Forty of the best prospects in the CHL recently showcased their talents for a bevy of scouts in the CHL Top Prospects Game. The following report looks at all of the players on Team Cherry.
Robert Thomas – His terrific smarts and speed helped made him a standout in this game on several standout shifts…makes a ton of subtle little plays that may not always go noticed but buy him a bit more time or free up someone else for a nice pass. He seems incapable of playing a poor game due to his work ethic, terrific sense and skating ability.
Nolan Patrick – At the start of the game he was making one wonder what all the fuss was about..but it had to be kept in mind that he was appearing in a fast-paced game after a substantial layoff and couldn’t be expected to have the same jump as some. Nevertheless, it was evident from the start that Patrick won’t ever be in the running for the “fastest skater in the draft” award. What did become apparent by the end of the game though was that Patrick is quite possibly the prospect with the best combination of smarts, vision, and puck protection skills, all of which adds up to being the draft’s top playmaker. Aside from Popugaev’s extraordinary saucer pass and Glass’ behind-the-back no-look pass to Rasmussen, Patrick had the game’s best two feeds, in particular, his snap pass to Owen Tippet, which gave a glimpse to scouts at just how dangerous he will and can be on the power play as the majority of the time he is going to find the open man.
Adam Ruzicka – He did nothing to further his case to be considered for the first round; if anything he only furthered the argument that he shouldn’t be taken in the first two rounds. In the biggest game of his young career, he once again showed scouts that he’s not willing to compete at a high level, especially in the defensive end. Has good size, puck skills and shot, but if he can’t play with vim for more than one or two shifts per game he may have trouble ever cracking an NHL lineup.
Antoine Crete-Belzile – Not sure he possessed the puck for more than ten seconds in the game..he was just there. Decent skater and okay one-on-one, but at his size, you would like to see some puck and offensive skills. Not evident in this game. If he’s drafted it will be late as he offers no special dimension for scouts. He shows no offensive promise for a defenceman that is too small and passive to be a shutdown defenceman at the pro level.
Ivan Lodnia – He made one beautiful deke…besides that much like the Ivan Hlinka he was pretty quiet. Putting up great point totals in Erie, but away from the comforts of the high-powered team he has not helped his cause. Not a dynamic skater for his size or a particularly hard worker, which will hurt him on draft day despite his production. On Yamamoto’s goal…he was his check but instead of skating back to cover him he changed…which left Yamamoto wide open in the slot. His other two linemates didn’t change up on the backcheck..they skated back hard. He’s smart and has good hands….if he can improve his skating and work ethic he’ll improve his draft standing.
Cale Fleury – As is often the case (Laurent Dauphine a good example)…an injury replacement comes in and ends up impressing and raising his draft stock. Other than getting caught up ice on the Hischier goal, Fleury had a solid game at both ends and was arguably the best defenceman on Team Cherry. Strong skater, makes a decent first pass, defends well using his strength and mobility. I have a feeling some teams that didn’t have him listed as a priority for their crossover scouts to see will be changing their minds down the stretch.
Henri Jokiharju – The talented Finnish defenceman had the most “Jekyll and Hyde” performance of the game… providing some smart, crisp passes that resulted in three assists, yet being burned on the defensive end more than once on rushes where he was caught flat footed or out of position. Thankfully that’s not a common occurrence in the WHL, where he has impressed scouts with his steady play as a rookie defenceman. His mobility, puck skills and smarts make him a candidate to crack the first round in June…what may drop him to the start of the second round are concerns that his size and inability to handle power forwards down low nd in the crease will make the adjustment to the NHL an arduous one.
Maxime Comtois – One of the major knocks against the Victoriaville center/winger is that he has not produced as expected this season since some looked at him as a top five prospect, so scoring a goal in front of several hundred scouts wasn’t a bad way to get back into scouts’ good books. Comtois worked hard in this game and was a factor thanks to that competitiveness and his smarts even if he didn’t stand out as one of the faster skaters, but he did end up -4 in the game and didn’t have one of his better defensive efforts. He will now have to post better stats the rest of the way to convince evaluators that he indeed can be a top-six forward at the NHL level.
Jake Leschyshyn – The Regina Pats center had a terrific start to the season and was thought by many to be a top-40 prospect after scoring 24 points in first 18 games. Since then he has 16 points in his last 29, and to make matters worse he may have been the least effective forward on Team Cherry…bad timing for a prospect who is falling on draft lists. One of the smaller prospects in the match, his speed and skill were not noticeable in a game with his peers, and it needed to be if he had hoped to make an impression. there is still time for him to climb back up the rankings, but with Adam Brooks’ return to Regina he is pretty much stuck in a third-line center role on one of the CHL’s most powerful teams.
Mackenzie Entwistle – With the possible exception of Cale Fleury, no skater helped their draft stock more on Team Cherry than the rangy center/winger. Entwistle entered the game without a goal in his last nine games and four goals in his previous 36 after starting the season with seven goals in his first nine contests and working his way into many scouts first round, only to see a drop in recent weeks as it became apparent that his NHL upside may only be as a hard-working bottom-line forward. While he may lack high-end puck skills and lateral mobility, he is a strong north-south skater with smarts who works hard at both ends of the ice. He looks like a safe bet to one day play in the NHL…the question will be on what line?
