Every year, the Canadian Hockey League holds a showcase of their top-talented players that are eligible for the National Hockey League’s Entry-Level Draft. The best talents from the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League go to a set location and are split into two teams led by NHL great, Bobby Orr and Canadian legend, Don Cherry.
These prospects showcase their potential bosses in the NHL and play this game every year as if it is just a regular season game. Some former players including Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid have all participated in this game and were all future number one overall pick in the NHL Draft.
In 2016, Vancouver, British Columbia got the opportunity to host the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game where 40 of the best draft eligible players would compete against one another for a chance to raise their draft stock and impress NHL scouts and general managers. The year, the game did not feature the projected first overall pick in the NHL Draft, but it did feature the top North American skater according to the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings.
Matthew Tkachuk, son of former NHL forward Keith, would be featured as the captain for Team Orr. Tkachuk is having a stellar season in the OHL with the London Knights as he has put up 70 points (16 goals and 54 assists) in 38 games in London, and is tied for fourth in the OHL in scoring. Tkachuk is a big-sized winger with an edge to his game, and he is an exceptional playmaker who can do it all on the ice. Sounds familiar, right? He played on Team Orr’s top line with Moose Jaw Warriors’ center Brett Howden, and Mississauga Steelheads winger Alexander Nylander.
On the other side, serving as captain for Team Cherry, is the second highest ranked North American skater on the Central Scouting rankings in defenseman, Jakob Chychryn. Chychrun, the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff, is also ranked as the top defenseman available in the NHL Draft this June in Buffalo, New York. After missing the later portion of the season due to shoulder injury, Chychrun has had a decent season with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL as the team’s top defenseman. This season, Chychrun has eight goals and 24 assists in 44 games with the Sting.
Chychrun took over the captaincy role for Team Cherry after Vancouver Giants forward Tyler Benson pulled out of the game due to injury.
Overall, half of the 40 players in the Top Prospects Game were representatives of the OHL, 12 of the players were from the WHL, and just eight players came from the QMJHL.
The game got started with a hometown prospect getting on the board for Team Cherry. Ty Ronning, son of former NHL forward Cliff, tipped a feed from Jordan Kyrou of the Sarnia Sting and grabbed his own rebound to put Team Cherry up, 1-0. Ronning this season, playing in Vancouver with the Giants, is the team’s leading scorer with 27 goals and 44 points in 47 games.
The period would end with Team Cherry maintaining the one-goal lead with Team Orr out-shooting Cherry by a 12-9 total.
It took over 17-minutes for Team Orr to get on the board with a goal from Victoriaville Tigres forward, Pascal Laberge. Laberge got a pass from Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, made a nice move around Team Cherry’s Alex DeBrincat and ripped a shot to the top corner of the net on the blocker side of Warriors goalie, Zachary Sawchenko.
The game would remain tied heading into the third period when Team Orr took the first lead of the game. Dubois and Laberge were at it again on the powerplay with Dubois going hard to the net. Dubois could not score on his chance, then threw the puck back out towards the front of the net. Laberge gathered the puck along the boards, took the puck just below the faceoff dot and put his second goal of the game in the back of the net.
Nearly two minutes later, Team Cherry would tie the game with a goal from Logan Brown of the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. The play started with a nice play by Kyrou once again to find Brown with a spin-around pass, and Brown put a shot on the far-side of Team Orr goalie Dylan Wells of the Peterborough Petes in the OHL. In 40 games this season in Windsor, Brown has nine goals and 36 assists, and has lately come alive after a slow start to the season.
But it did not take long before the combination of Dubois and Laberge would put Team Orr up for good. Just eleven seconds after Brown tied the hockey game, it was Dubois’ turn to get a goal set up from his partner, Laberge. Dubois stole a pass from Team Cherry’s Vitaly Abramov, dropped a pass back to Laberge, and Laberge found Dubois uncontested next to Sawchenko and put home the go-ahead goal.
Team Cherry would have their chances in the third period, as they put up 14 shots on Team Orr, but Dubois’ goal would stand as the game-winner and Team Orr would win its sixth straight Top Prospects Game by a 3-2 score.
Who stood out from this game and who made an impression, or lack thereof, for their Draft stock?
Most Valuable Players:
Team Orr – Pierre-Luc Dubois
Dubois was arguably the best player throughout the entire game as he created a ton of chances, and was the most electric prospect on the ice.
Dubois finished the evening with the game-winning goal and assists on both of Laberge’s goals. Dubois was skating hard, playing a strong physical game, and was constantly on the puck and was not afraid to be aggressive with the puck.
— Kathryn Jean (@msconduct) January 29, 2016
Dubois has had a phenomenal season in the QMJHL with Cape Breton this season, putting up 30 goals and 69 points in 48 games. Dubois was another player who was up for a roster spot for Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship, but was part of the first round cuts along with Chychrun.
Dubois is ranked as the seventh best North American skater on the NHL’S Central Scouting rankings, while he is ranked 11th on our winter rankings.
