The Canadian Hockey League had their annual Top Prospects game this past Wednesday in Toronto at the ACC. The purpose of this game is to showcase the top draft-eligible players in the CHL. They all go through rigorous physical tests in front of coaches and scouts of the NHL, who want to take a good hard look at the players’ strengths and weaknesses before the entry draft.
This year’s draft class does not have a clear-cut overall number-one like Taylor Hall or Sidney Crosby. Rather, the number-one selection will depend on what team gains the number-one pick. The mid-season draft rankings have been released, but after witnessing the Home Hardware CHL Top Prospects game, these rankings may have shifted.
Throughout the game, it appeared as though the players were not taking it as seriously as earlier years, and just looked to go out and have a leisurely skate. However, a second-period fight ignited both teams to play it as seriously as a league game because scouts were watching closely up in the press box to see who would climb up the rankings. After the game, I expect the draft to go a little something like this (with room for movement within the top five).
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(Red Deer Rebels)
Nugent-Hopkins was named player of the game as he tallied two assists and had a strong defensive game as well. Although he was cut from the World Junior roster in early December, don’t take that as a sign that he won’t be in the top five in the draft. Scouts say he needs to fill out his body, but he’s a fast and creative player that has exceptional vision on the ice. He’s nothing but upside to any NHL team.
2. Gabriel Landeskog
Landeskog did not play in the Prospects game because of an ankle injury that sidelined him from the World Junior tournament as well. However, he’s proven he can do everything, which earned him the captaincy of the Rangers in the OHL. He blocks shots, fights when needed, and scores—which has many people labelling him as the next Mike Richards.
3. Adam Larsson (Skelleftea)
During the World Juniors, it was coming-out party of sorts for Larsson. He continually got stronger and stronger as the tournament went on and was the Swedes’ best player in the tournament. Scouts argue he could be the number-one pick simply because lower-seeded teams need a big defenceman, and this could be him.
4. Sean Couturier
Couturier had a solid performance at the World Juniors and moved up the draft rankings. He is solid on the boards and almost immovable on the puck when it’s in his possession. He makes everyone around him look better with his vision of the ice; he can create scoring chances from nothing. The Top Prospects game was a step back for Couturier, though, as he was nearly invisible on the ice.
5. Ryan Strome (Niagara IceDogs)
Strome is a solid player from head to toe. In light of his lacrosse background, he’s excellent in a shootout, which is perfect for the new NHL. He is fourth in OHL scoring and is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
These rankings are obviously subject to change and they all depend on what teams draft in what position, but certainly expect to see these five players in the top 10. They are extremely talented and have proven that they deserve to play under an NHL team’s logo sooner rather than later.
If you want to check out these players and the most talented teams in the CHL, catch the Memorial Cup in May, which takes place at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. The Memorial Cup guarantees to be an exciting one with this new talent.