January 27, 2023

Draft eligibles shine at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

All eyes were on Connor Bedard heading into the 2023 CHL Top Prospects game as the 17-year-old made one of his last major showcases before likely being selected as the top pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

Playing with the top draft-eligible prospects the CHL has to offer, Bedard did something he’s failed to do since the opening game of the WHL season – failing to register a point as Team White defeated Team Red, 4-2.

“After being blanked on the scoresheet for only the third time all season, it’s clear that this wasn’t Bedard’s best effort this season,” FCHockey scout Donesh Mazloum said. “There was a half-second of hesitation pervasive throughout his game and his natural killer instinct was on the backburner. I don’t think he got off to a great start, treating more like an all-star game than others, overpassing and overthinking with possession. By the time his natural competitiveness caught up it manifested more as frustration than production with the game all but over.

“Luckily for him, he has put forth a meaty portfolio of jaw-dropping performances this season so scouts won’t bat an eye at one middling game.”

Team Red opened the game by scoring 3:21 in with a beautiful backhanded goal by Mathieu Cataford of the Halifax Mooseheads. Cataford corralled the puck going bar down from just below the hash marks.

Just 3:24 later, Colby Barlow evened things up on the power play as he gathered a rebound off a Brayden Yager shot from the boards, beating goaltender Carson Bjarnason.

Two goals just over six minutes into the game, and it looked like we were in for a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair, but it would be nearly 37 minutes until the game’s third goal.

Carson Rehkopf of the Kitchener Rangers, named MVP for Team White, broke the deadlock early in the third. Rehkopf carried the puck from the red line while weaving between two defenders and burying the puck under the arm of goaltender Charlie Robertson.

“I really liked Rehkopf’s transition game,” FCHockey scout Brandon Holmes said. “He was able to bring the puck through the neutral zone with speed and beat defenders at the blue line with his hands or a quick step. His goal on the game was a great rush play where he was able to break past the defenders with speed and got a wrister on goal at top speed with a really quick and snappy release.”

With just under seven minutes to play, Luca Pinelli gave Team White the game-deciding goal as he buried his shot from the low slot. Nate Danielson won a puck battle along the boards off a rebound, saucing a pass from the half-board to an open Pinelli.

Callum Ritchie would add an empty net goal for Team White before Zachary Benson added a second for Team Red off a lethal one-timer from between the hash marks.

Riley Heidt was omnipresent throughout the game, as he seemed to be one of the most dangerous players all night. Early in the second, Heidt attempted a ‘Michigan’ style shot as he came around the goal but was denied by Scott Ratzlaff.

“Heidt can be a bit of a mercurial player to watch over the course of a season, however when he brings his ‘A’ game — like he did in this contest — there are few as skilled or impactful as him in the offensive zone,” Mazloum said. “His skill and vision are constants but his game is really elevated when his motor is churning at 100 percent and he is pressing the issue.

“I’ve seen him fall into overthought and passivity at times during the season, but I thought his energy level in this game was constant from whistle to whistle. He seemed to relish the spotlight and genuinely looked like he was having a great time amongst the best of his peers. As a result was one of the few who really rose to the occasion in this game.”

Aside from the highlight reel attempt, Heidt had things going from the opening faceoff and would register an assist on Benson’s goal. His efforts would be rewarded as he was named MVP for Team White.

The game didn’t lack any physicality as you would typically see in an all-star style event, as things were getting chippy frequently following the whistle, with Bedard being one of the main aggressors. We even saw a fight 30 seconds into the third as Kalan Lind and Alex Pharand dropped the gloves in a spirited bout.

Even without Bedard lighting up the score sheet, we still saw an exciting game and an abundance of skill throughout the night.

The next time we see the majority of these prospects in the same room will be in June as they hear their names called in Nashville at the NHL Draft.

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