Once all the All-Star festivities in Los Angeles have died down on Sunday, hockey fans will be left facing the worst kind of Monday: one without NHL action. However, those with an eye on the future, interested in watching some future NHL All-Stars, will be happy to know that all is not lost. Both the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Game, featuring the best of the best of those on the cusp of being NHL regulars, and the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Top Prospects game, showcasing the top 40 2017 draft-eligible prospects across the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Western Hockey League (WHL), are set to take place on Monday night. Here is a preview of what to watch for in these two talented contests:
The AHL All-Star Game, in the same mold as the NHL’s new model, includes a skills competition on Sunday night and a 3-0n-3 tournament between divisional squads on Monday night. Many current NHL stars got their start in the minor leagues and found All-Star-caliber success before taking advantage of their opportunities at the next level, and 2017 should be no different. So who are the future phenoms participating? Though he has yet to be demoted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is expected that Jake Guentzel will get to participate in the All-Star game and no player has had quite the impact that Guentzel has in 2016-17. Not only an All-Star, but also a first-year pro, Guentzel has made the transition from the NCAA to the AHL (and NHL) a seamless one. After scoring 46 points in 35 games for the University of Nebraska-Omaha a year ago, Guentzel has an almost identical 42 points in 33 games in the AHL this season. A player in a similar position is Guentzel’s Atlantic Division teammate Zane McIntyre of the Boston Bruins. McIntyre was promoted to the backup in Boston due to his amazing AHL success and has yet to be demoted, but is likely to get his chance to shine at the All-Star game. McIntyre is 10-0 in AHL play this season, with a league-best .951 save percentage and 1.41 goals against average in 12 appearances. The other Atlantic Division goalie, and Guenztel’s actual teammate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is Tristan Jarry, who has a .920 SV% and 2.22 GAA in 26 games. Yet another member of the stacked Atlantic team is the Philadelphia Flyers’ Jordan Weal, who has 42 points in 38 games. Outside of the Atlantic, St. Louis Blues prospect Kenny Agostino leads the AHL with 40 assists and 57 points for the Chicago Wolves. The 24-year-old is working hard for another shot at the NHL and will get the chance to further show what he can do at the All-Star game for the Central squad. Danny O’Regan of the San Jose Barracuda, who has gotten a chance to play in a few games this season for the team down the hall, trails only Guentzel in rookie scoring with 36 points in 32 games, while recent Arizona Coyotes call-up Christian Fischer sits in third with 32 points in 31 games and will join him on the Pacific Division team. Finally, keep an eye on defenseman Matt Taormina of the Syracuse Crunch, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who leads all AHL blue liners in points and will be dangerous for the North Division unit. The AHL All-Star game brings together the best players who are just an injury or slump away from making a difference in the NHL and it promises to provide a lot of skill and exciting action.
For those looking even further into the future, especially fans of teams with strong lottery chances in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, the CHL Top Prospects Game is for you. Featuring the best players in the CHL, the conglomerate of the three league’s that provide the majority of NHL talent, the All-Star game of sorts guarantees to provide an insight into at least 20 upcoming first-round picks. The game features Team Don Cherry and Team Bobby Orr, comprised of randomly selected players within NHL Central Scouting’s top 40 prospects. Captaining Team Cherry, and getting his first chance at real spotlight after missing much of the early season, is presumptive #1 overall pick Nolan Patrick. The big center has 17 points in 11 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings, but his limited action hasn’t stopped many from naming him the best available player. He’ll be joined by Owen Tippett of the OHL’s Mississigua Steelheads, the top-scoring draft-eligible player in the OHL, historically the best of the three leagues. Another OHL star and suspected top-ten pick, Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires, will skate with team, as will Maxime Comtois of the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres, ranked No. 15 by Central Scouting. Rounding out the squad is defenseman Callan Foote, son of former NHLer Adam Foote and one of the top defenseman available in 2017. Team Bobby Orr will be headed up by Swiss star Nico Hischier, who excelled at the World Juniors and has kept it going with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads to the tune of 67 points in 39 games. Hischier’s alternate captains will be center Michael Rasmussen of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, who has flown up the rankings to No. 6 overall, and another top blue line prospect, big Nicholas Hague, also of the OHL’s Steelheads. Other WHL superstars Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nikita Popugaev of the Moose Jaw Warriors round out a deep forward group, while the OHL Spitfires’ goalie Michael DiPietro in net presents another potential first-rounder. There will be no shortage of action in this contest, the best option to see top draft prospects prior to their selection in June.