Scout’s Analysis: How important is the Top Prospects Game?

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The annual CHL Top Prospects Game goes Wednesday night in Langley, BC.

Most of the top-rated players from NHL Central Scouting’s mid-season North American list, who play in either the WHL, OHL, or QMJHL, are poised to show off their abilities in front of all 32 NHL team scouting staffs.

Here are some pre-game notes:

1. Connor Bedard will go No. 1 in the NHL draft. Nothing he does in this game will change his outlook.

2. Bedard is playing centre for the Regina Pats. He’s listed as a centreman for this game as well, but I’m curious to see if he ends up playing the wing at the NHL level – like he did for Team Canada at the world juniors.


3. Unfortunate to see Andrew Cristall was injured this past weekend playing for Kelowna (WHL). It would have been fun to see Cristall, Bedard, and Zach Benson play together in this game. The three prospects played spring hockey together growing up in the Vancouver area.

4. Benson’s hometown is Langley. He’s likely to have the loudest cheering section at the game.

5. The WHL has been loaded with prospects this season. Bedard (Regina), Brayden Yager (Moose Jaw), Zach Benson (Winnipeg), Sam Honzek (Vancouver), Lukas Dragicevic (Tri-City) and Nate Danielson (Brandon) are all ranked within the top 13 skaters in North America.


IMPORTANCE OF TOP PROSPECTS GAME

I’m often asked how scouts approach this game. Do we penalize a player for a poor performance? How much do we value an elite game that exceeds expectations?

These prospects have earned their way into this game based on their body of work from the beginning of the season. As long as they play with discipline and compete, I’m not holding a singular sub-par performance against them long term.

Conversely, it’s nice to see a prospect play to their strengths and thrive in a game like this. If a projected scorer goes off and has a massive game – say a hat trick – it makes for a nice story and certainly a positive viewing.

If another prospect, who also projects to be a scorer, is held off the score sheet but works to generate chances and contributes with reliable detail and compete, it’s still a positive viewing.

Here are some other things to note about this game, from a scout’s perspective:

1. It’s important to come out of this game with perspective, but these players will leave a mark (positive or negative) with the GMs who are in attendance. For that reason alone, the game does carry more value than most.

2. This game can be a bit of a “trap” for the goalies depending on the intensity and detail provided in front of them. There have been some top prospect games in the past that have resembled non-contact all-star games.

3. My message to players who play with a physical edge during regular season: This event can be considered one of your job interviews before being hired. Play to your strengths and don’t shy away from contact.

CRITICAL DATE CALENDAR

• Most NHL teams have completed their mid-season meetings and scouts are now preparing their travel schedules for the stretch drive of the 2022-23 season. This game will impact how some scouts adjust their future viewings. Scouting directors, especially, want to see prospects live and in-person ahead of producing their final draft lists. Lottery teams who generally know they will not be making playoffs will be out in full force dissecting (especially) the top four rounds of the draft. It’s impossible for a scouting director to have intimate knowledge of every player in the draft. Rounds 5, 6 and 7 are where regional scouts are heavily relied upon to assist with targeting future assets.

• The CHL trade deadline was completed on January 10. With rosters now set for potential playoff drives – or not – the number of scheduled viewings ranges wildly and scouts will have potentially less than two months to complete their opinion on some prospects.

• Players who are either eliminated from playoff contention, or their teams get bounced in the first round of CHL playoffs, become eligible for Team Canada at the U18 World Championships. This year’s tournament is being held in Basel and Porrentruy Switzerland from April 20-30.

• The mens’s World Championships are being hosted by both Finland and Latvia in May. If Bedard isn’t competing in WHL playoffs with Regina, will he be a candidate to suit up for Team Canada’s senior team? It could provide a first look at his impact versus men who are playing pro.

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