Don Cherry and Bobby Orr after the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL)

With 40 of the top Canadian Hockey League draft-eligible players converging in St. Catharines for the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, hundreds of scouts will swarm the beautiful new Meridian Centre to catch glimpses of the CHL’s top draft talent.  The annual “all-star” exhibition game provides a chance for players vying to be drafted to compete on the same stage and while it’s not the best platform to gather scouting notes, it’s used as another means of confirming our previously constructed scouting observations. After being named Team Cherry’s Player of the Game in 2014, Nikolay Goldobin used the Top Prospects game to show scouts that he was worthy of a first round selection, eventually being snagged 27th overall by the San Jose Sharks.  

taylor hall TPG

In the past 19 years a total of 265 players from this event have been selected in the first round of the NHL Draft representing 47% of all players selected by NHL clubs in the first round. Alumni of the Top Prospects Game include Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Nathan Mackinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Patrick Kane

 

With just hours until the puck drops on the 2015 CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game, Youngblood is here to provide a quick breakdown of players to watch.

Key Injuries/Illnesses: Matthew Barzal (Seattle, WHL), Pavel Zacha (Sarnia, OHL), Nikita Korostelev (Sarnia, OHL), Mitchell Vande Sompel (Oshawa, OHL), Jakub Zboril (Saint John, QMJHL), Callum Booth (Quebec, QMJHL), Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie, OHL)

Injury Replacements: Nathan Noel (Saint John, QMJHL), Blake Speers (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL), Rasmus Andersson (Barrie, OHL), Glenn Gawdin (Swift Current, WHL), Brendan Guhle (Prince Albert, WHL), Michael McNiven (Owen Sound, OHL), Liam Herbst (Ottawa, OHL)

Storylines to Follow:

-          Projected top pick Connor McDavid will go head-to-head against his Erie Otters teammate Dylan Strome as members of Team Orr and Team Cherry, respectively.

-          Former teammates with the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs, Lawson Crouse and former 1st overall OHL pick, Travis Konecny, will be reunited and compete for Team Orr.

-          Other notable CHL teammates that will compete on Team Orr: Thomas Chabot and Nathan Noel (Saint John), Ivan Provorov and Ryan Pilon (Brandon)

-          CHL teammates on Team Cherry: Anthony Beauvillier and Dennis Yan (Shawinigan), Graham Knott and Vince Dunn (hosts Niagara)

-          Barrie’s Mackenzie Blackwood (Team Orr) and Michael McNiven (Team Cherry) have been long debated to be the OHL’s top two draft eligible goaltenders and it will be interesting to see who steps up more for their team.

 

Team Orr Player Breakdown:

Mackenzie Blackwood, G (Barrie, OHL) UPDATE: Will not play due to illness – Drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 OHL Draft by the Colts, Blackwood was the top ranked North American puckstopper by NHL Central Scouting. Blackwood is a big butterfly goaltender with a poised and confident yet aggressive approach.

Liam Hersbt, G (Ottawa, OHL) - Ranked 14th among North American goaltenders, Liam Hersbt will replace top ranked Mackenzie Blackwood, who will miss the game due to illness. Herbst is a large goaltender who plays a hybrid style, featuring aggressive challenges. Herbst has been hampered with injuries in his young career but owns the tools and poise to develop into a serviceable pro goaltender. 

Nick McBride, G (Prince Albert, WHL) – Athleticism and quickness between the iron are McBride’s best qualities. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, McBride owns the size and tools to become a quality mid-round selection.

Thomas Chabot, D (Saint John, QMJHL) – Smooth skating defenseman who boasts strong hockey sense, Chabot sits second in defensive scoring on the SeaDogs. Aggressive on both sides of the puck, Chabot is one of the drafts best puck rushers.

Ryan Pilon, D (Brandon, WHL) – Former 3rd overall pick in 2011, Ryan Pilon has surpassed his previous career highs this season and has a long resume of successfully representing Canada internationally. Relying on his strong skating skills and puck handling abilities, Pilon has proved to be one of the WHL’s most dangerous offensive defensemen.

Ivan Provorov, D (Brandon, WHL) – Becoming accostumed to playing in Ontario rinks after capturing Silver at the recent 2015 World Junior Championships, Provorov will have no problems showcasing his Top 10 talents in Niagara. Leading all WHL rookie defencemen in scoring (sits 3rd in WHL defensive scoring as well), Provorov sets the pace of the game from the blueline and always seems to make the smart decision.

