2017 CHL Top Prospects Game

The Defense Rests

Stars showcase skill in rare Top Prospects Game shootout
Steve Kournianos  |  01/31/2017 |  New York    

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New York (The Draft Analyst)There was plenty of scoring and fancy moves last night in Quebec City, where the goalies and defensemen were repeatedly victimized in what turned out to be the highest scoring CHL Top Prospects Game in nine years.

Windsor center Gabe Vilardi scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and Lethbridge’s Stuart Skinner stopped 17 of 18 shots as Team Cherry held off Team Orr 7-5. The 12 combined goals equalled a Top Prospects Game record previously set in 1996 and equalled again in 2005 and 2008. 

It was the best case scenario for talented prospects Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, who some feel are all but guaranteed to be the first two picks in the 2017 NHL Draft. Each player centered their respective squad’s top line, with Hischier leading Team Orr with a goal and two assists and Patrick pacing Team Cherry by setting up two goals of his own. The centers were consistently matched up against each other and performed as expected. It was the play of a handful of less notable prospects, however, who not only bolstered their pre-draft resumes, but did so with a collection of NHL executives and scouts in attendance.

Portland Winterhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju (three assists) was named player of the game for Team Cherry, while Hischier took the award for Team Orr.

Standouts

RHD Henri Jokiharju (Portland Winterhawks, WHL): Right-handed defenseman are a commodity around NHL circles, and it seems like they’ve become hockey’s version of baseball’s lefty set-up men — every team has to have one. There is, however, nothing typical about Jokiharju, who quarteredbacked Team Cherry’s top power play unit and finished with a game-high three assists — a TPG record for defensemen. He held his own on the defensive side and didn’t make any egregious mistakes with the puck, and his ability to settle or corral any sort of pass is practically unique among his CHL peers. Mobile and smart, Jokiharju took his WJC snub and ran with it, piling up points in the WHL and winning best player honors at the TPG.

LHD Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders, QMJHL): The measurements (6’0, 160 pounds) are deceiving, as Joseph has been very good in the QMJHL all season. True, it’s the least physical of the three major circuits, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of handling himself (and the puck) responsibly. Joseph is a quick decision maker and executes with timeliness and precision. He doesn’t try cute moves or take on an assignment above his pay grade, and the kid we saw Monday in Quebec City was one who played mature, maintained a tight gap and used his stick and lower body to separate his man from the puck. 

RW Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane Chiefs, WHL): Yamamoto is far from obscure — we peg all 5’7 of him as a likely first round pick, and for good reason. He’s a buttery-smooth playmaker who has one of the top IQ’s among his peers. On Monday, Yamamoto played on Team Orr’s top line with center Nico Hischier and hulking sniper Nikita Popugaev on his opposite flank. The trio created chances at will, including a 2-on-1 in which Yamamoto lulled the defender and an eventual backchecker to sleep before connecting with Hischier for a tap-in that was thwarted. Slowing the pace down without eliminating his top options is what he does best, and in the second period he took Hischier’s banked drop pass and rifled one home from the right circle.

C Robert Thomas (London Knights, OHL): Thomas was a seemingly undervalued piece on a London team that maintined it’s dominance over the OHL despite a roster thinning from either promotions or injuries. It was Thomas who played top-six minutes and was utilized in just about any situation you could think of, and his numbers (42 points in 45 games) are worth almost double than face value. On Monday, his advanced decision making was on display for a scouting community that has done their homework on him. Thomas literally created a goal on his own in the first, gaining entry into the zone then winning a loose puck battle to rip a shot hard enough to a create a rebound for Antoine Morand to bury.

G Stuart Skinner (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL): Goalies rarely hurt their reputations from a TPG since the event is normally low scoring. Skinner, who had a tough start to his season, entered the TPG with a chance to confirm how solid his play of late has been (he’s faced 30 or more shots in 29 of 44 appearances, including 13 with over 39 shots against). What stood out most was Skinner’s rebound control in a game featuring great scoring chances with traffic milling around the low slot. His ability to track shots from the release point helped, but his quickness and butterfly timing allowed him to absorb several high quality chances. 

RW Mackenzie Entwistle (Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL): The up-and-down action of Monday’s contest would appeal to any player, even if he’s a 6’3 power forward who plays a hard-nosed game. Entwistle displyed his versatility by chipping in a goal off a rush and showcaed his above-average speed in racing to a loose puck to set up the clinching empty netter. He’s big, strong and loves to mash people, and he’s got plenty of time left in the regular season and subsequent playoffs to up the ante when it comes to physicality. Kids who combine size and speed are rarities, and Entwistle gave us a glimpse of how he can tailor his play towards the nature of a specific game.