The Nuge Strikes Back! Whose Stock is Up and Whose is Down After the Prospects Game?
Every year, the cream of the crop gather for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Over the years, the CHL has done an excellent job marketing this as the premier scouting event on the CHL calendar. Only at the summer Ivan Hlinka tournament, are there as many draft prospects available for viewing and even then, they're not all playing in the same game.
So what, or rather who, were the big storylines this year?
There's only one place to start and that's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He was starting to fall off the map a little. After all, Gabriel Landeskog and Sean Couturier were ranked ahead of him by Central Scouting. Adam Larsson had a moment in the sun at the World Juniors. But from start to finish, there could be no doubt that this game was all about the Nuge. Nugent-Hopkins' hockey sense was on full display as he picked off stretch passes, cycled the puck, fed saucer passes off the rush and set up goals by teammates Sven Baertschi and Zack Phillips.
In case you were forgetting why it was a four horse race for first overall, Nugent-Hopkins reminded everyone on Wednesday night.
Jonathan Huberdeau rocketed up Central Scouting's list to the point where the Saint John Sea Dogs centre was ranked as the number four skater in the midterms. On Wednesday night, the centre from St-Jerome showed off a lot of the skills that scouts love. Huberdeau's hallmark is creativity. It's easy to see him as a solid puck possession centre capable of finding gaps in coverage and using his vision to find his linemates. He remains rather waif-like in his build but his hands and hockey sense, like Nugent-Hopkins will make him a prized commodity at the Draft.
Ryan Murphy came into the Prospects Game with an injured foot that he'd played on for the better part of two weeks. The puckrushing defender for the Kitchener Rangers was still one of the game's premiere offensive catalysts. Three spectacular end-to-end rushes highlighted offensive skills in terms of skating and stickhandling that have led scouts to compare Murphy to another former Kitchener Ranger defenseman, Paul Coffey.
Saskatoon Blades defender Duncan Siemens has a lot of the tools that Major Junior fans have come to expect from WHL defensemen. He's big, he's tough and he focuses on the defensive aspect of the game. Siemens showed off all of these in the Prospects Game, by shutting down rushes by some of Team Orr's top forwards, by manhandling Sven Baertschi with a huge hit in the second period and finally, by fighting fellow Dub defender David Musil. Siemens' size, snarl and puck poise will remind a lot of people of Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
The Portland Winterhawks' contingent of forwards at this year's game stood out. Sven Baertschi was in on a lot of Team Orr's scoring chances and even potted a goal on a beautiful two-on-one saucer pass from teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The trait that the Swiss-born Winterhawk put on most prominent display was his finishing skills. He has the tools to be a regular 25 goal man at the NHL level.
His Portland teammate, Ty Rattie showed off his hands and playmaking skill all night consistently finding seams in coverage and trying to create scoring chances for Team Cherry. Rattie was arguably Team Cherry's most consistent offensive threat not named Ryan Murphy all night, showing a Ray Whitney-like ability to find open ice and use his linemates.
A few other players showed flashes of brilliance last night. So keep your eyes on Tomas Jurco, Stuart Percy, Vladislav Namestnikov, David Musil and Joe Morrow going forward.