I was at the ACC last night (and the night before, as you can see here) to take in the CHL Top Prospect's Game. To me, this is consistently one of the premier hockey games of the year. But I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed leaving the arena after a 7-1 blow out administered by Team Orr (or should I say Team Gilmour/Clark). I felt like the game lacked the spark of previous years and was a bit of a letdown.
This game itself is obviously a very large venue for these players, to show NHL scouts what they're made of when compared with their peers and other highly rated prospects. The great thing about this game, is that a bad game doesn't necessarily make you chopped liver (everyone has an off game). But a great game can really put you on the map and get scouts to look at you in a different light.
With that in mind, let's look at how the OHL'ers did in last night's game.
#6 - Scott Harrington
I'm not so sure this was a good venue for Scott to show what he's capable of, if anything it might have highlighted some of reasons as to why he's fallen in the rankings of late. He made a couple of nice defensive plays and showed off his smooth skating stride in staying with some of the league's best in transition. But...I think his lack of offensive maturity or progression showed. In particular on the powerplay, where he looked timid and overmatched. Unfortunately for him, he blew a tire while attempting to keep a puck in at the line, leading to Daniel Catenacci's shorthanded goal to open the scoring. Team Cherry was really dominating the play up to this point and that goal really turned the tide.
#9 - Tobias Rieder
I felt like he didn't have a great game. He was good in the three on three game of the skills comp, where he was using his speed to create scoring chances. He also played with an edge and was getting under the nerves of his peers at the (usually) casual event. But during the game, that spark wasn't there. When he's on, he's aggressive on the forecheck, in the corners and off the rush. But when he's not playing with an edge, he can be invisible. And unfortunately, last night, that was the case.
#14 - Shane Prince
I thought Prince had an excellent game, and was maybe the losing team's best forward on the night. He didn't quit, kept on skating hard and was one of the few players generating scoring chances. The lone goal he scored wasn't a thing of beauty (cut into the slot, weak wrister that went five hole), but his perseverance on the play was. As a late add on to the game, he needed to show that he belonged. And Prince did more then that.
#16 - Ryan Strome
I felt like it was an interesting game from Strome, and perhaps one that didn't serve as a good indication of the type of player he is. Through the first half, he was good. He had an excellent first shift of the game and had a great play from behind the net to center the puck into the slot, but no one was home. That was generally the case, with Strome creating and his linemates generally absent. Which I think caused some frustration and in the second half, I felt like he became too self indulged. He was trying to force the play and became a pretty selfish player. For those that see him regularly, this is not the case. I think a lack of chemistry with Ty Rattie and Nicklas Jensen, really hurt his performance.
# 17 - Nicklas Jensen
I was really hoping he'd have a good game, with how well he's been playing for Oshawa lately. But I felt like he really struggled to get things going offensively and was, at times, behind the play and speed at which Strome and Rattie were going. He's a guy who needs the puck on his stick to capitalize on his strength on the puck and general puck possession capability. But playing with Strome and Rattie, it felt like he was being utilized as simply a dump and chase guy and that's not his game.
# 18 - Matthew Puempel
Just not a good game for Matt. I honestly don't ever remember seeing Puempel touch the puck. Hope this one doesn't hurt his confidence back in Peterborough where he's been playing better lately.
#19 - Mark Scheifele
This was my first time seeing Scheifele live (haven't had the urge to watch Barrie play live this year, sorry Colts fans), and the first thing you notice is how big he is. He played a few shifts beside Dougie Hamilton (who's a legit 6'4-6'5), and he didn't look all that smaller. He had a breakaway in the third period, but it was more of an accident than anything. He slipped and went into the boards as his team was exiting the offensive zone, which delayed his backcheck. Luckily enough, a team Cherry player intercepted a neutral zone pass and hit Scheifele just as he was getting up and across the blueline (to remain onside). But he was denied on the breakaway by Jordan Binnington's blocker. The rest of the game, he wasn't really all that noticeable.
#24 - Ryan Murphy
He was deserving of the player of the game for Team Cherry, as he was awarded. Murphy was Murphy. He had a few good rushes and pushed the tempo of the game. He was also one of the few Cherry players who looked like he cared in the final 10 minutes (might be harsh, but it's true). I also liked how he showed people how his physical game in the open ice has improved (with a couple nice hits on RNH and Huberdeau). But at the same time, I felt like he didn't do well to show people his increased dedication to the defensive side of the ice. He spent a lot of time hovering and trying to create offense, it almost helped to support some of the concerns many have about him moving forward.
#25 - Rickard Rakell
I thought Rakell had a pretty good game. He didn't do a ton offensively, but he threw the body around and worked hard in puck pursuit. He's got very good hands and can be a creative offensive player, but it's too bad he didn't really show that tonight. But if the scouts keep flocking to Plymouth, this guy could be a surprise high pick come June. I think he has a lot of upside.
#5 - Stuart Percy
I actually thought Percy had an excellent game. He started off a little shaky and made a few bad breakout passes in the first, but really settled down as Team Orr picked up steam. He made a few really nice defensive plays on odd man rushes to negate scoring chances and showed his strong defensive positioning and IQ. Not flashy, but just gets the job done.
#7 - Daniel Catenacci
I thought Catenacci had a great game. I really haven't seen him play a bad game this year. His motor never stops running. Glad he was able to show people just how good of a skater he is too, by beating Ryan Murphy (probably the best skating defenseman in the OHL) to the net on his shorthanded goal in the first. He never took a shift off, and you have to be impressed by that. I still don't know what his NHL upside is, but I know he's a treat to watch as a junior hockey player.
#12 - Boone Jenner
I felt like Jenner had a pretty good game. If anything, he showed that he thinks the game well and has the vision to be a playmaker at the next level. He made a really nice play to find Nathan Beaulieu at the point for his third period goal.
#18 - Vladislav Namestnikov
I really didn't notice Namestnikov out there to be honest. He had an underwhelming performance in comparison with some of his teammates who really stole the show.
#22 - Brandon Saad
Similar to Namestnikov, Saad didn't really stand out. He did have a few nice defensive plays and played well on the PK, but he didn't do a whole heck of a lot offensively. I expected more.
#27 - Dougie Hamilton
He got better and better as the game went along and as an NHL prospect, I think he showed that he might just be the second best the OHL has to offer (behind the injured Landeskog). Became more confident in rushing the puck as the game went on and really showed how good of a skater and athlete he is for a big guy. He was physical, he played well defensively. A good game for Mr. Hamilton (and a perfectly placed goal to end the game too).
#38 - Lucas Lessio
Lessio had a couple of good shifts where he showed the energy and speed he's able to bring to the ice, but was otherwise pretty invisible five on five. I actually thought he played very well on the penalty kill though.
#89 - Vincent Trocheck
Trocheck did a very good job on the penalty kill last night, working with his teammate Brandon Saad. His hustle was noticeable five on five too. He was rewarded with a nice goal late in the game, where he simply beat his defender to the net and tucked it in far side.
#31 - Jordan Binnington
Binnington was absolutely amazing during the skills competition and was pretty good last night too. He let in a weak goal to Shane Prince, but also made a couple of great saves, one on Mark Scheifele's breakaway, and the other on a goal mouth scramble where he stretched the pads out to deny a chance in front of the net. Owen Sound is going to need him to be huge until Stajcer returns from injury and hopefully he can carry over some of the confidence generated from this event.
I'm sure many of you out there were at the game last night. What did you think?