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Eight teams ready for Traverse City tournament

Annual event lets GMs, scouts evaluate top prospects against their peers

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- One week before Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin made his presence felt in his first NHL training camp last season, he was showcasing his speed and ability at the Traverse City prospects tournament.

It provided Larkin with the opportunity to gain an understanding of the professional lifestyle and speed at which the game should be played. That's the type of experience the collection of top prospects this year should gain when the 18th Traverse City tournament is played at Centre Ice Arena from Sept. 16-20.

"The speed in these games isn't too far off from that of an NHL game," Larkin said. "You have guys who are excited and guys wanting to prove something. The speed definitely prepares you for the NHL."

The eight-team tournament, hosted by the Red Wings and held in the same location as their training camp, began in 1998 with four teams; it expanded to eight in 2006. The tournament has become an annual preseason ritual for coaches, general managers and scouts, providing an opportunity to evaluate their prospects against those of other teams.

"I took away a lot from competing in Traverse City," Larkin said. "I felt among all the prospects that I was right there with some of the highly touted ones. I also got a chance to play with some of the Detroit prospects for the first time and build chemistry, and it's a really good tournament to come together, play a bunch of games and have a ton of fun."

Video: NHL Tonight on expectations for Larkin's second year

The Red Wings will compete in the Gordie Howe Division with the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues. The Ted Lindsay Division will feature the Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets won their second straight championship last year, defeating the Red Wings 5-2 in the final.

Columbus and St. Louis each have won four championships in the 17-year history of the tournament. Larkin had one goal, five points and a plus-4 rating in four games for the second-place Red Wings in 2015.

"It's pretty nerve-racking since every amateur scout and every professional scout from your respective team is there watching," Larkin said. "I think you really do want to impress them and show them that you're physically ready to take the step in the NHL, so it's a demanding tournament and very intense."

The tournament has more than 522 alumni who have played or are playing in the NHL, totaling more than 80,500 NHL games. The highest-scoring alumni include Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Dany Heatley, Henrik Zetterberg, David Legwand, Scott Hartnell, Martin Erat, Alexander Semin and James Neal.

"The level of play coming through this tournament has been so high," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "You get to watch other teams, so you're not only evaluating your players but other teams. Most of these kids are 4-5 years down the road, but at least you kind of see where teams will be at in 4-5 years."

In addition to Larkin, forward Robby Fabbri (Blues), and defensemen Colton Parayko (Blues) and Brady Skjei (Rangers) participated for their respective teams last year.

Video: SJS@STL, Gm5: Fabbri cranks power-play goal for lead

The two-time defending champion Blue Jackets will have first-round picks Pierre-Luc Dubois, a center selected No. 3 in the 2016 NHL Draft, and defenseman Zach Werenski, chosen No. 8 in 2015, participating for the first time. Forward Sonny Milano (2004, No. 16) will be making his third appearance in the tournament for Columbus.

"I'm really looking forward to this because it gives all of us an opportunity to get back into game shape and game mode before heading into training camp," Werenski said.

The Red Wings will have 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov (No. 19) on their 24-man roster.

"I'm absolutely confident going in this year," Svechnikov said. "I can't wait to start. The tournament was fast, everybody was competing and looking to win. It's nice to get to meet some new players. I had a good time my first year there [in 2015]."

The Rangers will have center Pavel Buchnevich, taken in the third round (No. 75) of the 2013 draft, and left wing Jimmy Vesey, who signed a two-year contract on Aug. 19, in their lineup. Each is expected to earn a roster spot out of training camp.

Video: Jimmy Vesey introduced as newest member of Rangers

Vesey, 23, won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey last season at Harvard University. He was originally selected by the Nashville Predators in the third round of the 2012 draft, but opted not to sign with the Predators and his rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres in June. The Sabres were unable to agree to terms with Vesey this summer and he became an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

Teams will play each opponent in their division during the round-robin before a crossover on the final day of the tournament, capped with the first-place finishers in each division playing for the championship on Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. ET. All games will take place at David's Rink and West Rink at Centre Ice Arena.

The winning team will receive the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup. Wuest, who died of cancer on March 19, 2015, developed capgeek.com, which tracked salary-cap data for all 30 NHL teams in real time. Additionally, Wuest developed and maintained redwingscentral.com before it ceased operation in 2014.

TOP PICKS TO PLAY IN TRAVERSE CITY

It shouldn't come as a surprise that each of the eight teams headed to the Traverse City prospects tournament will be fielding impressive lineups.

Here is a list of first- and second-round NHL draft picks, and notable free agents scheduled to participate in Traverse City:

Gordie Howe Division

Columbus Blue Jackets:
Forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois (2016, No. 3), Sonny Milano (2014, No. 16), Paul Bittner (2015, No. 38); defenseman Zach Werenski (2015, No. 8), Dillon Heatherington (2013, No. 50); goaltender Jeremy Brodeur (FA invite)

Chicago Blackhawks: Forwards Nick Schmaltz (2014, No. 20), Alex DeBrincat (2016, No. 39), Graham Knott (2015, No. 54); defenseman Carl Dahlstrom (2013, No. 51)

Detroit Red Wings: Forwards Evgeny Svechnikov (2015, No. 19), Tyler Bertuzzi (2013, No. 58), Zach Nastasiuk (2013, No. 48), Givani Smith (2016, No. 46); defenseman Filip Hronek (2016, No. 53)

St. Louis Blues: Forwards Ivan Barbashev (2014, No. 33), Jordan Kyrou (2016, No. 35); defensemen Tommy Vannelli (2013, No. 47), Vince Dunn (2015, No. 56), Jordan Schmaltz (2012, No. 25); goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick (2016, No. 59)

Ted Lindsay Division

Carolina Hurricanes: Forwards Julien Gauthier (2016, No. 21), Valentin Zykov (2013, No. 37, Los Angeles Kings); defensemen Haydn Fleury (2014, No. 7), Jake Bean (2016, No. 13), Roland McKeown (2014, No. 50, Los Angeles Kings); goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (2014, No. 37)

Dallas Stars: Forwards Denis Gurianov (2015, No. 12), Remi Elie (2013, No. 40), Devin Shore (2012, No. 61); defensemen Ludwig Bystrom (2012, No. 43); goaltender Philippe Desrosiers (2013, No. 54)

Minnesota Wild: Forwards Mario Lucia (2011, No. 60), Joel Eriksson Ek (2015, No. 20), Alex Tuch (2014, No. 18); defenseman Gustav Olofsson (2013, No. 46)

New York Rangers: Forwards Jimmy Vesey (FA signee, 2016), Ryan Gropp (2015, No. 41), Cristoval Nieves (2012, No. 59); goaltender Brandon Halverson (2014, No. 59)

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