The CHL Top Prospects Game returned last Wednesday after a one-year hiatus due to everyone's favorite virus.
Hosted at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener, Ont., Team White came away victorious with a 3-1 win. Projected first overall pick Shane Wright opened the scoring for Team Red and a great net drive play, converting on a centering pass on the rush, but he couldn't do enough to help his team come out on top.
With Jagger Firkus and Wright taking home their respective team's player of the game honors, let's take a look at six others that stood out at the showcase event:
F Nathan Gaucher, Team White/Québec Remparts (QMJHL)
The final goal-scorer of the night, Gaucher likely solidified what many scouts thought of the QMJHL’s top draft-eligible forward. Gaucher plays a game that isn’t necessarily flashy or filled with ‘Sportscenter Top-10’ highlights, but he's effective and finds a way to contribute all over the ice. The Remparts forward uses his size efficiently, closing players off along the boards contesting for a loose puck or using his off-hand to reach out and protect the puck in traffic.
In this game, Gaucher did a great job of driving lanes and manipulating space. Whether or not he had the puck, he would attack the space of defenders and force them into making the decision to follow him towards the net or open space up in other areas of the offensive zone. The 6-foot-3 forward cut across defenders' faces and allow his linemates to weave in behind him as he took the defender low in the zone and created a pocket in the slot. Gaucher understands that a chain of small plays often leads to positive results on the overall flow of the game. His commitment to this style of play should translate quite well to the next level.
F Danny Zhilkin, Team Red/Guelph Storm (OHL)
Playing on a line with Wright all night, Zhilkin was a perfect complement to the OHL star. Zhilkin excels in the transition game, moving pucks up ice with his quick feet and shifty hands. The Guelph center does an excellent job of bobbing and weaving through the neutral zone and has a track record of making reads to attack weak points as a puck carrier or passer. Zhilkin makes passes off the back heel of defenders making it difficult to defend as well. He needs to work on how consistently he hits his targets on the tape but he is rarely all that far off.
Zhilkin had the primary assist on the game-opening goal from Shane Wright and it came on an excellent pass that Wright just had to tap in as he drove the net. Zhilkin handled a lot of the load for his line in the transition game, often being the primary puck carrier through the neutral zone. Zhilkin does a lot of the little things well in the offensive zone such as being on the right side of the puck in a board battle to provide support or manipulating defenders with his stick position to open passing lanes. His playmaking as a whole will need to continue to improve but he projects as a solid middle-six transitional dual-threat forward.
F Matthew Savoie, Team Red/Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
One of the most intriguing prospects in all of the 2022 NHL draft, Savoie put together quite a strong performance from the on-ice athletic testing and practices to the Top Prospect Game itself. Finishing as the top overall skater, including first in four individual events, Savoie was able to showcase the impressive tools that he has in his game. Finishing first in 30m Forward With Puck, Weave Agility With Puck, Transition Agility, and Reaction With Puck drills, the skilled forward put his skating and agility on display.
In the game itself, Savoie didn’t record a point on his team’s lone goal but he was in the action all night. Using his quickness to cut to the middle and generate offensive chances, Savoie was able to find space to create his own shot or passing lanes to find teammates in space. The undersized center played primarily on the wing in this contest, likely to give NHL scouts a look at the cerebral attacker in a position many teams may feel he winds up at when he reaches the NHL. Whoever takes the chance could very well wind up with the most talented player in the class but it will require some patience and continued development for the incredibly talented Savoie.
D Kevin Korchinski, Team Red/Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
One of the fastest risers on draft boards since New Year's Day, Korchinski put on quite an entertaining show at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Anyone who has watched the Thunderbirds defender this season would be able to verify that this wasn’t even Korchinski at his best. The 6-foot-2 blueliner is one of the most effective and skilled transitional defenders in the draft class thanks to his high-level skating and maneuverability in every area of the game. Whether he's retrieving a puck below his goal line and evading pressure before finding an outlet pass or using his excellent edgework and impressive hands to gain entry into the offensive zone, there is so much to like about Korchinski’s game.
The Saskatoon native is a high-level problem solver in his own end. He understands how to guide pressure to low danger and then diffuse the situation with excellent stickwork and body position. Korchinski showcased his ability to read the play at both ends of the ice and use the skill he has to enhance his team's offensive game by involving himself at the right times and doing everything in his power to influence the game positively. Don’t be surprised to see Korchinski work his way into the conversation as one of the top defensemen in the entire 2022 draft class.
D Noah Warren, Team White/Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
The QMJHL as a league has been known to be lacking defensively at times but every once in a while, a player like Noah Warren will prove that the league can produce a stout defensive player who brings the physical element of the game to the table. He was another player who made some noise in the on-ice testing portion of the event, finishing among the top players in multiple events and winning the 30m forward skate without the puck. Warren’s performance in the game itself was also impressive as he laid a number of huge hits.
The physicality didn’t stop there for Warren either. Throwing his body around in a smart and controlled manner, picking his spots quite well. Warren exhibits functional physicality quite well, rarely chasing a hit. Warren stands at 6’5” and has some impressive mobility which allows him to use his feet to stay in position while also having his massive frame to punish attackers who try to test him. His offensive game isn’t flashy and he certainly didn’t try to use the CHL Top Prospects game to try new things, but he is a simple and effective passer out of his own end. There is a lot to like in Warren’s game when it comes to the defensive acumen that is aided by his combination of mobility and physical presence.
G Reid Dyck, Team Red/Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Of all four goaltenders included on the Top Prospects Game rosters, Reid Dyck may have come into the game with the least hype of the group. The Swift Current netminder doesn’t boast impressive numbers by any means and that likely has a lot to do with the fact that the team as a whole is a bit underwhelming.
Dyck faced more shots than any other goaltender with 23, stopping all of them. No other goalie had to deal with more than 16 shots.
The save sequence in the clip above was among the biggest pops from the crowd on the night and it even had some in the media level standing on their feet and applauding the effort. It’s a moment and performance like this in the Top Prospect game that a player hopes to have so that a scout in attendance or watching on video feels the need to dig into Dyck’s game. His movement and reflexes along with some impressive body control in this game on the big stage were impressive. Only time will tell if his impressive night in Kitchener, Ontario will help spark his draft stock and get some more eyes on his game.