Contrary to popular belief, it’s not Don Cherry, Bobby Orr or any of the guest coaches that choose who plays in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. In fact, the CHL prefers to keep at arm’s length during the selections to avoid conflicts of interest. That and six more things you didn’t know about the game.
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For the 2016 game, any player on an active CHL roster born between Jan. 1, 1996 and Sept. 15, 1998. While it is rare for players in their second or third year of draft eligibility to be included, it does happen. The most recent high-profile case was Tanner Pearson, who was 20 years old when he was selected to play in the 2012 edition of this game. Pearson ended up going 30th overall to the L.A. Kings that June. While it wasn’t one contest that determined his draft ranking, the prospects game did have an impact.
Players born after Sept. 15th, 1998 are referred to as “late birthdays, or simply “late” in scouting vernacular and aren’t eligible until subsequent years. The oldest player in this year's game is winger Julien Gauthier of the Val-d'Or Foreurs (Oct. 15, 1997); the youngest is Everett Silvertips goalie Carter Hart (Aug. 13, 1998).
Who picks the players?
Player selection is facilitated by NHL Central Scouting, but actually dictated by each of the 30 NHL teams. It’s important to know that Central Scouting is not in any competition with any of the independent scouting services and therefore has no vested interest in who plays. The bureau is there to best serve the NHL as a whole. The head of NHL Central Scouting is Dan Marr, who was once the head scout for the Atlanta Thrashers and has a long history in the league going back to his days in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Marr has been on the job since October of 2011, shortly after the passing of the late and legendary E.J. McGuire.
Jeff Marek hosts Sportsnet’s weekly CHL podcast, a one-stop shop for news, analysis, opinion and interviews covering the WHL, OHL and QMJHL.
How are players picked?
NHL teams are given a nomination sheet in early December that the scouting directors complete and return to Central Scouting. Participation is strongly encouraged, but not mandatory. The nomination sheet asks teams to name four goalies, 12 defencemen and 24 forwards. The names are tabulated and a list for each of the three positions is created. Essentially those lists determine who plays in the game.
And, no, there is no consideration given to anyone who plays for the host city’s club.
How are the teams decided?
Once the player lists are made, Central Scouting looks at recent history to see if and when players have played together. Often current teammates are teamed. Another big factor is the most recent (in this case 2015) Ivan Hlinka tournament—linemates and defence partners are often paired. The players are then split into two teams, sent off to the CHL and from there, the league assigns the coaching staffs.
The idea is to make the players as comfortable as possible to foster peak performances.
Injuries and replacements
It’s inevitable that some of the players named in December are unable to participate due to injury. Replacing an injured player is nothing more than going to the next player on the list for that position. For example, if any one of the 24 forwards cannot partake due to injury, then the 25th forward on Central’s list is invited to play.
There is one exception to the rule. If a replacement player is notified and he’s not physically able to arrive in time for the game, Central Scouting gets together with the CHL to find the next highest-ranked player on the list who’s geographically able to make it in time for the game.
Players replaced due to injury
Tyler Benson, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL); replaced by Ty Ronning, RW, Vancouver Giants
The Yakupov Rule
Players returning from injury must be cleared not just medically, but deemed 100 percent game-ready in order to participate. Central Scouting works with the player, team, league, agent and medical staff to ensure no one plays hurt.
In 2012, Sarnia's Nail Yakupov missed roughly a month after the world juniors. The week before the prospects game, Yakupov returned to the Sting and played three games in three nights, but decided to skip the prospects game. That earned him a two-game suspension.
The Top Prospects Game is the one marquee event on the CHL schedule specifically designed for draft-eligible players. The league takes the event seriously. It is believed if a player is healthy enough to play for his club team, he’s healthy enough to participate in the prospects game.
Sucking it in
Upon arriving, every player is subject to height and weight measurements taken by NHL Central Scouting. The bureau also sub-contracts a fitness testing company and dedicates a day to evaluate the players in a series of on and off-ice tests. All of the measurements and test results are made available to every NHL team.