The best draft-eligible players from the Canadian Hockey League descended on Vancouver last month to take part in the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game - as well as specialized on and off-ice testing.
Based out west, this was my first opportunity in some cases to view players from the OHL and QMJHL in a live setting.
Here are a few observations on some of my standouts in the game:
Jake Bean (Calgary-WHL) - Excellent skater - tested well in the on-ice aspect. Makes intelligent plays out of his own zone, uses shifty movements to start rushes and keep his lanes open for accurate outlet passes. Strong offensive instincts, he reads the defenders position and reacts accordingly to create breakouts. Carries the puck with confidence. Works the offensive point with quick edge work and a heads-up approach, gets his shot off quickly and consistently hits the net. Stock has been rising; steps up when in the spotlight.
William Bitten (Flint-OHL) - A very good skater who tested well in the on-ice workouts, compact with good multi-directional movements and explosion out of turns. Small but scrappy, drives to the difficult areas with the ability to create and score. Seems to have a nose for the net and enjoys attacking the crease to create havoc - has that 'buzz-saw' mentality.
Pierre-Luc Dubois (Cape Breton-QMJHL) - Showed speed and powerful skating in on-ice workouts but also had to re-do a drill multiple times because he kept losing the puck. Excellent work off the wall to create space and make impressive plays, creates from below the goal line. Shoots and bullies his way to scoring chances with power, but can make skilled plays with soft hands; a real power forward. My MVP from this game and one of few players to bring a real wow factor. Going top 5 in the draft may be a possibility.
Luke Green (Saint John-QMJHL) - A high-end skater with a tight compact stride, especially in reverse. Displays solid gap control and looked like a competent defender in a rather erratic game. Holds a good defensive position, doesn’t chase or play out of his position. Uses stops and starts effectively, reads an attacking offence with good instincts, constantly moves his feet and remains active both in offense and on defense. Effective puckcarrier in transition works it out of zone with his skating and on-ice awareness. The only right-shooting rearguard in this game, a position coveted by NHL teams.
Brett Howden (Moose Jaw-WHL) - The top pivot on Team Orr was the glue that kept a powerful line with Nylander and Tkachuk together. Lacks the same elite level skill of his linemates, but does many things well - showed some good intelligence and the ability to click with skilled players. Plays a powerful game and seems to thrive in traffic. Smooth-skating mechanics are there, but improvements in his footwork and explosiveness would go a long way to transitioning to the NHL. An underrated prospect.
Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville-QMJHL) - Snagged MVP honors and showed some great chemistry reuniting with Pierre-Luc Dubois, as they were linemates at the U17's. Produced arguably the finest individual move of the night that graced the highlight reels as he walked around Sean Day for a goal. Shows good puck control and the ability to make quick clean plays at high speed and feed off of other highly-skilled players.
Mikail Sergachev (Windsor-OHL) - Difficult to notice in this game unless you keyed in on him, which was a good thing in this case. Plays a cool and calm game, consistently unfazed by pressure in his own end. Intelligent breakouts are a strong suit and help push this play. Big body with a very useful stick and long reach. His hockey sense and pro body should aid translation to NHL. Paired with fellow Windsor teammate Logan Stanley and their chemistry was evident being one of the less-erratic pairings. Not exciting, but very useful play.
Matthew Tkachuk (London-OHL) - Big and powerful with an impressive physical stature, plays with a 'bull-in-a-china-shop' mentality. Controls the puck well in traffic and along the boards. Possesses some good moves to take pucks to the net and assert his physical dominance on smaller defenders. A big asset to the cycle game and to hold offensive zone-time.
Logan Brown (Windsor-OHL) - The massive pivot plays a big game and has a tendency to skate through opposing players as opposed to around them; showed a steady physical aspect in this game. Exhibits more skill in offense than expected. Nothing overly fancy when handling the puck, makes intelligent plays to use his open space and create with less dazzle and more smarts. Despite his long stick, looks comfortable in close quarters while stickhandling. Fends off checkers with good footwork and power moves to create scoring chances or set up teammates. An intriguing combination of size and skill.
Sean Day (Mississauga-OHL) - The tools are evident and were on display in both game and on-ice testing. His stride has a smooth flow that comes along very rarely, especially in a 6-2, 225-pound prospect. Overall had a solid game in spite of being by Laberge on that goal. Uses skating effectively to hold his position when forwards are bearing down, made a couple impressive stick plays to take pucks off attackers. Works the offensive line to create space, his skating and reach help him move around high forwards and get a shot off. A polarizing prospect - loaded with potential which could one day blossom.
Samuel Girard (Shawinigan-QMJHL) - Pint-size defenseman is an absolute blazer on his skates with very compact footwork, tested in the top group among defenders. Offense flows naturally - the top scorer in the CHL among draft-eligible defenders for a powerhouse Shawinigan team. Shows keen instincts for his on-ice positioning and awareness of surroundings, especially when moving in reverse. Avoids contact with a consistent heads-up skating stride. Rushes the puck in an elusive manner with quick lateral cuts and outlet passes. Size will deter some clubs, but there is too much to like to pass up entirely.
Jordan Kyrou (Sarnia-OHL) - One of the lesser-known prospects in this game as he was another late replacement add-on. Kyrou helped himself out by going tops overall in the on ice testing. His agility and quick reaction time were on display throughout the game. Carries the puck with the same quick authority as he darts around and can exploit holes in defenses. An asset in transit as he slips by checks along the wall and makes opponents miss. Plays smart and exhibits some flashes of skill in his top gear.
Ty Ronning (Vancouver-WHL) - The son of former NHLer Cliff Ronning was a late addition to the game when Tyler Benson withdrew due to injury. With nothing to lose, he looked relaxed on the ice. Showed off his hard, accurate shot when he opened the scoring by crashing the net and twisting the defenseman out of position. Another player who is small is stature but big on effort. Skates with a noticeably wide stride which doesn’t appear to slow him down, creates stability but could hinder edgework. Motor is always running and he’s always attacking the puck.