One of the season’s most anticipated prospect events took place Thursday, Jan. 16 in Hamilton, Ont., as Team White defeated Team Red 5-3 in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Elite talent from across Canada’s three major junior leagues participated in the showcase, which was preceded by a day of testing on and off the ice. With scouts and front office staff from all 31 NHL teams in attendance, the players displayed high-end skill, end-to-end rushes and highlight-reel plays — with some physicality to boot. In fact, the third-period scuffle between winger Will Cuylle and defenseman Donovan Sebrango was the first fight in the Top Prospects Game since 2014.
Tyson Foerster, a winger from the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, paced Team White’s offense with three points (two goals, one assist) and center Connor Zary of Kamloops in the Western Hockey League dished out a game-high three helpers. Dylan Garand picked up the win after he stopped 10 of 11 shots and Brock Gould turned aside 27 of 31 in defeat.
Although one midseason all-star game is just a small part of the pre-draft evaluation process, it gives lesser-known prospects the opportunity to shine alongside those who already have established themselves as premier players.
Below is a breakdown of some of the notable standouts among the 40 draft-eligibles who participated in Thursday’s event.
Notables from the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game
LW | Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) | Draft rank: first overall
The odds-on favorite to become the first pick in the upcoming draft who served as captain for Team White, Lafreniere was fast and physical in the showcase. Although the strapping winger technically did not register a point, he did score off the rush with a laser from the left circle that was called off for offside. In a later shift, Lafreniere delivered a hard hit off the forecheck on defenseman Jeremie Poirier then collected the puck moments later for a heavy wrist shot through a screen that just missed going top shelf. Once again, Lafreniere proved he can be the most impactful player on the ice whether he scores or not.
World Juniors 2020: Best moments from tournament MVP Lafreniere
C | Sudbury Wolves (OHL) | Draft rank: second overall
Much like Lafreniere, Byfield didn’t register a point but was able to contribute in other areas. He made a few tape-to-tape setups in the offensive zone, including a nice feed to the slot that Dawson Mercer whiffed on. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Byfield is tough to overlook when he’s on the ice — but the highlight of his performance on Thursday was winning 12 of his 17 faceoffs. It is more likely than not that opinions on Byfield’s upside and pre-draft resume will be based on his impressive season for Sudbury rather than what he did in prospect events like the world junior championship and last night’s Top Prospects Game.
LW | Saginaw Spirit (OHL) | Draft Rank: fourth overall
One of the top-ranked wingers for the draft, Perfetti showcased his expert stickhandling, balance and decision making throughout the night. He fended off two harassing checkers near the boards before sending a perfect feed to a cutting Kaiden Guhle for Team White’s opening score before sealing the victory with an emphatic empty-net goal that he fired from the near boards with his back to the goal. He’ll never be a roadrunner, but it shouldn’t matter when an offensive-minded forward like Perfetti can carve up a defense in their own end so effortlessly as he can.
C | Ottawa 67’s (OHL) | Draft rank: sixth overall
With all due respect to Foerster, Rossi’s dizzying moves and high hockey IQ made him the most recognizable presence on the ice for either team. At 5-9, the native Austrian made his stickwork serve as the intimidating factor. Rossi’s agility, escapability and calculated maneuvers in tight spaces while confidently controlling the puck turned the most hardened of CHL defenders or checkers into a state of confusion. Even in an all-star game like this where offense is promoted, Rossi gave maximum effort to link up with any of his teammates, and he was clean and accurate with his deliveries. Once again, Rossi showed why he will be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft.
Marco Rossi is brilliant in the offensive zone. Advanced hockey smarts for a teenager. Don’t care that it’s a PP in an all-star game.
At around 0:17, puck shot wide & rims around, but a prepared Rossi took TWO peeks down low as it rimmed before corralling it and going to work. pic.twitter.com/w7Pjts5igy
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 17, 2020
C | Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) | Draft rank: 11th overall
A slick playmaking center with excellent vision who centered Lafreniere and two-way winger Seth Jarvis, Bourque showed off his defensive-zone play, high-compete level and penalty-killing smarts. He was stealing pucks off the backcheck, winning battles along the boards and executing precision timing plays with one arm on his stick during a lengthy cycle in the Team Red end. Bourque doesn’t need to put on a show or hog the spotlight to look flashy or impressive — it simply comes out naturally.
C | Kamloops Blazers (WHL) | Draft rank: 16th overall
It seems like most people automatically assume that Zary is more gritty than skilled because he plays in a tight-checking and physical circuit like the WHL. On Thursday, however, the youngster showcased the elite vision and playmaking skills that have him among the league leaders in scoring. Zary drew primary assists at even strength on both of Foerster’s goals and added his third helper on defenseman Braden Schneider’s eventual game winner.
LHD | Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL) | Draft rank: 26th overall
One of the draft’s most gifted puck distributors, Cormier was slinging pucks with authority across all directions. He played an aggressive style and was willing to venture deep into opposing territory. One constant about his game is that he keeps both teammates and opponents on their toes because his intentions with the puck are almost impossible to telegraph. Few defensemen in his class can deliver multiple no-look passes with accuracy as often as Cormier can.
RW | Ottawa 67’s (OHL) | Draft rank: 35th overall
One of the CHL’s hottest goal scorers heading into the matchup, Quinn — with the help of OHL teammate Rossi and Sarnia’s Jacob Perrault — finished off one of the prettiest tic-tac-toe goals you’ll ever see. He’s a highly-intelligent winger with quickness and acceleration in open ice but is also able to enter the zone using a variety of speeds. The manner in which Quinn delays at the line or off the rush is advanced, and he drops a devastating directional change to the inside that increases his shooting angle. He earned the player of the game honors for Team Red.
Marco Rossi might not live in Apartment 2R, but here he makes a fantastic inside move (when everyone was napping) to trigger a tic-tac-toe goal for Jack Quinn. Nice slap pass also from Jacob Perrault. pic.twitter.com/k5BnYl9pMB
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 17, 2020
C | Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL) | Draft rank: 36th overall
Mercer is a big-time point producer in the QMJHL who capped off an energetic performance by banging home a rebound in front of the net with just one second left in regulation. He also knows how to play well defensively, but on Thursday he dove into his arsenal of spin moves and fancy passes and came within a hair from connecting on several plays that would have beefed up his statline. He played on the top line with Byfield and Jake Neighbours but the trio combined for only three shots.
LW | Barrie Colts (OHL) | Draft rank: 63rd overall
A low-maintenance sniper for the OHL’s Barrie Colts, Foerster took advantage of the open ice and the playmaking acumen of his center Zary by whistling two wristers into the back of the net and adding a primary assist on a goal scored by a cutting Schneider. He’s known for having an excellent shot, but Foerster tough to knock off the puck and displayed strong balance on his edges. He was named player of the game for Team White.
LHD | Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) | Draft rank: 84th overall
O’Rourke is a no-nonsense defender who can clean up any mess, even when he’s protecting his end against wave after wave of the CHL’s most dangerous scorers. A stalwart on the Soo’s top penalty-killing unit, O’Rourke once again showed why he can be entrusted with key defensive-zone draws and matchups against red-hot forwards. He strengthened his reputation for having a high success rate in clearing attempts and zone exits, including a heady first pass under pressure to Zary that led to Foerster’s first goal of the game. O’Rourke’s lone shot on goal was impressive as well — a heavy wrister with little backswing from inside the blue line that forced the goalie into a tough save.