The CHL Top Prospects game took place last week in Kelowna, a very low scoring affair where Team Orr won in the dying seconds of regulation 2-1. The game told the story of this draft, in that outside of the lottery, the forward crop this year isn't that good and the draft is mostly defense-heavy. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported first round picks may be a trade commodity at the deadline because of this and I've been hearing the same thing from a few industry sources.
Onto the actual game, though, and my notes from it. I haven't done much Entry Draft work this year, but rest assured it is coming and my coverage will be equivalent to what I did last year. The following isn't going to be notes on the high-end guys like Matt Dumba and Ryan Murray, but rather the lesser-known players who you draft nuts out there may not know much about, who I felt were notable to scouts watching or myself.
Tim Bozon, Left Wing, Kamloops-WHL
The son of former St.Louis Blues' forward Philippe Bozon is a pretty skilled offensive forward who as one scout put it, "Was one of the only really noticeable forwards at this event on a skill level." He's an above-average skater and shooter with a really nice well-rounded skill set. Aside from those aforementioned elements, he can dangle with the puck and shows creativity with his passes. He also doesn't mind the physical stuff and displays good board work (from what I heard from WHL scouts, not based on this game). "He's in my top 45 for sure", said one Head Scout. This was my first look at him, so I still need to do more homework on the kid but he certainly seems to have top-60 skills and may even contest for bottom first round if someone really likes him.
Gianluca Curcuruto, Defense, Sault Ste. Marie-OHL
Curcuruto has not had a good season this year after coming into the year as a potential first rounder. However, in this game I at least saw flashes of the player I thought he could be coming into the year. He's a good skater with nice four-way mobility and a good first step who has good vision and poise with the puck although he's not overly creative. The thing with Curcuruto is he needs to play good defense to be of any value and I saw some of that from him in this game. However, I also saw one of his main issues that scouts talk about: his physical game lacks. In addition to his poor strength, he doesn't really push guys off pucks but relies on his reads and stick work. He can be decent doing that, but he can't be a great defender, which makes me question if he can go in the top two or three rounds.
Nick Ebert, Defense, Windsor-OHL
If you told me he was playing, it would have surprised me. The former potential top 10 pick has fallen so far so quickly. I have yet to hear even a slightly positive report on Ebert from anyone who has watched him this year, aside from reminiscing about his 16-year-old season.
Dillon Fournier, Defense, Rouyn-Noranda-QMJHL
Fournier has been one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects to follow this year (as much as one can be under the radar for being a first overall QMJHL pick) and I really like the potential he displays. He's a gifted skater who has puck skill, moves the puck effectively, and can really be a threat from the back end. One Head Scout described Fournier in a very positive light: "Fournier in terms of just offensive ability for defensemen is right up there with the best in this class like Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, and Derrick Pouliot, and he showed it this game." I think he has a chance to slide into the bottom of the first. If not, he'll by at the very top of my second round.
Gemel Smith, Center, Owen Sound-OHL
If you're looking for a high-end energy forward with a little bit of offensive touch in this draft season, Gemel Smith is your man. I talked to one scout after the game who described him as "A ball of energy who just flies around the ice with his good speed." Smith brings very good skating abilities to the table, which is what you want from a player with his motor, and he has average puck skills to combine with that. Despite his scoring numbers this year, I don't see him as a scorer in the NHL, as his size won't help despite his intangibles because of his lack of above-average skill. Then again, I don't think he's a pure fourth-line talent either, as he can do a whole lot more than that.
Mike Winther, Center, Prince Albert-WHL
Winther is a pretty skilled player who doesn't have one standout skill but has a very good all-around skill set. Unfortunately, he's small and really lacks strength. He has impressive speed and similar to what one scout said on Bozon, another said, "He was one of the few forwards who really displayed impressive skill at the game." Winther's puck skills and hockey sense are both above-average and while he doesn't mind playing a physical game, he's not particularly noticeable in that area because of his thin frame. The size issue and no plus skill gave me the impression he's a top of the second round type of talent.
Tomas Hyka, Right Wing, Gatineau-QMJHL
This second-year draft eligible has quietly been rising up draft boards all year playing for the relatively obscure Gatineau Olympiques club. At the game, he showed that he's a top-end skater who moves easily and quickly, with above-average puck skill and fine distribution ability. He's a smaller guy who needs a ton of muscle, but there's certainly upside for him. One scout said on Hyka, "I like the offensive skill and he's a great skater, but I see his skill set and I think to myself he should be on pace for 80-90 points already in the QMJHL."Hyka currently is about a point per game in a 68-game league.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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