The annual Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game is a signpost on the march to the National Hockey League’s entry draft. It’s a chance for the scouting community to get a look at some of the top prospects from the three Canadian junior leagues, but it’s also a chance for the prospects to show themselves in a different light as they play with a completely new group of players.
This year in Red Deer, Team Orr rallied back to win 5-4 over Team Cherry in the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL Top Prospects Game. After culling through our notes, here are five big takeaways from the event.
Peyton Krebs Is a High-End Talent
Kootenay ICE forward Peyton Krebs may be one of the most scrutinized Western Hockey League prospects in years. He’s been under the scouting microscope since the ICE made him the first overall pick in the 2016 Bantam Draft, and his game has been heavily analyzed since he made his WHL debut as a 15-year-old.
Krebs has pretty good numbers with the ICE this season, with 53 points through 44 games. But if you compare his linemates with fellow WHL forward prospects Kirby Dach (of the Saskatoon Blades) and Dylan Cozens (of the Lethbridge Hurricanes), it’s pretty evident that Krebs gets a lot less help as his team is a lot shallower than either of the others. Krebs often has to create offense by himself. But he has great work ethic and elevates his teammates.
Playing with skilled linemates Nick Robertson and Arthur Kaliyev at the Top Prospects Game, he was superb for his team and helped make that trio Team Cherry’s most dangerous line.
Brett Leason is the Real Deal
Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason is one of the toughest players to get a handle on in the entire 2019 NHL Draft class. He’s good and has been dynamite for a very strong Raiders team this season (that leads the entire CHL). But Leason’s going to be 20 years old in June when he heads to Vancouver for the NHL Draft.
Hand-wringing over his age aside, Leason did everything that could be expected of him at the Top Prospects Game. He had creativity. He had poise. He got better as the game wore on. He made a spectacular deke on Edmonton Oil Kings defender Matthew Robertson in the third period that caused Robertson to lose an edge, allowing Leason to score on a breakaway to tie the game at 4-4.
Annnnnd Brett Leason just undressed a Team Cherry dman to tie the game at 4 with under 4 to play. These kids don’t respect deadlines.
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) January 24, 2019
Leason’s a very good hockey player and his skill-set will translate nicely to the professional ranks. The big unanswred question is how close he is to his developmental ceiling.
Nathan Legare is a pitbull
Sarnia Sting foward Jamieson Rees dazzled with his speed, but linemate Nathan Legare (of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar) arguably showed more for scouts. Legare’s put up impressive offensive numbers in the QMJHL, but he showed scouts how he’s able to do that so well against the CHL’s best. Simply put: Legare is a pitbull.
More than any other player in the event, Legare was the first into the corners on dump-ins and had an uncanny ability to win board battles for contested pucks. Not a massive presence at a listed 6’0″ and 196 pounds, Legare’s tenaciousness and smart positioning won him a lot of pucks and allowed him to set up Rees and Valentin Nussbaumer for a lot of scoring chances.
Listed as the 64th-best North American skater in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, Legare should be a great get for a club sometime in the second round. TSN’s Bob McKenzie ranks him at 49th overall.
A tough night for Taylor Gauthier
Events like the Top Prospects Game are tough for goaltenders, as the best defensive defenders often aren’t invited but the best offensive weapons of the age group are. As a result, goaltenders have to play behind a bunch of guys that haven’t played together much who are trying to defend the CHL’s best young scorers.
That said, Medicine Hat’s Mads Sogaard, Peterborough’s Hunter Jones and Rimouski’s Colten Ellis fared reasonably well. Unfortunately, the big takeaway from Team Orr’s late game comeback will be highlights of a flurry of goals scored on Prince George Cougars goaltender Taylor Gauthier.
Team Cherry’s defensive zone play became equal parts panicked and sloppy when Jakob Pelletier scored to make it a 4-2 hockey game. But Gauthier’s somewhat unorthodox style certainly didn’t succeed in calming things down. The Top Prospect Game can be an intimidating atmosphere and Gauthier is definitely better than he showed, but he likely let some wind out of his own draft sails in Red Deer.
Samuel Bolduc Breaks Out
You could be forgiven if you didn’t have a lot of notes on Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defenseman Samuel Bolduc prior to the Top Prospects Game. The 87th-ranked skater by Central Scouting was the lowest-ranked player invited to the event. But he made the most of his opportunity to show his wares.
Listed at 6’4″ and 210 pounds, the big defender doesn’t play a typical big man’s game – he’s surprisingly agile and mobile for his size. He went on several rushes with the puck, finding the right times to pinch and create space by driving into the offensive zone. He didn’t translate those rushes into scoring chances – his accurate shot from the point did that more effectively – but if he can find the right spot on the right team, he could be a tremendous asset to an NHL club someday.
If nothing else, NHL teams will like his size. But they’ll also probably love his confidence and mobility.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.