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 Orr.
Nikita Popugaev – showed off his passing skills, especially on Hischier’s goal, where he delivered one of the elite saucer passes of the season at any level. Some scouts express concerns about Poppy’s skating, but he had no issue keeping up with the speedy pace even if he needs to continue working on his first step. The other prevalent knock is that he can be inconsistent in his work ethic…and that was also not a problem in this game. He showed that when motivated he has as much upside as any other prospect in this draft. Soft hands, good puck protection skills, vision and a quick release in a 6-6 package, it will be awfully tough to pass on him later in the first round if he’s still available.
Alex Formenton – used his speed effectively in this game to create chances in the first period…was quieter the rest of the game on the offensive front, but was still able to use his speed effectively to make several solid defensive plays even if he wasn’t overly dangerous on offence. He will need to get a lot stronger to play the pro game, but has the skating skills and energy to someday make the jump even if it’s in a bottom-line role.
Morgan Frost – Impressed scouts with the best skating results in the on-ice testing…but was certainly less of a factor in the game…didn’t have any real offensive flashes or notable speed in the game. As one scout noted – he has lots of speed but doesn’t use it, preferring to slow the game down and use his ample puck skills and vision. Unfortunately, that didn’t work very well in this game.
Kole Lind – His vision, sense and puck skills make him a good bet to create scoring chances every game even if he needs to add strength to play the pro game. Skating is a concern with some scouts, but his stride is decent…with some lower body muscle his game should only continue to improve as he becomes even more dangerous around the net. He was one of the more dangerous players in this contest, showing his uncanny ability to hold onto the puck until the right scoring opportunity came along, and then making the right pass or play to create a scoring chance Making a serious push to be considered for the top 20 in this draft.
Nico Hischier – The Halifax rookie center is seemingly incapable of underperforming in a big game thanks to his tremendous work ethic, skill and smarts. Showed up at every WJC game, and in the Top Prospects Game made his presence felt from beginning to end in his one-and-only matchup versus Nolan Patrick, who many consider his main stumbling block in the bid to be chosen first overall. Hischier scored the prettiest goal of the game on a clear breakaway that demonstrated his tremendous quickness and opportunism. While he displayed plenty of offensive dimensions, there was one particular defensive play that exhibited just how well-rounded his game is when he bounced up quickly from a hit by Patrick and ended up being the first forward back in his own zone to thwart an opposition foray. Just as with Matthews, many scouts seem to have made their minds up that Patrick is number one well before the draft..however it would be prudent to study and contemplate Hischier closely..as he is going to be a terrific two-way NHL center that will help a team win games.
Kailer Yamamoto – The pint-sized Spokane winger served notice that a prospect under 5-8 can indeed compete at a high level versus many of the top draft-eligible players on the planet..mind you that was already known by many scouts as he’d been doing it in international competitions the past few years, including at last year’s U-18’s. Last year it was Alex DeBrincat who many thought might become the first prospect under 5-8 taken in the first round of the draft in NHL history; this year the candidate is Yamamoto, who may well stand a better chance at cracking the top round because at the end of the day he’s a better skater for his size than DeBrincat. The first 30 minutes of the game were his best as he created several opportunities for his linemates on what was arguably the game’s top line, and also showed off his finishing abilities with a hard, accurate snapshot from the high slot. After that, he didn’t flash as much offensive skill, but certainly managed to leave an impression as always by the end of the game.
Michael Rasmussen – The best backward skater in the Top Prospect testing showed everyone that there are no issues with his forward skating either in this game.managing to keep up just fine with prospects several inches shorter than the 6-6 goal-scoring centerman. His goal may have been a “gimme” after the terrific pass by Glass, but there’s no doubt that he possesses one of the bet shots in the draft, which includes a quick release and plenty of zip. What also makes him attractive is his playmaking abilities…he has the complete offensive package to go with his size..making him a viable candidate for one of the top three picks in the draft. There are some legitimate comparisons to Ryan Johansen, but he’s bigger, skates better, and likely has a better shot. the only real knock on his game is that he can go through stretches in a game where he’s not fully engaged in the play, especially without the puck on the defensive end, and we saw that at times in this game.
Nate Schnarr – Scouts have been giving Schnarr the benefit of the doubt for average statistics this season, with many ranking him in the top 50 because he’s considered raw and promising given his size and skillset. At the TP game, unfortunately, he just looked bad as he was quite possibly the last visible forward in the game. He did not create any offensive chances or work hard defensively…looking slow and disinterested for most of the game. the game’s broadcasters didn’t have to worry about getting the pronunciation of his name correct before the game because they didn’t have to mention his name.
Juuso Valimaki – Valimaki has looked a lot better in the WHL the past three months than he did in the World Juniors, Ivan Hlinka and the Top Prospects Game, perhaps because he doesn’t have to deal with as much speed on most nights in the Dub. The prevailing issue that came up in the WJC’s and came up again in this game is that his footwork and pivoting are subpar. Valimaki has problems one-on-one with outside speed and dekes far too often. The other also his decision-making defensively at times, which were also a concern at the start of the season…the goal by Vilardi was a good example. Val follows Lodnia back out to the blueline and then stands there and decides to “cover” a defenceman instead of going back to the front of the net..or at the very least attempting to get in a lane to prevent it from going to an open guy in the slot. Vilardi was subsequently left all alone.
Jacob Paquette – Paquette will likely develop into a decent junior defenceman over the next couple of seasons but it was frankly a little puzzling why he was invited when there were more deserving blueliners like Josh Brook available. Paquette looked like a defensive defenceman who was having trouble playing defensively as he was burned by speed a few times and had some turnovers. In other words, there was not a lot to like about his NHL upside in this game. He was by no means horrible, and Kingston will have a solid stay-at-home rearguard in a couple of years; it’s just difficult seeing him being able to make the leap to the NHL some day unless his skill level really blossoms late.
