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From Impressive to Invisible: A look back at the 2019 CHL Top Prospects Game

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It’s like ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ — but with a not-so-negative twist.

Rob Wallator - CHL Images

The annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game is essentially the CHL’s all-star game for the best draft-eligible players from all three leagues. All right, maybe there’s no skills competition, but it’s a chance for invited players to impress NHL scouts (and fans) and potentially improve their draft stock for June.

Now, it’s just one game (it’d be different if it were a best-of-three series, but that’s a tale for another day), so you can’t exactly place too much importance on it. However, we’ve seen players come out of nowhere in recent years and just light up this game. Did it really end up having that much of an impact on where they were drafted? That’s difficult to say, but Aidan Dudas (who was added to the game as an injury replacement last year and wasn’t on anyone’s radar) shocked fans and scouts alike with a two-goal statement performance.

Players who have dominated this game in year’s past include Nico Hischier, Filip Zadina, Timo Meier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner, and Steven Stamkos. That’s not to say every year is going to produce NHL stars (the game’s best players in 2013 were Tristan Jarry and Laurent Dauphin), but that’s still an impressive list of players from the last ten years.

The Game

This was definitely one of the more exciting games in the last few years, namely because Team Cherry blew a 4-1 lead (gosh, those leads are so easy to lose these days). Arthur Kaliyev led the way with two goals and an assist for Team Cherry. His linemate, Nick Robertson, had three assists, including this beauty:

While it was this line (along with Peyton Krebs) who led the way offensively for Team Cherry, Team Orr got contributions from throughout their lineup. Their stand-out line was led by team captain Kirby Dach, who was flanked by undrafted overager Brett Leason and Jakob Pelletier. Pelletier got Team Orr back into the game with the team’s second goal in the third period, and Leason tied the game later in the period to complete the comeback.

It was a great end for Team Orr, who started the game slowly and allowed Team Cherry to walk all over them in the first and second periods. It’s interesting to note that three of the five goals scored by Team Orr were individual efforts from players walking alone in the slot. Team Cherry afforded their opponent far too many opportunities to do that as the game progressed.

Instead of just throwing players into generic categories (such as good, bad, and ugly), I went a little deeper (and more positive). Pretty much everyone played well — and I don’t think anyone necessarily had a bad game. So I came up with my own categories — six, in fact, though they’re more like identifiers than anything else — and if you read on, you’ll see why. (Feel free to disagree in the comments, too.)

The Impressive

This is the identifier for players who made dents in the scoresheet — like the players I mentioned above. All but two of the game’s goal scorers made it here. I was especially impressed with Graeme Clarke — who missed some time this season with a shoulder injury. He looks no worse for wear, and the pure goal-scorer made no mistake on Team Orr’s first goal of the game:

For a player who found out he was going to the Prospects Game through Twitter, Clarke had a dynamic night, impressing enough to be named Team Orr’s Player of the Game. Peyton Krebs was named Player of the Game for Team Cherry, thanks to a two-point effort (and a pretty sweet powerplay goal).

The Impressive: Graeme Clarke (Ottawa 67’s), Nick Robertson (Peterborough Petes), Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton Bulldogs), Peyton Krebs (Kootenay Ice), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades), Jakob Pelletier (Moncton Wildcats), Brett Leason (Prince Albert Raiders)

The Impactful

These players may not have made it onto the scoresheet as frequently, but they were still all over the ice, all game long. Connor McMichael scored the game-winner (Team Orr’s third goal in 1:12 to complete the comeback) with a hard wrist shot that beat Taylor Gauthier clean, short-side. As far as forwards who didn’t get on the scoresheet, I thought Nathan Legare and Jamieson Rees were excellent at both ends of the ice for Team Cherry. They pushed play forward and were good in the neutral zone, forcing turnovers and creating scoring chances.

Bowen Byram was probably the best defenseman in this one (Thomas Harley was a close second). Byram just made rush after rush into Team Orr’s end, showcasing his strong stride and mobile skating. Every time I looked up from making notes, he was making something happen and creating off the rush. Teams looking for a mobile defenseman with great puck control should take notice.

I was hoping Mads Soegaard would have a better game than the last ones I saw him play (with Denmark at the World Juniors), and I was very pleased. He finished with a .944% save percentage (the highest of the four goalies), stopping 17 of 18 shots. He wasn’t tested too often, but on the odd occasion where Team Orr did get a scoring chance off, he answered the bell.