Nicolas Meloche, D (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL) – Drakker’s leading scorer from the blueline, Meloche has already reached the 10 goal mark and his 99 penalty minutes (43 games) speaks to his competitive and physical nature. He’s another advanced skater capable of spearheading the rush.

Guillaume Brisebois, D (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL) – Drafted 5th overall in 2013, Brisebois is an intelligent two-way defenseman who can be thrown out in any situation. He may not have the flair that his TPG peers do but his stability and complete game will draw plenty of suitors.

Jérémy Roy, D (Sherbrooke, QMJHL) – Somewhat underrated among draft pundits, Roy could end up opening a lot of eyes in Niagara. He leads all QMJHL defensemen with almost a point-per-game and has shown to be an absolute lethal threat on the powerplay.

Paul Bittner, LW (Portland, WHL) – Never drafted into the WHL, Bittner is a raw power forward type that relies on his hockey sense, soft hands in traffic and overall size and strength to make life tough for opposing defenders.

Nathan Noel, C (Saint John, QMJHL) – Drafted 3rd overall in 2013, the late addition to the TPG also leads his club in points. Highly competitive and quick on his skates, Nathan Noel is a skilled forward with the smarts to be used in all situations.

Nick Merkley, C (Kelowna, WHL) – In a battle with the injured Matt Barzal and Ivan Provorov to be the top selected WHL player, Merkley is justly receiving Top 10 chatter. Merkley is a tenacious competitor who plays a pass-first style of game and currently leads Kelowna in scoring (3rd in WHL).

Ryan Gropp, LW (Seattle, WHL) – Another offensive leader on his respective WHL club, Gropp is a late 1996 birthday meaning that he was born one day from being eligible for the 2014 draft. Classified as a “complete” prospect capable of playing a variety of roles but his best skill might be grinding it out in the dirty areas.

Jansen Harkins, C (Prince George, WHL) – Clipping along a well over a point-per-game, Harkins will serve as one of Team Orr’s Alternate Captains. Highly driven skilled player who displays excellent vision and playmaking abilities. He’s also an established penalty killer.

Blake Speers, RW (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) – Playing in his hometown, Soo forward Blake Speers has underwent some great development over the past year and adopted a big offensive role with the Greyhounds. Uses his strong hockey sense to position himself in scoring areas and his puck skills are just beginning to surface. Very impressive long-term upside.

Travis Konecny, RW (Ottawa, OHL) – 2014 OHL Rookie of the Year, Travis Konecny has had an up-and-down draft season after being given captaincy duties in Ottawa.  Quick and extremely agile on the rush, Konecny is lethal on the rush where he uses deft puck skills and a pro-ready shot release. Expect him to be a second-half riser.

Glenn Gawdin, C (Swift Current, WHL) – Late addition to the Team Orr’s roster, Gawdin (2012 5th overall pick) is a blue-collared two-way forward with a determined work ethic and admirable offensive pursuit. Gawdin is the ultra-competitor and the type of player Championship teams possess.

Nicolas Roy, C (Chicoutimi, QMJHL) – Drafted 1st overall by Cape Breton in 2013, Roy eventually landed in Chicoutimi where he’s showing scouts that he possesses the pro-characteristics that many teams covet. Big pivot with good skating ability, Roy may take longer to reach his upside but that potential is quite intriguing, in all areas of the game.

Lawson Crouse, LW (Kingston, OHL) – The draft’s most talked about highly-ranked prospect, Lawson Crouse is arguably the most complete player in the draft. Not putting up the points that analytic enthusiasts and box-score watchers prefer, it’s by no fault of Crouse’s, who actually owns advanced offensive instincts. Teams looking a big bodied winger, with slick hands and an elite two-way game, will be coveting Crouse early.

Timo Meier, RW (Halifax, QMJHL) – Coming off an outstanding WJC tournament with Switzerland, Meier has the full attention of scouts after his breakout draft season in Halifax (37GP-25G-56P). Meier is a competitive skilled winger with great anticipation skills and scoring touch. His two-way game should easily translate to the pro-ranks.

