Slick forward John Tavares and defenceman Ryan Ellis, teammates on Canada’s world junior club, will be on the same squad again at the 2009 Home Hardware NHL/CHL Top Prospects game.
NHL scouting director E.J McGuire announced two 20-man teams Thursday at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ont., where the 14th annual Top Prospects game is to be played Jan. 14 . A skills competition will be held at the same rink the day before.
Tavares, an Oshawa General who will be playing at home, and Ellis, of the Windsor Spitfires, will be among the top attractions at the game that is restricted to players eligible for the 2009 NHL draft in Montreal in June.
Twenty players from last year’s game in Edmonton were selected in the first round of the 2008 draft.
McGuire said more than 100 scouts from the 30 NHL clubs are expected to attend the game. NHL Central Scouting canvassed NHL teams to see which players to invite.
“It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy because these are the players the NHL teams want to see,” he said.
The game is only for players from the three top junior leagues, so six-foot-six Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, who is expected to battle Tavares for the honour of being picked first overall in the draft, won’t be there.
Former NHL superstar Bobby Orr and broadcaster and ex-coach Don Cherry are to serve as honourary coaches of the two squads, which for now have been called Team 1 and Team 2.
Team 1 has Tavares and his Oshawa teammate, defenceman Calvin de Haan.
“I think I’d have rather have played against John – it might be fun,” de Haan said at a news conference carried across the country via a conference call. “I’ll like playing with (Jared) Cowen and Ellis. They’re ranked pretty high.
“It’ll be cool to play with players from across the country.”
Cowen, a defenceman with the Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs, is the top-rated player from the Western Hockey League. His teammate, Levko Koper, is also on the squad.
Brandon Wheat Kings linemates Brayden Schenn, the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Luke Schenn, and Scott Glennie are also on the team.
The Guelph Storm have three players on the team – Peter Holland, Michael Latta and Taylor Beck, while the Shawinigan Cataractes have forward Philippe Paradis and defenceman Charles-Olivier Roussel.
Also on the squad are forwards Ryan O’Reilly of Erie, Cody Eakin of Swift Current, Tomas Vincour of Edmonton, David Gilbert of Quebec, defencemen Brayden McNabb of Kootenay, and Tommi Kivisto of Red Deer; and goalies Olivier Roy of Cape Breton and Scott Stajcer of Owen Sound.
Team 2 has the top-rated player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, defenceman Simon Despres of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“I can learn a lot from the star players and evaluate my skill level against the other guys and have some fun,” said Despres.
The squad also has the two OHL players ranked just behind Tavares – Brampton forward Matt Duchene and London forward Nazem Kadri – and the No. 2 player from the WHL, forward Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants.
Kane said he not only wants to show off his skills, but also to help his team win the game.
“The scouts don’t only look for players, they look for winners,” he said. “If we win, maybe there will be more players from the team going high in the draft.”
Team 2 also has Lethbridge forward Carter Ashton, the son of former NHL skater Brent Ashton, and Red Deer forward Landon Ferraro, son of former NHL forward Ray Ferraro.
Others are forwards Alex Hutchings of Barrie, Andrej Nestrasil of Victoriaville, Zach Kassian of Peterborough, Jimmy Bubnick of Kamloops, Ethan Werek of Kingston, Jordan Caron of Rimouski and Michal Hlinka of Chicoutimi.
The other defencemen are Taylor Doherty of Kingston, Stefan Elliot of Saskatoon, Tyson Barrie of Kelowna, Dmitry Kulikov of Drummondville and Eric Gelinas of Lewiston.
The goalies are Nathan Lieuwen of Kootenay and Edward Pasquale of Saginaw.
It is not like an all-star game, which generally has little hitting or intensity. This game has players skating hard and using the body whenever they can to impress the scouts.
McGuire said scouts take into account players are unfamiliar with their linemates or defence partners.
“The NHL evaluations look at how he plays with a new defence partner,” he said. “When you go to see a player, you don’t see him with the same partner all the time, or the same linemates.
“It all goes into how we evaluate them as prospects.”
There are 15 players each selected from the OHL and WHL and 10 from the QMJHL. If a player is injured, Central Scouting will replace him from a list of alternates that it keeps confidential.