colle (No. 5, New York Islanders), Jake Virtanen (No. 6, Vancouver Canucks), Haydn Fleury (No. 7, Carolina Hurricanes), Nikolaj Ehlers (No. 9, Winnipeg Jets) and Nicholas Ritchie (No. 10, Anaheim Ducks). Samuel Bennett, taken No. 4 by the Calgary Flames, was picked for the game but did not play due to injury.

Ekblad captained Team Orr at last year's game to a 4-3 win against a Reinhart-led Team Cherry in front of 11,631 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

Ekblad also was the 12th player since the first game in 1996 to go from the Top Prospects Game to No. 1 pick of the NHL draft, following Chris Phillips (1996, Ottawa Senators), Joe Thornton (1997, Boston Bruins), Vincent Lecavalier (1998, Tampa Bay Lightning), Rick Nash (2002, Columbus Blue Jackets), Marc-Andre Fleury (2003, Pittsburgh Penguins), Patrick Kane (2007, Chicago Blackhawks), Steven Stamkos (2008, Tampa Bay Lightning), John Tavares (2009, New York Islanders), Taylor Hall (2010, Edmonton Oilers), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011, Edmonton Oilers) and Nathan MacKinnon (2012, Colorado Avalanche).

The first choice of the 2012 draft, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, sat out the Prospects Game after sustaining an ankle injury playing for Russia during the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.


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