Connor McDavid, C (Erie, OHL) – The golden ticket of the 2015 NHL Draft class, Team Orr Captain Connor McDavid continues to exceed the astronomical expectations set out on this hockey prodigy. Mature, dynamic, exceptional quick and impossible to anticipate, Connor McDavid lives up to his generational talent tags.

 

Team Cherry Player Breakdown:

Michael McNiven, G (Owen Sound, OHL) – Ranked by NHL Central Scouting as a ‘C’ Prospect, Youngblood certainly disagrees with that designation. Under limited starts in Owen Sound, McNiven has shone, showcasing his confident and poised approach. Relies on exceptional positioning and instinctive reads to shutdown attackers but has also shown some impressive desperation saves.

Samuel Montembeault, G (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL) – The sophomore Q goaltender sits second in QMJHL wins and goals against average but is also riding a seven game hot streak.  Experts describe Montembeault as a big butterfly goaltender who flashes an outstanding glove hand.

Brendan Gulhe, D (Prince Albert, WHL) – Late addition to Team Cherry’s roster, Guhle will impress with his quick and agile skating ability. Guhle plays a calculated game executing precise outlet passes and keeping the game simple whenever possible but with his feet, he’s is capable of skating himself out of trouble.

Noah Juulsen, D (Everett, WHL) – Leading the Silvertips in defensive scoring, Juulsen offers the complete package for a defenseman – physical, mobile and a strong hockey sense. His competitive nature and overall aggressiveness serves him well in all three zones.

Vince Dunn, D (Niagara, OHL) – Dunn has one of the best offensive minds among all OHL blueliners and his skating , puck skills and instincts complement his skillset well. Neither big or physical, Dunn utilizes sound positioning and busy stick work as defensive tools.

Matt Spencer, D (Peterborough, OHL) – Drafted 3rd overall in 2013, Matt Spencer is the second ranked OHL defenseman by NHL CS. Spencer is your prototypical two-way, big-minute defenseman offering a good combination of speed, strength and physicality. He won’t light up the game at the pro-ranks but he projects as a very valuable top-six contributor.

Brandon Carlo, D (Tri-City, WHL) – The USA WJC defenseman will wear one of the ‘A’s for Team Cherry and is another big-minute two-way blueliner capable of excelling in all situations. Rarely forced into mistakes, Carlo’s an outstanding puck mover who makes the game easy through smart safe decisions and excellent positioning.

Rasmas Andersson, D (Barrie, OHL) – The Swedish import sits just below point-per-game production (40 points in 42 games) and has shown to be a valuable contributor on the powerplay. His creative vision and pin-point passing are his best skills but he’s also proven very dangerous jumping into the rush as a late trailer.

Daniel Sprong, RW (Charlottetown, QMJHL) – Forms a dangerous duo with fellow Team Cherry teammate Filip Chlapik, Daniel Sprong is an extremely creative skilled winger who’s most dangerous with the puck. Born in the Netherlands, Sprong owns game-breaking talent and what better place to showcase that then at the Top Prospects Game.

Dennis Yan, LW (Shawinigan, QMJHL) – Yan actually played some minor hockey in Sarnia, Ontario before leaving for the US NTDP. After landing in Shawinigan through the import draft (8th), Yan is producing at over a point-per-game and has the eyes of scouts with his sizeable frame, quick puck handling ability and natural scorer’s instincts.

Graham Knott, LW (Niagara, OHL) – Knott (and teammate Vince Dunn) will have the chance to represent Niagara as hosts. Knott is a big-bodied skilled winger with impressive in-tight puck skills. He lacks the physicality and grit that most players his size own, but his skating is top-notch and that makes him a threat offensively.

Filip Chlapik, C (Charlottetown, QMJHL) – Rookie import, Chlapik shares Charlottetown’s scoring lead with Daniel Sprong and has shown no adjustment period, scoring points in his first six games. While his skating isn’t perfect, the intelligent Chlapik owns creative vision and slick puck skills, elevating his linemates on every shift.

Jake DeBrusk, LW (Swift Current, WHL) – Drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, DeBrusk doesn’t own the pedigree that his TPG peers do but that doesn’t matter because he’s considered a first round talent for the NHL Draft. His 25 goals places him 9th in the WHL. Quick in transition and a determined competitor, DeBrusk earns every scoring chance he gets.