Antoine Morand – Few players have been as hot and cold as the versatile Acadie-Bathurst forward this season, and things were no different during the Top Prospects game. Morand started the season strongly and caught the attention of the scouting community, but then he went 11 games without a goal and worries crept in about his consistency and upside. The last ten games before the big game, however, Morand had 17 points and picked up his intensity, and during the match he showed flashes of what make him a candidate for the top 50 – demonstrating a willingness to compete in the goal area that resulted in him scoring a rebound goal in the first period to stake Team Cherry to a 2-1 lead. There were also shifts where the 5-10 170-pound was overwhelmed physically…so the jury is still out on just what round he will be selected in.
Nick Suzuki – Aside from a breakaway chance in which he was stopped cold, Suzuki did little to convince scouts that were concerned about his skating speed that he should be a first-round pick despite his terrific point production in Owen Sound the last couple of months. The 5-11 center struggled at times to keep up with the speed and ended the game pointless and -2 even though his team scored seven goals. A highly intelligent player who succeeds with elite anticipation skills and vision, he can end up chasing the game at times when the pace of the game is high.
Gabriel Vilardi – One of the prospects who may well have benefited the most from the game as he got a chance to show scouts just how effective he can be at center, especially in a fast-paced game. Vilardi’s smarts and puck protection skills were evident in this contest…undoubtedly NHL teams will be raising him on their lists if they think he will play center in the NHL as it raises his value. Vilardi led all players with six shots on net and was dangerous offensively throughout the game. Concerns with his skating were the big issue going into the contest and he answered them for the most part.
Owen Tippett – In many ways, it was a typical Tippett game in which he hadn’t accomplished much in the first 50 minutes of the game, but then he got a scoring chance and buried it, and when you looked at the boxscore he had two points. With goal scoring in the NHL at a premium snipers will always be coveted for the draft, and even if the Mississauga winger can be lax in his own zone at times or fail to find a linemate for a scoring opportunity far too often, he is going to score goals with his excellent release, accuracy and velocity.
Isaac Ratcliffe – Ten minutes into the game scouts who were reluctant to consider the 6-6 winger for the first round may well have been questioning that evaluation as he scored a rebound goal and made some nice plays with the puck in the offensive zone that had folks salivating. After that, however, Ratcliffe didn’t accomplish much at either end of the ice and was chasing the play for the most part. He certainly has some intriguing parts such as decent hands and a good shot for his size yet there is plenty of projecting to do as he needs ample work on his skating and endurance and needs to compete more consistently.
Cal Foote – If this was the 2000 NHL draft scout would be seriously considering Foote as a top-ten candidate, but as the game has evolved, clubs don’t value 6-4 shutdown defencemen with limited skating and puck skills nearly as much as they did 20 years ago. Foote was pretty much a non-factor in the contest as he lacks the foot speed and stickhandling ability to be a force in a fast-paced game. Foote may have had the puck for a dozen seconds in the game and he doesn’t play a physical game like his father either or he may still be considered for the top 20 despite the mobility issues.
Artyom Minulin – A 6-2 defenceman with 34 points in the WHL before the month of February would normally be a lock for top-60 consideration unless there were some discernible concerns with his skating. That is the dilemma with the stocky Russian blueliner – he sees the ice well and runs a junior power play with heady passes and a heavy shot – without the puck however it is a completely different story as his agility and pivots are well below average at this time. That lack of mobility was on fully display at the CHL showcase event,.particularly when Sasha Chmelevski turned him inside-out on his goal with a couple of east-west dekes.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph – The rangy Charlottetown defenceman’s game had some similarities to Jokiharju’s in that there were ups and downs, but at least Joseph had most of his struggles in the first period, and as the game went on he adjusted to the speed/skill that he hasn’t been accustomed to in the QMJHL and by game’s end was one of the steadier blueliners on the ice. Joseph looked lost on Yamamoto’s goal as he got caught in no man’s land and couldn’t decide whether to attack the diminutive speedster or lay back, and on a couple more occasions looked to be having trouble with the speed of the game even though his skating is one of his main assets. Despite that, Mathieu’s “little” brother on the whole impressed scouts I spoke to after the game, and he will be strongly considered as a late first-round pick in June.
Ian Scott – Going into the season there were loud whispers that Scott might be the best goalie in the draft and a first-round pick. Fifty games later many aren’t so sure he’s even a top-60 pick given his struggles on a last-place team in Prince Albert. Scott sports a .886 save percentage and the 46th worst G.A.A. in the WHL, not numbers that endear him to the scouting world. To make matters worse he looked shaky at the Top Prospects Game, surrendering four goals on just 18 shots in 31 minutes of action. All that said, Scott still has the size and athletic ability scouts look for in a netminder, and he’s still expected to be selected in the second round.
Stuart Skinner – Much like Scott, Skinner was highly touted entering the season and also in the running to be a first-round candidate, but the 6-4 Lethbridge Hurricanes netminder has his struggles in the first half of the season and was dropping on a lot of lists. His play has picked up in recent weeks, however, and at the Top Prospects game he was the only goalie not to surrender more than one goal and was a major reason why Team Cherry was able to pull out a 7-5 victory. Skinner made some five-bell saves and did nothing to hurt his stock. He uses his size to cover a large portion of the net and has a good competitive streak. If he can take the Hurricanes on a bit of a playoff run he may creep back into the top 40 of a lot of draft lists.