Not only did this performance prove that Dubois has the credentials to be a top prospect, but he proved that he could move back into the top-10 of the NHL Draft rankings. Dubois will look to finish the season on a high note and help carry the Screaming Eagles to the QMJHL championship, and even a Mastercard Memorial Cup Championship.
Team Cherry – Michael McLeod
While it may have been a quiet game for McLeod on the scoresheet, he was arguably Team Cherry’s best player on the ice. McLeod finished the game with a minus-1 rating, went 71-percent on his faceoffs, and created many good scoring chances for Team Cherry. With his performance, McLeod was also voted as the Most Valuable Player of Team Cherry.
McLeod is an electrifying player who never stops his feet from moving on the ice. McLeod may be a faster skater with the puck than without the puck, and his competitive game is one of the best in the OHL.
So far this season with the Steelheads, the 17-year old center has 19 goals and 35 assists in 47 games. McLeod is the energy player on the Steelheads’ top line with Nylander and Nathan Bastian on his wings.
If McLeod can continue his excellent play with the Steelheads, he could help lead his team into a deep OHL playoff run, and a chance to play for an OHL championship. Even if the Steelheads do not win this year, Mississauga could be set up for another deep run next year in the OHL.
McLeod could be one of the top Canadian-born players drafted in the NHL Draft, and could go in the top-10 of June’s Draft. McLeod is the sixth ranked North American skater on the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings.
Most Surprising Players:
Team Orr – Pascal Laberge
No denying that Laberge’s performance in the Top Prospects Game was surprising to see, but it certainly helped when he played with a player like Dubois.
In 37 games this season in the QMJHL with Victoriaville, Laberge has 14 goals and 27 assists. Laberge has had a rough season this year as he has been limited to 36 games this season due to a broken hand that has broken twice.
Laberge will look to remain healthy for the rest of the 2015-16 season, and will hope to help keep the Tigres in the playoff hunt in the QMJHL.
Laberge is expected to be a player to be drafted in the second or third round of the NHL Draft. He is the 31st ranked North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting’s rankings.
Team Cherry – Jordan Kyrou
Coming into the week of the CHL Top Prospects Game, not many people may have known about who Kyrou was or what type of player he is. After Thursday’s game, Kyrou has made a name for himself for the rest of this season and heading into the NHL Draft.
Kyrou finished the game with two assists, a plus-2 rating, and was one of the best playmakers on Team Cherry, especially on the top line with Brown and Max Jones. In addition to his outstanding performance in the game, Kyrou was the top skater in the on-ice testings prior to the game. Kyrou also finished second in the off-ice testings, making him one of the more physically fit players in the game.
In 44 games this season in the OHL with the Sting, Kyrou has 12 goals and 21 assists.
Kyrou will look to build on the week that he had in Vancouver, and will be another key player in Sarnia’s run to the OHL Playoffs.
Kyrou’s stock could continue to rise if he plays well down the stretch in Sarnia. Right now, Kyrou is projected to go in the third round of the NHL Draft, but could easily be a second round pick on June 25. Right now, Kyrou is the 45th ranked North American skater on NHL’s Central Scouting rankings.
Most Disappointing Players:
Team Orr – Brett Howden
Howden was ranked as the top center on Team Orr, and had a golden opportunity to prove his worth on a line with Tkachuk and Nylander. While Howden did center the top line with two of the top prospects in the NHL Draft, he did not do much to improve his stock or help Tkachuk or Nylander play better.
Howden finished the game with a minus-1 rating, and was just 27-percent on his faceoffs in the game. Not to say that Howden’s game was horrible, but Howden certainly left some coming out of this game looking for more from him.
In 47 games with the Warriors this year, Howden has 18 goals and 26 assists playing on Moose Jaw’s second line behind Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Brayden Point.
Howden is ranked as the 27th best North American skater according to the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings, and his performance here may not be indicative of if his stock rises or falls. But while playing with Tkachuk and Nylander, it was disappointing not to see him perform more than he did.
Team Cherry – Alex DeBrincat
While DeBrincat has proven himself to be one of the best goal scoring prospects available in the NHL Draft, this game was not a highlight of his season.
DeBrincat had a rough IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland for the United States, and this game did not help in his stock. While DeBrincat did produce a couple of good quality scoring chances, he had a minus-1 rating, and struggled in his defensive game. DeBrincat also looked as if he was not entirely in the game as he stopped skating at some points and was not doing enough to put himself into a position to make a play or get a shot on goal.
Last year, people thought that the 5′ 7″ and 160-pound forward was just a product for Edmonton Oilers center, Connor McDavid. Earlier this season, DeBrincat was proving to many that he can score goals and produce without the help of McDavid. Lately, he has struggled in his play and has not produced the numbers that he was producing earlier in the season.
DeBrincat will have to finish the season strong with the top-rated CHL team in order to keep his stock as high as it is. If he continues to struggle, DeBrincat will fall out of the first round projections. He is currently ranked as the 20th North American skater in the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings, but he could continue to slide if he performs the way he has lately.
The NHL’s Central Scouting department is expected to release its final rankings some time in April.