There was not a single NHL game on the schedule for Monday, but hockey fans interested in the league’s future were still glued to their televisions to watch the CHL Prospects Game from Quebec City. For the fans who love offense, the game provided must-see action.
Team Cherry and Team Orr combined to score 12 goals, tying the game’s record originally set in 1996 and then equaled again in 2005 and 2008. In the second period alone, the two teams combined to tally seven goals, which is the most in a period of the game since 1996.
During the second intermission, NHL Network interviewed Las Vegas Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon. While he said it’s important not to overreact positively or negatively to any performance in the CHL Prospects Game, it’s still a major part of the evaluation process. Here’s what we learned Monday night:
Teams combine for #SWTP record-tying 12 goals as Team Cherry back in win column for first time since '10.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) January 31, 2017
Stars of the Game
Despite seven goals for Team Cherry, only one player recorded three points for the victors — defenseman Henri Jokiharju. He finished the night with three assists, a plus-2 rating and three shots on goal.
The first of his three helpers came on the power play while the other two were at even strength. The Team Cherry power play connected for three goals on four chances on the night. Jokiharju’s defensive partner, Antoine Belzile-Crete, also picked up an assist on the power-play marker.
“That was a lot of fun, I’d love to play with guys like that every night,” said Jokiharju after the game. “I really enjoyed playing with (Antoine) Crete-Belzile (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada). I feel like we were on the same page all night and played really well together.”
The latest NHL.com draft rankings rated Jokiharju the No. 22 overall prospect and fifth defenseman. Interestingly, he came into this game clearly considered part of the second tier of defensemen that will be available this June. The top four blueliners are rated ninth through 12th overall, and Jokiharju is 10 spots behind the fourth ranked player at defense.
3 assists from Portland Winterhawk defenseman Henri Jokiharju, very impressive. He's a guy who could move up to the 1st round in June
— Future Of The Six (@FutureOfThe6) January 31, 2017
No. 2 on that same list is center Nico Hischier. He already has a strong chance to be the highest drafted Swiss player in the history of the NHL, but Monday night, he put in his claim to go No. 1.
Hischier won player of the game honors for the losing team as captain of Team Orr. He scored a goal and two assists; Hischier was the only other player in the game other than Jokiharju with three points.
Nico Hischier wants to go #1 over all in the Draft this year with that display tonight
— ᎬᏁᎬᏒᎶᎥᏃᎬᏒ MᏟ (@UpNorthNRG) January 31, 2017
NHL fans have seen Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews go first overall in the last two NHL drafts and make an immediate impact at the NHL level. Their performances unfairly raise the bar for this year’s class, which doesn’t have a generational star. That’s not to say Patrick won’t be a great player — if there was a generational star in every draft, then they wouldn’t be a “generational star,” would they?
But truth be told, Monday was extremely important for Patrick, as he took center stage as hockey’s No. 1 prospect. He had a tremendous 2015-16 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring 41 goals and 102 points in 72 games, but an undisclosed injury has limited him to just 11 games this season.
Although he didn’t score, Patrick tallied two assists, won 12 of 16 faceoffs and captained the winning team. Both of his helpers came on the power play. Even though he didn’t generate a point at even strength, Patrick and his linemates worked well together.
Nico Hischier – what a goal.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) January 31, 2017
“I thought I got better as the game wore on, and I really liked my linemates,” he said. “It’s intense, everyone is trying to showcase themselves, but it was also a lot of fun and it was nice to get the win.”
Similar to Hischier, Patrick considers himself a two-way centerman and said he models his game after Kings center Anze Kopitar. Whomever selects these top two centers will be getting a more defensive-minded player than either McDavid or Matthews, but they won’t come with the same offensive upside as the last two No. 1 picks.
Any night where there are 12 goals is not a good one for the netminders. Starting goaltenders Ian Scott of Team Cherry and Alex D’Orio of Team Orr allowed four goals in 31:08. Scott stopped 13 of 17 shots while D’Orio turned aside 15 of 19.
There was surprisingly less hitting and defense than what is usually on display in a Prospects game, so that certainly had an impact on the high score, but neither goaltender was sharp. In particular, D’Orio allowed several juicy rebounds that were cashed in for goals.
After each team changed goaltenders about midway through the second period, things in the net began to settle down. Stuart Skinner made 17 saves on 18 shots and captured the victory for Team Cherry. Michael DiPietro stopped 14 of 16, taking the loss. The seventh and final goal for Team Cherry was an empty netter.
Michael DiPietro goes post-to-post to make an unreal save.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 31, 2017
In addition to losing the game, DiPietro will likely have to deal with some trash talk from his Windsor Spitfires teammate. Center Gabriel Vilardi, who is the No. 3 prospect on the NHL list, scored against his OHL teammate to give Team Cherry the lead for good.
Entering the game at No. 2 on the NHL list, Scott was the highest rated goaltender that was going to appear in the Prospect Game. Interestingly, the netminder who won the game, Skinner, was the lowest rated of the four goaltenders.