Dylan Strome, C (Erie, OHL) – Among the tightly packed second tier of prospects vying for Top 5 selection, Dylan Strome’s offensive numbers (2nd in OHL) are extremely impressive. Elite puck handling and playmaking ability outweigh his mediocre skating stride. Strome has shown to be an effective two-way centre and owns top-line upside, making him one of the TPG’s top talents.

Adam Musil, C (Red Deer, WHL) – Selected 6th overall in 2012, Musil is a two-way centre who plays a strong possession game. Balanced on his skates and a strong frame allow Musil to drive the net and excel in the gritty areas, which translate well to the pro-ranks.

Yakov Trenin, LW (Gatineau, QMJHL) – Picked up late in the first round of the 2014 Import Draft, Yakov Trenin has been outstanding for Gatineau, surpassing point-per-game numbers. Strong powerforward with a skilled player’s mentality, Trenin uses speed and agile cuts to dominate possession. Very adept at adapting his role whether that’s engaging in the cycle or working the powerplay.

Evgeny Svechnikov, RW (Cape Breton, QMJHL) – Decorated in International competition, Russian Svechnikov has been a welcomed addition in Cape Breton as he sits third in team scoring (34-17-30-47). Most noticeable with the puck on his stick, Svechnikov can dazzle with his puck skills under the tightest of pressure. He is a strong skater and his competitive drive results in him being always around the puck.

Mitchell Stephens, C (Saginaw, OHL) – A high scoring minor hockey player, Mitchell Stephens has found his scoring touch in his sophomore OHL campaign, sitting second in Spirit scoring. His ability to attack at top speed and unleash one of his lethal shots is his best skillset.

Anthony Beauvillier, C (Shawinigan, QMJHL) – Cataractes’ 2nd overall selection in 2013, Beauvillier (Team Cherry Captain) leads his team in all offensive catagories – goals (31), assists (35) and points (67) – through 45 games. Short in stature, Beauvillier hasn’t let size critics keep him down and continues to showcase his willingness to score tough goals. Beyond his obvious offensive skills, Beauvillier is praised for his high character and overall hockey sense.

Mitch Marner, RW (London, OHL) – Leading the OHL in scoring (goals, assists and points) with 90 points (42 games), Mitch Marner is finally receiving the recognition that Youngblood has been publicizing for some time. Outside of McDavid, Marner owns the best puck skills in the entire draft and when combined with his elusive skating abilities, he’s nearly impossible to contain. Elite creativity and vision in possession has Marner as one of the CHL’s most dangerous attackers.

 

2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Predictions

5 Lesser-Known Standouts

While every player participating in the Top Prospects Game, history has shown that the TPG provides an opportunity for some of the lesser “publicized” players to leave their mark. Here are a few hunches from myself on who might just elevate their game…

Travis Konecny – Looking to shake off a forgettable start, Konecny is on a bit of a roll heading into the TPG and he’ll be ready to show that he’s in for a big second half.

Noah Juulsen– Ranked a ‘B’ prospect by NHL CS, Juulsen’s competitive approach, strong mobility and ability to put up points in Everett could surprise non-WHL followers in Niagara.

Michael McNiven – Hidden away up in the Bruce Peninsula, McNiven sports a spectacular 1.75 GAA and .944 save percentage and has allowed only two goals in his last two starts.

Anthony Beauvillier Despite racking up stunning offensive numbers, Beauvillier hasn’t been ranked inside the Top 30. Look for him to come ready to impress as captain of Team Cherry.

Jérémy Roy – It’s hard for a prospect ranked in the Top 15 to be underestimated but with a standout performance in Niagara, defenseman Jeremy Roy could launch himself into a unanimously ranked Top 10 slot.

 

Who Wins?

Most junior enthusiasts would declare that Team Orr looks fairly stacked with McDavid, Crouse, Merkley, Harkins, Provorov, Roy and Blackwood. That would be an accurate assumption and as a result, I would expect that Team Orr walks away as winners of this exhibition.

 

What’s Next?

If you didn’t check out our scouting team’s recent midterm 2015 NHL Draft rankings (Top 75), be sure to do so.

Youngblood will be releasing its midterm rankings following the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and soon thereafter, will release a NHL Mock Draft. Stay tuned!

McKeen’s Hockey will have several of its scouts at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, including myself, so you can expect some material to trickle out after its completion.

 

Follow @McKeensHockey and @RossyYoungblood on Twitter for all of your prospect news. 

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