Ugly end to Rookie Showcase puts value of tournament in question

Watch as Montreal Canadiens rookie Jarret Tyszka is stretchered off the ice after a dangerous hit by Hudson Elynuik of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

LAVAL, Que., — Fans turned out in good numbers to watch prospects of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs square off to conclude the Rookie Showcase in Laval on Sunday, and they were treated to a pretty good show.

Toronto’s Jeremy Bracco, taken with the 61st pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, might have been the most entertaining player on either side, showing nifty hand-skills—and great composure—throughout the game. A goal in the first period was icing on the cake for him.

Leafs first-rounders Rasmus Sandin (2018) and Timothy Liljegren (2017) made their marks, as well. The former was involved at both ends of the ice, and the latter assisted on the first of four goals scored by the boys in blue.

And across from them, several Canadiens prospects gave their fans in attendance something to cheer for.

There was 2016 third-rounder Will Bitten busting up the gut of the ice for two breakaways in the game, capitalizing on the second to set up one of Montreal’s two goals. There was Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the third-overall pick in 2018, flashing his hockey sense on several occasions. There was Lukas Vejdemo, playing in just his second game in a Canadiens uniform since being drafted 87th overall in 2014, giving everyone a glimpse of his speed all over the ice. And 6-foot-5 Czech defenceman Michal Moravcik, who signed as a free agent with the Canadiens earlier this summer, was a stalwart all around.

They all did their part to up the entertainment value.

What was a shame to see was what happened to Canadiens defenceman Jarret Tyszka, putting into question whether or not an unregulated competition like this is even worth having.

It’s acknowledged that the window might be narrow for these players to show their respective organizations what they can do in a competitive game, but it doesn’t close once the weekend ends. They’ll leave here to get on with their seasons in different places, and members of each participating team’s development staff will get a much better sense for what they can actually do once they’ve rejoined their real teammates.

You know, those who are familiar with their tendencies. Those who can help bring out the best in them.

“People need to realize that we’re all playing together here for the first time,” said Bitten after Sunday’s game. “It’s a fast game and things happen, and that puts an added challenge in there.”

And that’s part of the reason these players—and their teams—are taking on more risk than they need to in participating in an event like this.

Even if you disagree, you have to acknowledge that the last thing you want to see in one of these games is one of your favourite prospects being carted off on a stretcher because his opponent is overzealously trying to impress.

It happened on Friday, when Canadiens prospect Jake Evans slashed to the middle of the ice and was sent reeling by a high hit from defenceman Jonathan Aspirot on a third-period rush in his team’s 4-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Evans smashed his head on the ice, and then he was promptly strapped in and wheeled off before being diagnosed with a concussion at the hospital.

It was in the 14th minute of the first period of Sunday’s game that Tyzska went back for a routine puck retrieval and was sent head first into the boards by Leafs prospect Hudson Elynuik.

Tyzska remained face down on the ice for several minutes, clutching at his neck, his legs thrashing about, until he was finally told to remain still by a team trainer. Then he was carefully turned over and placed on a backboard so he could be rushed to the hospital by ambulance for further tests to be conducted.

Canadiens coach Joel Bouchard said afterwards that Tyzska was conscious but had suffered a concussion.

That happens. This is hockey, it’s a contact sport, and players get hurt all the time. But taking on that risk when nothing is on the line might not be worth the upside of getting in a September evaluation on your team’s most recent draftees.

And here’s another reason these games are riskier than they should be: There’s no real repercussion for Elynuik to face. There was no disciplinarian committee overseeing this event, there is no suspension looming, and thus nothing was deterring him from taking a liberty that could very well have caused Tyzska to have broken his neck.

Just as nothing deterred Canadiens prospect Morgan Adams-Moisan from elbowing Bracco in the face in the second period and nothing deterred Leafs prospect Mason Marchment from doing the same to a Canadiens prospect in the third.

Sure, Elynuik, Adams-Moisan and Marchment were all ejected from the game, but all three will get to continue on with their development in short order.

Evans and Tyzska won’t, and that’s a shame.

Rookie camps should be about showing these young hopefuls what your organization is all about, about teaching them your philosophy, and about giving them valuable on-ice instruction. And in an ideal world, you’re sending them on their way healthy, confident and ready to show that they’ve absorbed the lessons of the week.

All of that can easily be accomplished without exposing them to any more risk than is necessary.

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