by Cory Wilkins / CHL
For the fifth time since 1999, the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects returns to Alberta.
Past games have been held in Calgary (1999, 2001, 2014) and Edmonton (2008), while this year marks the first time the game will be hosted by the Red Deer Rebels.
Forty players will compete, including Rebels forward Oleg Zaytsev. The Russian rookie is skating in his first season in North America after being selected 17th overall by Red Deer in the 2018 CHL Import Draft. The budding center has made a quick transition to the Western Hockey League in putting up seven goals and 18 assists in 37 games with the Rebels.
Zaytsev is eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and has been listed as a Player to Watch by NHL Central Scouting. The 18-year-old is the 25th player to represent Red Deer at the prospects showcase, and first since forward Adam Musil, a St. Louis Blues prospect, participated in 2015. Other past participants from the Rebels have included Mathew Dumba (2012), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), and Dion Phaneuf (2003).
The game will have at least one familiar face to Zaytsev, as Rebels general manager and head coach Brent Sutter will return as an assistant coach alongside Edmonton Oilers alumnus Dave Hunter and Sportsnet host Ron MacLean, who will serve as head coach of Team Cherry.
Sutter, who was an assistant coach at the 2001 Top Prospects Game, believes Zaytsev’s best route on the big stage is to keep it simple and to play his style that first caught the attention of the scouting community.
“(Zaytsev) is a good player and he has a chance to play with really good players. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Have fun with it,” Sutter told the Canadian Hockey League. “He’s doing everything he can to adapt to our way over here and he’s handled it pretty well. As far as on ice, he’s been a really solid player for us.”
The legendary junior coach added how the game is an excellent opportunity for players to line up against the best of the best in their draft class.
“To be able to be around those elite-level players for a showcase game, participating against each other and playing in front of lots of NHL scouts and general managers, it’s neat just to be part of it,” Sutter said. “It’s the only time it happens throughout the year. That’s why it’s in place. These kids all get to play against each other with different NHL teams seeing them and scouting them in a different environment. I think it’s pretty cool and obviously something that the NHL likes and the CHL likes.”
The Rebels owner also beamed about his organization’s excitement in bringing the marquee event to Central Alberta. For a city of 100,000, Red Deer continues to punch above its weight class in recruiting major events – not only the prospects showcase, but also the upcoming 2019 Canada Winter Games and 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.
“It’s awesome. We’ve been fortunate to bring in some big events to the community on the hockey side of it, and obviously the Rebels are a big part of doing all that,” Sutter added. “It’s something we take a lot of pride in. It’s another first class hockey event. Every time we’ve done things like this there has been great support. It’s something we’re very honoured and pleased to host.”
Other past Top Prospects games in Alberta have included:
2014: Held at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome, Team Orr came away with a 4-3 victory. Several Calgary Flames alumni lined the coaching staffs of the two squads, including Jim Peplinski, Paul Reinhart, Mark Hunter, Tim Hunter, Joel Otto, and Mike Vernon. The two Players of the Game were Nikolay Goldobin (Sarnia Sting) of Team Cherry and Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) of Team Orr.
2008: From Edmonton, Team White defeated Team Red by an 8-4 score powered by a two-goal effort from Josh Bailey (Windsor Spitfires). The game featured Steven Stamkos (Sting), the eventual top selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and was led by a handful of alumni coaches, including Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson (Team White) of the Oilers and the Flames’ Lanny McDonald and Vernon (Team Red).
2001: From Calgary, Sutter served as an assistant with Team Orr, while McDonald was an assistant coach with Team Cherry. Team Orr won 5-3, thanks to a four-point outing from Prince Albert Raiders forward and Calgary native Greg Watson, who was named his team’s Player of the Game. Derek Roy (Kitchener Rangers) received the same distinction with Team Cherry.
1999: In Calgary’s debut as host of the Top Prospects Game, Team Orr defeated Team Cherry 4-3. The game saw McDonald make his first appearance as an assistant coach with Team Cherry, while Calgary Hitmen bench boss Dean Clark was an assistant with Team Orr. The Hitmen’s Kris Beech picked up one goal and was named Player of the Game for Team Cherry, while forward Chris Kelly (London Knights) and netminder Maxime Ouellet (Quebec Remparts) took home the same honour for Team Orr.