As I'm sure most of you were aware of, the CHL Top Prospect's Game took place in Kelowna last night. It was a closely checked affair that saw the lowest score in the event's history, a 2-1 victory by Team Orr. The low score should come as no surprise to anyone following this year's draft class, which is loaded with high end defensive prospects.
Every year, one player tends to steal the show, and this year that one played was definitely defenseman Derrick Pouliot out of the WHL. He was absolutely fantastic.
Obviously, the game had a bit of a dark cloud hanging over it, with all of the injuries occurring to this year's draft class. Missing from the game from the OHL were Nail Yakupov, Malcolm Subban, Cody Ceci, Olli Maatta, Jarrod Maidens, Matia Marcantuoni, and Slater Koekkoek. That's a ton of talent missing right there. And unfortunately, the bug bit defenseman Nick Ebert prior to the game too, causing him to sit out last night. He participated in the skills competition (winning the hardest shot), but fell ill and was unable to play in the main event. It would have been a great chance for him to prove some doubters wrong.
The one thing scouts will always say about this event, is that a bad performance doesn't drop you off the map. After all, it's only one game. But a good performance can really elevate your stature in the scouting community and bring more attention to you. With that in mind, let's take a look at how the OHL players participating did.
10 - Dane Fox
IMO, the best forward for Team Cherry on the night. Great chance for Fox (a late addition to the event) to show his stuff. He played hard at both ends of the ice and looked particularly good on the forecheck and in working the cycle with his linemates Tim Bozon and Gemel Smith. He had some great scoring chances that he either fired wide or was stopped on. And he showed that pesky side to him that OHL fans would know him best for with a couple of hard hits that were borderline "dirty." One of which sent him to the box for a check from behind. But that's a huge part of his game and no coach would encourage him to alter it.
12 - Tom Wilson
Came out guns a blazing in the first period, tossing bodies around like a man possessed. But as the game went on, he became less and less noticeable. He did get into a scrap in the 2nd with Dalton Thrower after laying a big hit on Lukas Sutter. But I'm really not sure I saw him with the puck on his stick much, nor did I really notice him at all in the third period.
16 - Brendan Gaunce
I think Gaunce was most noticeable for his play away from the puck. He was physical and laid out a couple of really nice hits and used his size to go hard to the net looking for loose pucks. He was also very good defensively and was consistently one of the first men back in the defensive zone, at times covering for pinching defenseman. Offensively, he had his moments and helped to create a few offensive chances, but overall was relatively quiet.
19 - Gemel Smith
Smith had a strong game and showcased his typical high energy pace. He's very elusive and slippery out there. Very hard to contain because he never stops moving and can really handle the puck. He worked the cycle close to the wall very well and despite not being the biggest guy, did a good job of protecting the puck (mostly again because of the fact that he never stops moving and is hard to defend). The game was a perfect indication of the type of game he brings to the table.
21 - Scott Laughton
Not the best game for Laughton. He was largely invisible out there, save for when he was getting hit hard. He looked almost frustrated at times and had some turnovers in the neutral zone.
37 - Danill Zharkov
I felt like outside of a couple of nice plays, Zharkov wasn't very noticeable. The problem being that one of those places was a standout in the game, where he exploded with speed to the outside, put the puck between his legs while in stride, kicked the puck back up to his stick (all the while going around Matt Finn) and went hard to the net for a good shot. People and scouts will remember that as it points to what Zharkov and his great size and skill combination is capable of.
30 - Matt Murray
One of the best goaltending performances I've seen at this event. Murray was absolutely outstanding. He has the size NHL scouts are looking for now in goaltenders, but he was able to show off how athletic he is too. Made an unreal save on Raphael Bussieres, stopping Scott Kosmachuk's low shot with his leg first, then sliding over quickly to rob Bussieres with the glove hand on the rebound. He looked great going post to post and did a great job controlling his rebounds, angling them off towards the corners. I wish the Hounds didn't make that Campbell trade (like many Soo fans I imagine), so that we could have seen what Murray was truly capable of this season.
4 - Matt Finn
Definitely not the best game Matt Finn has ever played. I've seen him WAY better. He looked like he was trying to force things offensively a bit. Was caught on a few bad pinches that lead to odd man rushes. Overhandled the puck at the point on the powerplay, leading to a shorthanded odd man rush. Defensively, outside of the Zharkov play (which likely would have exposed every defenseman in the game), he was pretty solid. But don't judge Finn on his play in this game.
6 - Gianluca Curcuruto
Curcuruto has had a disappointing season thus far and has really slid down the rankings. So seeing him have a strong performance in the game was refreshing. He was excellent defensively and really didn't make any mistakes in that area. He was on the ice for a goal against, but he was hung out to dry by his partner (Thrower) when he missed a big hit attempt. Offensively, he had a few occasions where the forecheck gave him some trouble and he nearly turned the puck over, but he generally did a good job of moving the puck. He had a couple nice plays at the point to keep the puck in too. His offensive game definitely hasn't taken the next step forward this season though.
14 - Tanner Pearson
Had the most scoring chances of any player on the ice. The fact that he didn't get a goal on any of them could be alarming to some. I think it was definitely nerve related though. Pearson fanned on a couple of shots that he never misses on in the OHL. The fact that he was able to get so many good shots on net, speaks volumes to his ability to read plays in the offensive end. His hockey sense is crazy good. And while he may not be a burner, the fact that he gets himself open so much says a lot about his skating ability (outside of top end speed). Pearson played well away from the puck too and did good work along the boards and had a few nice hits. If he buries a couple of those scoring chances, we're probably talking about him as the top player at the event.
24 - Scott Kosmachuk
On the most dangerous line in the event with Radek Faksa and Raphael Bussieres, Kosmachuk looked very good. Just as he is in Guelph, he was all over the ice. Worked well in the corners, keeping plays alive on the cycle. Got himself a few good shots in the slot area by creating seperation. Worked well off the rush with his speedy linemates. Kosmachuk is criminally underrated for this year's draft.
27 - Adam Pelech
I thought Pelech played a very solid game. Early on, he had a bit of trouble with the puck in his own end but he settled down and eventually had little trouble with the forecheck. He's very agile for a big guy and is definitely a better skater than his brother Matt (a former NHL first rounder). While he wasn't a factor in rushing the puck (something I was hoping to see him do), he did look comfortable at the point and generated a few scoring opportunities by getting his shot to the net. Defensively, he was solid and looked good. Would have liked to see him show off his nasty side a bit more, but that's nitpicking.
86 - Andreas Athanasiou
Was disappointed with his performance in the game. He created a few nice scoring chances with his speed and puck protection ability, but couldn't finish. Outside of a few shifts, he was largely un-noticeable. This has really been the case much of this season.
94 - Radek Faksa
Had a terrific game. His performance in this event should vault him into contention for the top 10 IMO. Not only did he create offense off the rush showing outstanding speed and puck skill for such a big guy, but he was also fantastic defensively. Just a really complete player.
Anyone else watch the game and have thoughts?