Sasha Chemelevki – Scouts have never questioned Chmelevski’s puck skills or creativity, and 8:36 into the contest Artyom Minulin wasn’t questioning them either after being schooled by two quick dekes and a top-shelf goal from the shifty forward. A couple more plays like that and he may have been the talk of the game and stole the Team Orr Player of the Game award away from Hischier, but that was far and away his highlight of the night as the rest of the game he was mostly just a passenger…chasing the play and rarely getting a chance to handle the puck as his lack of straight-ahead speed and top gear left him behind in the fast-paced game.
Cody Glass – The rangy Portland centerman was fortunate to be put on a “WHL Superline” with Rasmussen and Lind that wreaked havoc on Team Cherry for most of the evening even if they were only able to score one goal. Glass had one of the prettiest passes of the game when he sent a behind-the-back pass to Rasmussen as he was circling the net, a testament to his tremendous vision and playmaking ability which may be second only to Patrick in this draft class. Some nights in the WHL Glass has some problems with the pace as he is still growing into his body after a large growth spurt the last two years and needs to add muscle to his lower body, and while he was not the fastest prospect on the ice he was not lagging behind.
Stelio Mattheos – It was a common perception among a couple of scouts I’d talked to going into the testing and Top Prospects Game that skating was not one of the strong points of his game. The next day that perception had changed, as Matheos posted some of the best skating results and then exhibited his quickness during the big game. What then comes into question is how consistently he competes if his lack of jump in a lot of viewings wasn’t because he had to improve his speed, and that will now be the thing scouts are more likely to focus on for the rest of the year. Luckily for him, the return of Patrick has meant he is spending much of his time flanking the talented top prospect on Brandon’s top line, which should be motivation enough to keep him competing and padding his point totals.
Matthew Strome – Skating and quickness were the question marks on Strome heading into the game, and he did little to assuage those concerns as he was one of the least visible players in the game. Strome has top-end puck skills, smarts, and one of the best shots in the draft but he had little opportunity to display either in this game as he was chasing the play and never quick enough to get into dangerous scoring positions. Much like his recently drafted brother, Dylan, his foot speed will have to improve substantially if he hopes to be a productive scorer in the NHL.
Conor Timmins – He was already a prospect on the rise heading into the game and did nothing to dispell that with a steady, mistake-free performance on the blueline. No other defenceman showed his smarts with and without the puck; he consistently made the right decision whether it was in making the right read defending or moving the puck with poise and precision. There may not be a better puck-moving defenceman in the draft…certainly none make a better outlet pass. While his physical skills aren’t overwhelming in that he’s not the fastest skater or biggest and most punishing defender, his high hockey IQ and passing skills make him a good bet to be a top three NHL defenceman as he gains the requisite strength.
Nicolas Hague – Thought by many to be a surefire top ten prospect entering the season, a lack of development in his skating speed and indifferent play his own zone left many scouts wondering what all the hype was about, and while his top prospect game was by no means a disaster, a blueliner with his size and evident skating issues may have helped his case with a physical and competitive effort in his own zone. He has scored two goals in his last 22 games after notching 12 in his first 27, so showing a willingness to use that substantial size on a more consistent basis would go a long way to getting back in scouts’ good books when the goal scoring has slowed down.
Eemili Rasanen – Another towering defenceman who would endear himself more to scouts if he dished out a few more hits, especially since he is even less offensively gifted than Hague. On the plus side, as he showed in the Top Prospects game he is a better skater and all-around defender, using sound positioning and his range and stick checks to make life difficult on the opposition. While he’s never going to be a power play quarterback, he does have a heavy shot, and he displayed it during the game with four shots on goal, tying him with Glass for the most by a player on Team Orr.
Markus Phillips – The Top Prospects Game would have been the opportune time for one of the hottest CHL defencemen on the hottest CHL club to show the scouting community that he has offensive upside and skills. Aside from posting some of the best results in the skating tests, the stocky blueliner, who entered the game with 11 points in his previous six games, was rather quiet on the offensive front aside from a couple of rushes that didn’t amount to much. He had few strong plays on the defensive end of things, but also made a few errors, so it was hard to get much of a read on the blueliner in this game. More than likely he will be a consideration to be selected somewhere between the 80th and 120th pick, but could well go in the fourth or fifth round.
Michael Dipietro – The Windsor netminder kept Team Orr in the contest with a couple of highlight-reel stops before being pulled and seeing the game put out of reach with an empty-net goal. He may be a little smaller than the scouts like in an age when you have to be Ken Dryden’s height just to be considered for the top 50, he has the reflexes, competitiveness and athletic abilities to win games and keep the puck out of the net. He’ll have a great opportunity this season to try to convince everyone that his lack of ideal height won’t be an issue as he’ll be seen quite a bit on a team with a top ten prospect in Vilardi and an automatic Memorial Cup berth.
Alex D’Orio – He does not face a pile of dangerous shots in Saint John playing behind one of the best defence corps in junior hockey, so it was a good game for scouts to get a better idea of just how far along he has come in his development. The answer would seem to be that it hasn’t come far enough, as he was the least impressive goalie in the game, giving up a couple of soft goals in the 31 minutes he played. Scouts did not leave the game with a strong feeling about his NHL potential, and with the Sea Dogs having picked up Callum Booth for what they hope is a long playoff run, D’Oriois not expected to play much the rest of the way even though he has only lost one of his 17 starts.