The Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game is one of my favourite events of the year. Our crew gets to spend two full days hunkering down on the players we get to see throughout our travels.
Our regular season schedule doesn’t usually afford us the time to get to meet a lot of the players, but during this event we get to know the personalities and the amazing back stories behind these student-athletes.
This year, Team Orr came from behind for a 5-4 win over Team Cherry. With the game now behind us, here are a few takeaways from on and off the ice.
With Don Gone
Ron MacLean may not want to go back to Toronto after taking the loss while representing his Coach’s Corner cohort Don Cherry on Wednesday night.
Up 4-1 early in the third period, Team Orr scored four unanswered goals from Jakob Pelletier (Moncton), Nikita Okhotyuk (Ottawa), Brett Leason (Prince Albert) and Connor McMichael (London) to win the game.
The last three of those goals were scored in a 1:12 stretch. Not only will MacLean have to face the music from Don, but he’ll have to do so wearing a Medicine Hat Tigers jersey, the team opposing coach Kelly Hrudey once played for.
Kirby Dach, who once held off on participating in social media is now on Twitter and Instagram. When we spoke to the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Saskatoon Blades centre in November, he said he didn’t want social media to be a distraction in his draft year.
Dach was definitely in the minority as just about every other CHL player is involved in social media. That all changed about a month ago, when Dach joined in to promote his involvement in the Gordie Howe Foundation, a charity that provides skates to under-privileged children.
Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs surprised many when he finished fourth overall in 10 different on-ice tests during Tuesday’s combine. The Florida-born, Michigan-trained winger didn’t take long to get Team Cherry on the board.
Set-up on a spinning back-hand pass by Nick Robertson, Kaliyev buried a one-timer just 56 seconds into the contest. Kaliyev went on to add a secondary power play assist and his second goal of the game in the second period. Kaliyev was the third-highest ranked OHL player in NHL Central Scouting’s latest list, checking in at No. 11 among all North American skaters. In my latest draft rankings for Sportsnet, Kaliyev was ranked 11th among all draft prospects.
Medicine Hat goalie Mads Sogaard was at his best. The young man who faced a boatload of rubber for Denmark at the world juniors tweaked a muscle in a January 16 game against the Edmonton Oil Kings that seemed as though would force him to miss the Top Prospects Game.
The 6-foot-7 Dane recovered quickly and was brilliant for Team Cherry, stopping 17 of 18 shots in his 30:21 of action. Positionally sound with good athletic ability, Central Scouting ranked Sogaard third amongst North American goaltenders.
Amazing back story on Peterborough’s Nick Robertson, who almost died as a baby. Born three months premature with pneumonia, he needed steroid shots to give his lungs the strength to breath. Doctors were down to their last attempt when the medication took and Robertson remained in the hospital’s NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) until he was well enough to go home. His dad Hugh claims that Nick’s battle to survive as a baby has made him the tenacious player he is today.
A couple of other facts about Robertson: 1.) He grew up learning the game in L.A. playing with the sons of Nelson Emerson, Rob Blake and Pat Brisson. 2.) He chose to play with a lesser minor midget team order to better prepare himself for the OHL. 3.) Robertson was exposed to the OHL in Plymouth, watching the Whalers before their relocation to Flint.
Right Catching Goat
The father of Prince George goalie Tyler Gauthier has 14 siblings, most of them based in PEI. That means a lot of cousins and one in particular has had an influence on Tyler’s career.
John Patrick Stevenson is an accomplished baseball player, a left-handed pitcher who played at Canisius College. Gauthier, who took to the game himself as a rare left-throwing catcher, called upon Stevenson to find him a glove. Stevenson came through and Gauthier credits his strong glove hand to baseball and his cousin.
Of all the players I was interested to meet, Peyton Krebs was at the top of the list. His whole situation is interesting. He plays for a rebuilding franchise in Kootenay whose move is imminent and he’s their captain in his draft year – so how is he handling all those challenges?
After spending five minutes with the young man, it’s easy to see not only how he’s managed those pressures, but how he’s thrived in that environment. On a personal note Krebs is a fitness freak, a fan of fine watches and a big-time family guy. Oh ya — and he’s one heck of a player.
A Leason Impression
The best story in hockey this year, Leason continued his rise to prominence. Although he missed two tap-ins, the Prince Albert Raider still ended up with a goal and an assist in the contest. There have only been three games all season in which Leason failed to record a point. One came just before he left for world juniors and the other two just after he got back.
The 19-year-old is in his third year of draft eligibility and before this season he never had a sniff from Hockey Canada or an NHL team. He’s destined to be a first-round pick in June.
Line of the Night
The Team Cherry trio of Nick Robertson (Peterborough), Arthur Kaliyev (Hamilton) and Peyton Krebs (Kootenay) was brilliant, accounting for three of Cherry’s four goals. Robertson and Kaliyev were playing on the same line for the fourth time in less than one season. They were paired at Team USA’s Hlinka-Gretzky tryout camp, then for the tournament, and once more at the US All-American Prospects game in Minnesota in September. Krebs looked like he’d been with them the entire time. The line combined for eight points, produced eight shots and finished even on the night.
Wait for Nate
When NHL Central Scouting Rankings were released Monday, Baie-Comeau’s Nathan Legare took his No. 64 ranking in stride. Expecting to be higher based on many prognosticator’s rankings, Legare was not at all rattled. He took it as a challenge to move up over the rest of the season.
Despite finishing minus-1 in the Top Prospects Game he won each of the six faceoffs he took and was a menace all over the ice, using his big frame to outmuscle opponents. Legare used his tireless work ethic to hound pucks and create turnovers all night. He played the power-forward role to perfection.