Top American-born prospects eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft began their years in earnest in Philadelphia on Thursday with the annual USA Hockey CCM All-American Prospects Game.
The game, hosted out of Wells Fargo Center, welcomed Team LeClair, Team Howe and some of the 2017 class’ elite watched over by more than 150 scouts. In year’s past, the game has hosted some of the NHL’s current stars, from Johnny Gaudreau to several top picks, including Matthew Tkachuk, taken with the No. 6 pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2016 draft in June.
In all, 102 players to participate in the game have been drafted in the past four years.
The 2017 installment didn’t take long to impress.
Just a couple of minutes in, NTDP forward and University of North Dakota commit Grant Mismash, playing on Team LeClair’s top line, finished off his own give-and-go to open the scoring.
But the lead, in a game rife with high-end skill up front, didn’t last and two potential top-10 picks quickly linked up, when Spokane Chiefs right wing Kailer Yamamoto found high school hockey standout Casey Mittelstadt in the slot to tie the game.
After defensemen Nate Knoepke responded in turn with a heavy snapshot from the blue line that cleanly beat University of Notre Dame commit Adam Scheel, the game began to settle down as the two teams looked for chances off the cycle instead of off the rush.
The two teams continued to attack, trading a pair of early goals.
The first came from Ottawa 67’s forward Sasha Chmelevski, who finished off a passing play in the slot to extend Team LeClair’s lead to 3-1. The second saw rangy Kingston Frontenacs winger Jason Robertson pot a rebound, tucking the puck five-hole on a play that he started off of the right-wing boards.
Despite several quality chances from Team Howe’s first line of Yamamoto, Mittelstadt and Patrick Khodorenko, the second slowed.
With 17 seconds left in the period, Mittelstadt was once again rewarded for a strong game. He set up Mick Messner, who put the puck between his legs before redirecting the puck off of Mittelstadt for his second goal of the game up and over the pad of Cayden Prime.
Gifted winger Vanya Lodnia walked in off the left wing on a 2-on-1 rush and stopped up, stuttering before letting go a shot that froze goaltender Keith Petruzelli.
From there, Team LeClair continued to push the pace as they had all game — except for when Team Howe’s first line was on the ice — before diminutive 5-foot-9 winger Logan Hutsko finished off another odd-man rush by batting a puck out of midair and past Petruzzelli.
After Logan Cockerill went end-to-end and tucked a puck five-hole while being dragged to the ice for a drawn penalty, Team LeClair’s lead was cut to 5-4, but only briefly. As they did all game, Team LeClair replied with a stop-up wrister from Brannon McManus under the bar to seal the 6-4 victory.
Mittelstadt, a projected surefire top-10 selection and the lone two-goal scorer in a game that featured nine different players find the back of the net, was named the player of the game.