Takeaways from Top Prospects Game

Amazing night in Kitchener, watching the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game. It had been a while.

I ran into several old friends, colleagues and scouts I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. The Aud in Kitchener is a great barn, where franchise history is celebrated. It is a place that, even with two renovations in the past 13 years, has been able to maintain its old-school roots, yet be modern enough to host an OHL team with all of its amenities.

The difficult part was not calling the game. First one I haven’t called since 2006.

Team White won this year’s event over Team Red 3-1. Here are some notes from a great night…

Scout’s Eye

Best part of the night was sitting with old friend, but new colleague, Jason Bukala. Bukala is the owner of The Pro Hockey Group, essentially a scouting platform that we at Sportsnet have exclusive access to. Bukala and I go back to his days as Florida’s Head Scout, where he was responsible in-part for today’s iteration of the Panthers.

I’ve never claimed to be a scout, but I’ve always prided myself on making assessments with my own eyes and corroborating them with my network of scouts and executives. It was great to sit with him and learn from his observations. The depth of his knowledge is impressive and it’s easy to see why he had so much success leading the Panthers. Recognizing tendencies such as backhand/forehand play, turning ability, strength of net drives and a host of other subtleties not evident to the untrained eye. I’m looking forward to working with JB on the 2022 NHL Draft.

Just when you think they aren’t looking….

Scouts don’t just observe players during play, but surrounding it. JB pointed out Moose Jaw’s Denton Mateychuk, Team White’s captain, as someone who was taking charge all game long, be it on the bench or before faceoffs.

Digging Deep

Interviewing players is a big part of the event, and is a necessary tool in unearthing the amazing stories surrounding these young men. I’m especially grateful to Moose Jaw’s Jagger Firkus, who shared a deeply personal story that I hope we can share soon.

rock out

And yes, parents Lorne and Shelly are big rock fans. Jagger’s brother is named Ambrose.

Firkus ended up with a goal and an assist in Wednesday’s 3-1 win, and was named the Jim Gregory Player of the Game. He’s ranked No. 33 on the North American skaters list by NHL Central Scouting.

Jake the Snake

While it is only one game, it can have an impact. Aside from Firkus, linemate Jake Karabela of the Guelph Storm may have improved his stock the most. Karabela also had a goal and an assist. Karabela came into the game ranked No. 61, which projects as a third-round pick. I can see him going in the second.

Wright’s Night

Shane Wright’s two best chances came in the first four minutes where he missed on a breakaway, but scored Team Red’s lone marker on a two-on-one. Wright showed glimpses throughout the night as to why he remains the top prospect for the 2022 draft.

Lefty/Righty, Righty/Lefty

Hockey nicknames aren’t typically creative, but you gotta love the handle given to right-shot power forward Nathan Gaucher of the Quebec Remparts. His nickname is lefty. ‘Left’ means left in English.

Hearing Whispers

The most whispered-about player in scouting circles was Gatineau’s Noah Warren of Team White, whom many feel is raw and with plenty of upside. Warren is ranked No. 49. He typifies the big, nasty defenseman who can really skate.

Jump

Winnipeg’s Matthew Savoie had the most jump of anyone in the game. He’s electrifying with the puck on his stick.

Speedy Creek

Swift Current goalie Reid Dyck stopped all 23 of the shots he faced in the Team Red goal. Spokane’s Mason Beaupit made 16 saves on 16 shots in his half of the game in Team White’s net.

Mats/Mats

Kamloops defenseman Mats Lindgren is the son of former NHLer…Mats Lindgren. He met the Sedins at a young age and Daniel in-particular has been a mentor.

NBA Mids

Fun to watch the two tallest players do their thing. Swift Current’s Owwn Pickering stands 6-foot-5 and a half, and showed some good hands with a couple of subtle defensive zone touches. Team Red’s Maveric Lamoureux (6-foot-7) also looked smooth handling the puck all night.

Memories of Sanheim

It’s not lost on Pickering that he was picked in the ninth round, 177th overall, in the WHL bantam draft. That’s the exact same spot Philadelphia’s Travis Sanheim was taken by the Calgary Hitmen. Pickering is on the same trajectory as Sanheim, who at the start of his draft year (2014) was nowhere to be found and ended up being taken 17th overall.

Really???

He must have had his favorite pre-game breakfast…two burgers loaded. Yes, for breakfast.

On-ice overall testing results

1. Matthew Savoie, Winnipeg, Team Red: Finished first in the 30M skate forward with the puck, weave agility with puck, transition agility, reaction with puck

2. Vinzenz Rohrer, Ottawa, Team White

3. David Goyette, Sudbury, Team Red

4. Isaiah George, London, Team Red: Finished first in the 30M backward skate, 30M backward skate with puck

5. Shane Wright, Kingston, Team Red: Finished first in weave agility, and transition agility with puck

Thunder Bay to Kitch

Had a chance to meet Kitchener Rangers assistant coach Brennan Menard. It was a winding road for him to get to Kitchener.

Menard grew up in Thunder Bay and played his junior hockey in the AJHL with Spruce Grove before making his way back home to play for the Thunderwolves. He was there, working under head coach Andrew Wilkins that Menard cut his teeth. As a coach in USports, you’re tasked with many responsibilities, and as hard as the work may be, it does make a coach more well-rounded. After two years at Lakehead, and a recommendation from skills coach Darryl Belfry, he joined the Rangers.

Also a pleasure to see trainer Dan LeBold, who’s been with the Rangers since 1995. He’s been behind the bench for over 1,800 games.

Super Supporters

Aside from having the best handle of anyone in the game, Mississauga’s Luca Del Bel Belluz might also be the best supported. There’s a small group of family and friends that attend most Mississauga games. The support group was out in full force Wednesday, too. Even his teammates showed up to support him and teammate Owen Beck.

Q, Where are you?

Beck is lamenting the lost baseball he had signed by fellow Port Hope native Cal Quantrill, who now toes the rubber for the Cleveland Guardians. Quantrill attended the same high school Beck attended before he left for Mississauga.

Now that makes me feel old, because I remember a young Cal Quantrill hanging around the Blue Jays clubhouse in the late-90’s when I worked there as an assistant equipment manager.

Oh Canada

Guelph’s Danny Zhilkin has been in Canada since 2013. After attending a Roger Neilson hockey camp in Aurora, Zhilkin and his family decided it would be best to move to Canada to further his hockey career. Nine years later, he’s projected as a late first-, early-second round pick. Zhilkin won gold with Canada at the 2021 World Under-18 Championship.

Second Hand News

NHL.com stalwarts Adam Kimelman and Mike Morreale let me in on a little secret. Apparently Kingston’s Paul Ludwinski solved the rubik’s cube in under a minute.

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