2017 CHL Top Prospects Game

Prospect Preview

International flavor spices up the 2017 TPG
Steve Kournianos  |  1/29/2016 |  New York  |  [hupso]

Photo courtesy of Doug Love

New York (The Draft Analyst) — Quebec City will play host to one of hockey’s prestigious pre-draft events Monday when 40 of North America’s elite major junior players participate in the CHL Top Prospects Game. Last year’s event, held in Vancouver, featured 27 of the eventual first 60 picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, including 15 from the first round. And although the current crop of prospective draftees lacks a surefire star like Top Prospects Game alumni Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid, the event’s popularity within the scouting community has never changed. It is one of the few competitions where scouts can see a deep collection of talent in a single game, and often a player’s performance can impact where he’s selected in late June.

Teams used to consider the NHL draft as the initial point of a lengthy development arc that culminates with a regular job at the pro level. Now, players are expected to contribute sooner than later, primarily because they come with a cheap entry-level price tag against the salary cap. For example, 30 players from the 2015 draft already made their NHL debut, with 13 perviously participating in the 2015 CHL Top Prospects Game.

Headlining this year’s game will be Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick, a multi-purpose center with size from Western Canada who is the favorite for first overall in the draft.  Recent injuries kept him from participating at previous pre-draft exhibitions like November’s CHL-Russia Series and the recent world junior hockey championship. Patrick, however, seems to have recovered from sports hernia surgery and an unrelated abdominal injury, picking up eight points in five games and showing no illeffect from what kept him sidelined for nearly three quarters of his season.

A player who took advantage of Patrick’s absence is Swiss import Nico Hischier, a speedy and electrifying center who is one of the CHL’s top scorers. Hischier, who plays for Halifax in the QMJHL, has been considered a top prospect for the 2017 draft for several years. But a notable performance at the WJC, combined with his dominant league play vaulted him into an upper tier where some believe he will finish, possibly immediately after Patrick for second overall.

But Hischier is not the only European-born player participating. Six additional players from Europe will be on display, including three defenseman from Finland — Henri Jokiharju of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, Tri-City American Juuso Valimaki and Kingston Frontenac Eemeli Rasanen. Hulking Slovakian center Adam Ruzicka will represent the Sarnia Sting, and a pair of Russians from the WHL — Prince George sniper Nikita Popugaev and Swift Current rearguard Artyom Minulin — round out the participants from Europe, most of whom are expected to be drafted in the first or second round.

In goal, Michael DiPietro of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires is expected to be one of the first goalies taken at the draft. He’s had a stellar campaign, posting a 22-7-5 record with a league-best 2.15 goals against average and tied for first in both save percentage (.921) and shutouts (five).

NHL legends Don Cherry (16th appearance) and Bobby Orr (15th appearance) will be coaching their respective teams, with Team Orr winning three of the last four events.

Keep an eye on…

Team Cherry

LW/C Maxime Comtois (Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL ): Big-bodied power forward who has all the intangibles and is a leader on the ice. Starting to produce after a horrid start. Loves to play physical and is a bull along the boards, but has soft hands and can make plays from in close. Was considered a top-10 pick before the season so a strong showing is somewhat necessary.

RW MacKenzie Entwistle (Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL): Crash-and-bang power forward who makes up for average footspeed with a team-first attitude and using his physicality to change the momentum of a game. Excellent positionally and difficult to remove from the puck.

LHD Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders, QMJHL): Point-producing defender who skates well and can run a power play. Not very big or strong but doesn’t get outmuscled as often as you’d think. Joseph skates well and is a tape-to-tape passer, but his upside is in a support role rather than anchoring a defense corps.

LW Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph Storm, OHL): Goal-scoring power winger with average speed who can make plays, especially when surrounded or with limited time and space. Does all the little things and likes to use his strength to gain positioning. Has a strong, accurate shot with a quick release.

G Ian Scott (Prince Albert, WHL): Having a nightmare of a season from a statistical standpoint, but keep in mind the kind of bombardments he faces on a nightly basis. Faced 34 shots or more in 21 of his 37 appearances but has a sparkling .920 save percentage when facing 40 or more shots. He’s got pro size (6’4) and plays the butterfly well — no issues with net presence and his post-save quickness and positioning are strong for a teenager.