January brought plenty of opportunities for NHL Draft eligibles to shine through various Top Prospects’ Games.
These games are a valuable way for scouts to evaluate how each prospect plays against the top talent in his age group, but it’s also important to note these games are also just another chapter in a season worth of views and reports.
Still, there’s plenty to watch with several games showcasing the best-on-best format.
The first of which was the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game, played in front of NHL scouts and general managers in Ralston Arena on Jan. 12 in Omaha, Nebraska. There were plenty of impressive prospects, but three players stood out above the rest and they all happened to play on the same line.
Dubuque teammates William Knierim and Michael O’Leary are both big, strong wingers who were centered by Cedar Rapids pivot Ross Colton. Every time this threesome hit the ice they made things happen, both with their size and offensive skills. Our guys thought that O’Leary really showed well as he ended with a goal and three assists, but created even more opportunity. Knierim ended the night with two assists and a fight.
Colton, a 1996-born that is eligible a second time, was the game’s MVP with the hat trick and two assists for a five-point night. He gets to the open ice and has the puck skills and shot to make something happen once the puck finds him.
Some others showed flashes of impressive play such as Chicago winger Max Zimmer, who was buzzing offensively all night, and Cedar Rapids winger Matt Filipe, who used his impressive blend of size and skill to push defenders back on their heels multiple times for Team East.
Green Bay defenseman Andrew Peeke and Sioux City defenseman Michael Boyle both did well in a tough game for blueliners to play in let alone stand out in. Each did a good job controlling their gaps and moved the puck quickly in transition. Peeke showed strong mobility and three-zone awareness while Boyle played physical, even dropping the mitts with Team East’s Knierim, but was also calm under pressure with the puck in his own zone.
Wade Allison of Team West also left a solid impression, as he worked hard each shift and was rewarded with a goal for his efforts. His size, mobility and two-way game were impressive as was his wiliness to shot the puck.
Smallish offensive defender Jacob Bryson moved the puck and showed off some pretty impressive skills in doing so for Team West. He was most impressive during the skills competition with his puck skills and creativity the night before.
The CJHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 26 at South Surrey Arena hosted a handful of prospects who caught attention. Big names like Dante Fabbro, Tyson Jost and Dennis Cholowski all impressed as expected, but there were also a couple other names that stood out.
Georgetown Raiders defender Matt Cairns showed well for Team East as a guy that plays a steady two-way game and shows strong awareness and moves very well for his size. His biggest asset, though, is his attention to positioning, as he plays smart rather than flashy.
Portage defender Dean Stewart does not get much attention in the MJHL, which does not produce much NHL talent year-in and year-out, but his game was on display in Surrey. He likes the puck on his stick, makes shrewd passes, will jump into the attack and has a really dangerous shot as well. He is one of our sleeper picks his year for sure.
Brinson Pasichnuk a raw yet hard working defenseman with Bonnyville, and Team West, showed strong drive, poise with and without the puck as well as a good gap on his checks all night. He definitely has room to develop his overall game but the potential is there.
The biggest of the three, the CHL’s Top Prospects game featured plenty of top-50 type prospects dotting both Team Cherry and Team Orr rosters.
Forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois and Pascal Laberge of Team Orr and Jordan Kyrou of Team Cherry attracted the most attention.
Dubois had the most impressive performance of the game. He utilized his impressive size, quickness of hand and feet as well as his offensive skills to make a difference on the scoresheet to the tune of one goal and two assists. His running mate on the evening, Pascal Laberge, has his triggerman being in the right spots on the ice showing off his own skills and pinpoint shot on the evening.
Kyrou has been on the down swing most of the season in our rankings after an impressive rookie OHL season, but really looked good in Vancouver at this event and since with the Sarnia Sting. He is shooting the puck more and upped his intensity level over the last few weeks and has his stock going in the right direction yet again.
The defender that impressed was Sean Day of Team Cherry, who has been on the hot seat his entire OHL career. He looked comfortable, which he does not always look with the Mississauga Steelheads, and played a simple yet effective overall game. He did rush the puck a couple times but was better at mitigating chances, was able to find the best options with passes most of the night and played a very strong positional defensive game as well.
Lastly, the two goaltenders who jumped out were Evan Fitzpatrick of Team Cherry and Dylan Wells of Team Orr.
Fitzpatrick, of the Sherbrook Phoenix, was impressive shutting the door on Team Orr in his half a game — all while battling a stomach flu. He was strong positional wise, coming out to cut down angles, and also made a few second chance saves when needed. Wells, who does not see much action with the Peterborough Petes as a backup, was a stone wall himself, tracking the puck well and making a few big, game altering saves, but did let one squeak by him out of the 20 shots he faced.