ST. CATHERINES – It has been said before but it needs to said again: Nobody moves the needle in a major way at the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects game. Nobody climbs the board in a meaningful way, rocketing from the third round into the first. Great narrative—I’m sure we’ll see the movie—but it’s not reality. But if the TPG meant nothing at all, they might still play it but you wouldn’t see a couple of hundred NHL executives and scouts turn out. It is a matter of interest despite all the disclaimers execs attach to it.
I suppose if the game can move the needle at all, you’d suppose that it would do it for the players themselves—if they can’t really boost their draft stock, they can at least give their confidence a nudge in the right direction. A kid can do a little to change his image among scouts, but can have a more profound effect on his self-image. If you caught even a period of the game, a 6-0 win for Team Orr over Team Cherry, one name almost certainly pops to mind: Travis Konecny of the Ottawa 67’s.
Konecny wasn’t exactly a question mark entering this season—he was on everybody’s radar given that he was the first-overall pick of the 2013 OHL Draft and an underage skater on the Canadian team at the world under-18s last spring. He has been watched and re-watched, scrutinized, parsed and deconstructed. And the plain fact is, he was much more highly thought of at the start of this season than he was at it’s mid-point. Some point to a a concussion that he suffered, and while injuries of any sort might cause reservations, his fall can’t be pinned on absence from the lineup or a slow lift-off on return. Reasonable people can take that into account.
No, Konecny was already starting his descent on scouts’ lists in advance of that. He’s not quite 5-foot-10 by Central Scouting’s tape measure. He doesn’t play with a lot of surrounding talent in Ottawa—didn’t last year, small improvement this year. That, however, is a footnote, not an excuse. Was he not physically equipped to play a high-energy game at this level, never mind the next? And as much as the players say that they don’t listen to the chatter that’s out there, they hear it. More than that, they anticipate it. If they’re not up to their usual games, they’re the first to know it.
After last night's game, Konecny's confidence should be sky high. He had impressed everyone in the on- and off-ice testing this week and landed a spot on Connor McDavid's wing on Team Orr's first line. From the drop of the puck it seemed like he generated something every trip down the ice. He played a 200-foot game. He spotted at least 20 lb. to Filip Chlapik but still knocked him into another area code with a clean open-ice hit. The name that came up most often when scouts were asked for a comparable was Brendan Gallagher in Montreal and the similarities are plain there—physical package, a pedal-to-the-floor motor and hockey sense. One hockey man threw in another name, St Louis's Jaden Schwartz, which suggests that Konecny has a level of skill and creativity that gives him top-six upside and more, a bit more offensive upside than Gallagher. If you see Konecny as Gallagher, then maybe he's there in the 20s. If you see him as Schwartz, then he'll be gone at that point.
Other players who had positive takeaways from St Catharines, not surprisingly all Team Orrs:
Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon Wheat Kings Already had the bar high from the world juniors, but in the elite of his own class he looked like a game-shaping player. I saw him in Brandon earlier this season and wondered about his ability to carry the puck or jump into the rush. It's a non-factor. And he is a physically thick kid.
Liam Herbst, G, Ottawa 67's Had more to do both on quantity and quality of shots than Team Orr starter Nick McBride. Goaltenders can get more of a bounce in this game than skaters—Charlottetown's Mason McDonald last year as an example.
Timo Meier, RW, Halifax Mooseheads OK, you're knocked for having Nikolaj Ehlers carry you and then you're put on McDavid's right side. Still, he was as effective as Konecny if not quite as splashy. A goal, two assists and a dented crossbar from a laser shot that was an inch away from making his line plus-four.
Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John Sea Dogs One insider said that Chabot reminded him of former Sea Dog Nathan Beaulieu in terms of his command of the game.
Players who made less of an impression, not surprisingly from Team Cherry:
Mitch Marner, RW, London Knights Hard to find many positives in a player who's on pace for 140 points in the OHL.
Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters Ditto for Marner's Cherry linemate.
Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City Americans Minus-four and it looked like every bit of that. The TPG is faster than the run of play in the CHL and Carlo seemed to struggle with that. Then again, at 6-foot-5, he'd be a player that teams would take on as a project for development—if he'd struggle it would be in that phase of the game.