The best of the (draft-eligible) best have arrived in Hamilton as some of the NHL’s top prospects showcase their talents in the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. While many eyes will be on Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, there are plenty of OHL stars in the spotlight.
Saginaw Spirit star Cole Perfetti is excited for the opportunity to play in the CHL Top Prospects Game, “It’s a great game, I’ve been watching it for years and there’s a lot of great players from all across the country, there’s a lot of talent out here so, just being able to be a part of this game and associated with these great players you know it’s an honour.”
For many of these players, it’s a chance to get to know each other better and build relationships as they go through the draft year journey together. No doubt being around people in the same situation as you makes you feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves is looking forward to getting to know some new faces, and reconnecting with some old ones, “It’s a cool experience you don’t really get time often to play with the Q(MJHL) guys or the W(HL) guys so it’s definitely a neat experience to play with them again, reconnect with some of the guys I met at U17, U18 so it’s going to be a really fun 2 or 3 days.”
With any event, other elements go into putting on a showcase such as this. On Tuesday night, players took to the ice for the first time with their new teammates for practice. Both teams started off practice with some on-ice photos in their new threads and then skated together as a team. Afterward, many players were available to speak to various media members.
On Wednesday, both teams participated in on and off-ice testing. The on-ice testing was a chance to analyze each players’ skating and puck handling abilities. Team White went first in the morning. Team Red quickly filled up that leaderboard later in the afternoon. Some standouts include Jacob Perreault of the Sarnia Sting (who was in the top three after almost every drill), Dawson Mercer of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Jean Luc Foudy of the Windsor Spitfires and Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters. It’s safe to say that Team Red was better at these tests than Team White. Take with that what you will.
Many of these players know each other around their respective leagues and play against each other all the time. With a few enemies now as teammates, some players are thankful that they don’t have to compete against some stiff competition, even if it’s just for one game.
Drysdale is happy to have Byfield on his side again, “I think anytime you get to have a guy of that caliber on your team and playing side by side there’s nothing but positive that can come away from that.”
Nico Daws faces shots from all the OHL players on Team Red during the season, but there’s one player in particular that he’s happy he doesn’t have to see a shot from on Thursday, “Probably (Marco) Rossi, incredible player, played Ottawa this past week, didn’t go too well for me, I’m happy he’s on my side this time,” he said with a grin.
Byfield, captain of Team Red, is looking forward to going up against former world junior teammate, and likely 1st overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, “Oh it’s going to be definitely a lot of fun. We became pretty close friends at World Juniors so competing against each other here is definitely something special, *smiles* probably have to put a bit of money on the line I guess for this game or something, but no it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Players to Watch
In a game like this everyone is a player to watch. Many eyes will be on the stars that have become household names but keep an eye out for some of the players that may not be so widely known. Every player has something to prove, and with both teams oozing with talent, this is sure to be a great game.
You can catch the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game live from First Ontario Centre in Hamilton, Ontario on Thursday, January 16th at 7 pm on Sportsnet and snnow.ca.