The Kubota NHL/CHL Top Prospects game took place Thursday night in Hamilton, Ontario. The game featured prospects who are draft-eligible for the 2020 NHL draft. The upcoming draft is expected to be one that is top-heavy with elite forwards. However, it was the defencemen that were most noticeable early in this contest.
On the first shift of the game, Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings made his presence felt. He displayed reasonable gap control deflecting an attempted shot away from the net, had two controlled zone exits and joined the rush, thus creating a scoring opportunity. His shift was a little longer than it should have been, but a reasonable opening shift.
Jérémie Poirier of the Saint John Sea Dogs was the next defender that caught my eye. He displayed excellent speed rushing the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive end. He later scored a goal on the same shift showing a quick release and accurate shot. London Knights teammates Luke Evangelista and Antonio Stranges provided the assists on Team Red’s opening goal.
Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Kaiden Guhle tied the game showing why many consider him to be the top defender from the Western Hockey League taking part in this game. Cole Perfetti, of the Saginaw Spirit and Brandon Coe of the North Bay Battalion added the helpers.
Another defenceman who impressed me in the opening period was Lukas Cormier of the Charlottetown Islanders. His skating ability and transition game were eye-catching, and his passes were on target.
The most notable forward line in the opening frame was from Team Red. Ottawa 67’s teammates Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn skated alongside Sarnia Sting forward Jacob Perreault. Their offensive zone time created havoc for Team White, and the threesome would combine on a dazzling passing play to put Team Red up 2-1. Rossi fed the puck to Perreault, who in turn dished to Quinn for the easy tap-in goal.
Alexis Lafreniére showed why he is the number one ranked prospect for the 2020 draft with a terrific rush. He gained the blueline, then faked a shot, freezing the defender and allowing him an open shooting lane. His shot would find the back of the net. However, after a video review, the goal was overturned due to the play being offside. The first period ended with Team Red enjoying a 2-1 advantage.
Team White dominated the second-period thanks to the three-point efforts of Tyson Foerster and Connor Zary. Foerster tied the game snapping home a wrist shot from his off-wing. He then finished off a beautiful passing play to put Team White up 3-2. Braden Schneider added the fourth goal with both Zary and Foerster picking up assists on the play. For Zary, it was his third assist of the period.
Dylan Garand took over in goal for Team White halfway through the period from Samuel Hlavaj. Team Red went the distance with Brock Gould due to an injury to top goaltender prospect, Nico Daws, in the pre-game warmup.
The third period saw a tighter checking and more physical brand of hockey than did the first two periods. Perfetti added an empty-net marker, while Dawson Mercer finally managed to put one past Garand. The game finished 5-3 for Team White, but the real winners were the many scouts and fans in attendance to watch these top prospects perform.
The various talents displayed in the game were inspiring. Whether it was the compete levels of Lafreniére or Quinton Byfield, or the elite vision and playmaking of Rossi, Perfetti and Zary, there was a lot to like about this game. Other superb qualities were the skating of Stranges, Poirier and Jamie Drysdale, along with the physicality of Ridly Greig, Will Cuylle and Jake Neighbours.
The talents of these young prospects, along with the elite qualities of numerous European players make the 2020 NHL draft one of the most exciting drafts in years.
Related Articles: 2020 NHL Draft: The CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Preview.
Rick Warman is a Vancouver Canucks and prospects contributor for Overtime Heroics. Follow him @statman1956 on Twitter
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