The Impactful: Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants), Connor McMichael (London Knights), Thomas Harley (Mississauga Steelheads), Jamieson Rees (Sarnia Sting), Nathan Legare (Baie Comeau Drakkar), Mads Soegaard (Medicine Hat Tigers)

The Intriguing

These players were just flat-out fun to watch. Things always seemed to happen when they were on the ice, but they weren’t necessarily always involved. Billy Constantinou, who was paired with Byram, was equally as smooth-skating. He displayed his edgework and puck control throughout the night — at one point he skated figure-8’s on the blueline to keep the puck onside. Matvey Guskov, who was playing with Clarke and McMichael, had a quieter night, but was still involved in setting them up for scoring chances — including a cross-crease pass that nearly deflected off a defender’s skate.

Team Cherry’s line of Samuel Poulin, Oleg Zaytsev, and Maxim Cajkovic did exactly what they were asked to. Not only did they contribute on the scoreesheet (Poulin scored), and Cajkovic barely missed on a cross-ice pass to Zaytsev for a tap-in goal. In their own end, they weren’t as noticeable — but that’s probably a good thing. Valentin Nussbaumer, who was overshadowed by his linemates (Rees and Legare), was active in plays, but didn’t necessarily have the same offensive pizazz that we saw at the World Juniors.

The Intriguing: Billy Constantinou (Kingston Frontenacs), Matvey Guskov (London Knights), Samuel Poulin (Sherbrooke Phoenix), Maxim Cajkovic (Saint John’s Sea Dogs), Oleg Zaytsev (Red Deer Rebels), Valentin Nussbaumer (Shawinigan Cataractes), Samuel Bolduc (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada), Michael Vukojevic (Kitchener Rangers), Vladislav Kolyachonok (Flint Firebirds), Nikita Okhotyuk (Ottawa 67’s)

The Inconspicuous

This identifier is for players who were pretty highly spoken of prior to the game — but didn’t have the impact many were hoping for. They were overshadowed by many of their other teammates — not that their performance in this game should hurt their draft potential. The way they’ve all played this season speaks for itself. I just wished they’d been more noticeable.

The Inconspicuous: Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), Ryan Suzuki (Barrie Colts), Nolan Foote (Kelowna Rockets), Raphael Lavoie (Halifax Mooseheads)

The Impressionable

The players in this category caught my eye from time to time, but didn’t necessarily pique my interest (or intrigue, if we’re keeping things consistent). This is a big group of players (including where most of the goalies landed), so I won’t go through them all — but certain plays stood out in my mind.

Aside from Soegaard, this is where the goalies landed. No one else was stellar — though Colten Ellis was excellent as Team Orr began their comeback. He finished with an .882 save percentage. Hunter Jones was the better of the two Team Orr goalies, though, stopping 18 of 20 shots (.900%). Team Cherry’s Taylor Gauthier had a rough last period after coming in for Soegaard, allowing four goals in the third period and finishing with a .750 save percentage (12 saves). But as rough as his game was, he doesn’t fall in any other category, so I’ve chosen to leave him here (he technically still caught my eye, just in a more negative way).

As far as skaters go, I thought the pair of Lassi Thomson and Jake Lee was an excellent top pair for Team Orr. They weren’t as offensively dynamic as their counterparts Byram and Constantinou on Team Cherry, but they did contribute on a few offensive chances. Lee registered the lone assist on Leason’s game-tying goal. Nikita Alexandrov was the driving force on Team Orr’s fourth line, getting in on forechecks and pinning defenders up against the boards.

The Impressionable: Lassi Thomson (Kelowna Rockets), Jake Lee (Seattle Thunderbirds), Joe Carroll (Soo Greyhounds), Nikita Alexandrov (Charlottetown Islanders), Philip Tomasino (Niagara Ice Dogs), Sasha Mutala (Tri-City Americans), Artemi Kniazev (Chicoutimi Sagueneens), Colten Ellis (Rimouski Oceanic), Hunter Jones (Peterborough Petes), Taylor Gauthier (Prince George Cougars)

The Invisible

I’ll give all the players in this game credit where it’s due — I heard most of them mentioned at least once. However, if I hadn’t had the teams’ rosters in front of me, I wouldn’t have known these three even skated in this one. In Matthew Robertson’s defense, he was not the most impressive Robertson in this game (or even on his team). But I’m really wracking my brain to figure out if I ever really even noticed the other two.

The Invisible: Matthew Robertson (Edmonton Oil Kings), Kaedan Korzcak (Kelowna Rockets), Josh Williams (Medicine Hat Tigers)