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STEALING THE SPOTLIGHT

by Kris Baker / Buffalo Sabres
Travis Konecny chats with linemate Connor McDavid (Claus Andersen/Getty Images Sport)

Every fan was watching Erie Otters super prospect Connor McDavid on Thursday at the 2015 BMO CHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catharines, Ont. But it was linemate Travis Konecny who stole the show in the eyes of scouts with a two goal and one assist performance to guide Team Orr to a 6-0 shutout of Team Cherry.

Konecny, the heart and soul captain of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, made the most of his opportunity to ride shotgun with McDavid, showing his speed, shooting and engaged physical style to earn Team Orr’s Player of the Game. Erie center Dylan Strome failed to connect on several opportunities, but stood out with his vision and passing skills while finishing as the only Team Cherry skater with an even rating to earn his side’s Player of the Game.

Team Orr kicked off the barrage at 12:30 of the opening period with a sharp angle goal off the stick of Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ryan Pilon. After defensive partner Ivan Provorov stopped Graham Knott (Niagara, OHL) dead in his tracks just inside the Team Orr blue line, Pilon came down the left boards and threw the puck at the net through a screen to beat Samuel Montembeault (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL) on the short side.

Team Orr took the 2-0 lead with 14 seconds left in the opening frame when Timo Meier finished off a play that, like the game’s first goal, was preceded by a big hit. Meier, who is part of a dynamic QMJHL duo in Halifax with Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG), took a deflected pass from McDavid to bury a slap shot. It was Konecny, though, who set the tone on the shift with a helmet-jarring hit on Filip Chalpik (Charlottetown, QMJHL) in the neutral zone before making a nice move to gain the zone to create the Meier finish.

Manning a wing opposite Konecny on the game’s most dynamic line, Meier was hardly an interchangeable third wheel. He was aggressive on the forecheck, leveraging his wide frame along the wall in the corners to maintain possession of the puck, and he showed good hand-eye coordination to get off his quick, heavy shot. Scouts wonder what his ceiling truly is, but on Thursday he continued to adapt to the skill level of those he was matched with coming off a six-point performance for Switzerland at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Team Cherry worked their way to a 10-5 shots on goal advantage in the middle frame, but Bobby Orr’s club held firm en route to guarding a two-goal lead at the second intermission. Konecny would take over from there with a pair of goals in the top half of the third period to break the game open.

Just over five minutes in, Konecny took a cross-ice pass from Meier and got behind the Team Cherry defense with a strong burst of speed to snipe a shot high glove side to make it a 3-0 game. The 5-foot-10 speedster then connected with a bullet one-timer from the right circle off a give-and-go with Meier at 9:01 for his second of the night.

Team Orr extended the lead to 5-0 at 10:36 as Saint John Sea Dogs forward Nathan Noel drove the center lane without the puck and pounced on the rebound a net drive by versatile winger Ryan Gropp (Seattle, WHL).

Paul Bittner (Portland, WHL) closed out the scoring with just over a minute left on the clock with a quick-release wrist shot high over the shoulder of Michael McNiven (Owen Sound, OHL). The Minnesota native jammed the boards to force a Glenn Gawdin (Swift Current, WHL) turnover prior to lighting the lamp.


McDavid was excellent as expected with his creativity and one-on-one puck control shining throughout the game, but other notable performances were turned in that should earn some additional scouting attention prior to the June draft.

Vincent Dunn (Niagara, OHL)
Playing on his home rink, the light-footed Dunn (6', 185 lbs.) stood out for the losing side with his speed and poise on the back end. He fared well in one-on-one battles, used his wheels to jump up for a wraparound opportunity, and later showed excellent vision when he sprung Mitchell Stephens with a two-line pass for an uncontested breakaway. The opportunistic skater was consistently crisp with his outlets and did a good job using his stick around his net despite the lopsided score.

Ivan Provorov (Brandon, WHL)
Provorov (6', 200 lbs.) entered the game with a reputation as a physical puck mover, and he was as good as advertised. His passes were on the tape and he smartly jumped a few steps up from his point post to add a shooting option. The Russian-born rearguard, who uses his long stick to jam lanes and get extra torque on his slap shot, earned an assist on Konecny’s first marker. In a perfect world, he’d be credited with another on the game’s opening tally thanks to the pop he put on Knott that sent Pilon in transition.

Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert, WHL)
Like Dunn, fellow Team Cherry defender Guhle (6'2", 186 lbs.) proved himself as another excellent skater who was comfortable pushing the pace with the puck on his stick. Guhle led the offensive rush on several occasions and punched shots through from the point, while mixing in smart plays down low in the defensive zone. At one point early on, he stripped McDavid of the puck in a one-on-one situation. Guhle has room to mature his overall game, but you can’t help but see shades of Travis Sanheim (PHI), a fellow WHL product who was a relative unknown before lighting it up in the second half of his draft year.

Liam Herbst (Ottawa, OHL)
With scouts perhaps less excited with the top two CHL goaltenders, Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie, OHL) and Callum Booth (Quebec, QMJHL) missing the game due to illness and injury respectively, Herbst (6'4", 195 lbs.) locked it down with his quick legs and right-handed glove to stop 21 shots, including 14 in the third period, to preserve the Team Orr shutout. He came into the white ice to challenge shooters and displayed calmness in making some big saves. It was a rather solid performance considering he was called for duty just 24 hours earlier.

Lawson Crouse (Kingston, OHL)
Just because Crouse (6'3", 212 lbs.) wasn’t on the ice for any of the Team Orr goals doesn’t mean he didn’t make an impact, as the power forward’s big frame and motoring feet were a major forechecking presence all game long. A big left-winger with a touch of a mean streak, Crouse finished hits all over the ice, powered his way to the net and saw some time as a penalty killer. The debate will rage on about whether or not he is worthy of a top-five draft selection, but the tantalizing skill package was clearly evident following a solid performance for gold-medalist Canada at the World Junior Championship.


For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.
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