January 19, 2024

Replacement candidates who could suit up at the CHL Top Prospects Game

One player’s loss will likely be another’s gain at the 2024 CHL Top Prospects Game.

Cayden Lindstrom of the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League will be unable to compete against his peers at the Top Prospects Game in Moncton, NB on Wednesday, January 24, which will open the door for another member of the 2024 NHL Draft class to take his place in the showcase.

Lindstrom, who hasn’t played since Dec. 16 and will miss another four-to-six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair an upper-body injury, was initially named to participate on Team Red alongside the likes of Sam Dickinson of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and Maxim Masse of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Maritime Junior Hockey League. Instead, a replacement will almost assuredly be named in Lindstrom’s place.

The same could be true for Ryder Ritchie of the Prince Albert Raiders. Ritchie, who who was named to Team Red last week and has 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 34 games, hasn’t played since sustaining a lower-body injury on December 15.

With that, some additional names are likely to be added to the CHL’s annual draft-eligible showcase.

Here are the top candidates FCHockey scouts would like to see as potential additions to the CHL Top Prospects Game:

Alexandre Blais, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

Alexandre Blais has been productive through the opening half of his NHL Draft season, to say the least. The 18-year-old owns a share of fifth overall in QMJHL scoring with 56 points (18 goals, 38 assists) in just 43 games with the Rimouski Oceanic this season. The 5-foot-10, 154-pound winger also sits fifth in scoring amongst draft-eligible skaters from the Canadian Hockey League.

“I want to see what Blais can bring against the country’s top talent, see if he can flash his lethal driving skills as much against higher competition,” FCHockey Quebec-based regional scout Joey Fortin Boulay said. “He’s the focal point on the Oceanic’s offense, but I need to see if he can contribute without being the main guy on his team.”

Anthony Cristoforo, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Anthony Cristoforo has had a strong start to his season with the Windsor Spitfires, with the defenseman on pace to set a new OHL career-high. The 17-year-old, who clocks in at 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds, has collected 25 points (three goals, 22 assists) through 38 games this season for one of the OHL’s least-offensive clubs, displaying many of the traits that has him as one of the top blueliners available from Ontario.

“Cristoforo is a smooth skater and puckhandler from the back end, showing some good vision and confidence with the puck,” Ontario-based FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong said. “He uses his agility and tenacity to defend in-zone, but his physicality and defensive positioning needs improvement to defend at higher levels. He could have the puck skills to play on the power play as a pro and has the potential to become a depth defender in the NHL.”

Jakub Fibigr, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Jakub Fibigr, the No. 16 pick in the 2023 CHL Import Draft, has had a strong adaption to the North American game as a rookie with the Mississauga Steelheads. The Czech product, who had two points (one goal, one assist) in five games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, has added 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) through 33 games. The total tops all rookie defensemen in the OHL this season. The 6-foot, 172-pound Fibigr ranks 10th overall in freshman scoring.

“I have appreciated Fibigr’s ability to create offense from the back end,” FCHockey head Ontario scout Austin Broad said. “His instincts and puck skills allow him to create through transition and make him a very formidable offensive blueliner. Not the most flashy player, but he when he wants to make something happen he can. Unfortunately for Fibigr, there are plenty of talented offensive defensemen in this year’s OHL class so the deck is a little stacked against him, but I do think whoever gets him will be getting a very talented NHL prospect.”

Miguel Marques, LW, Lethbridge (WHL)

Miguel Marques, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound winger, is a fellow forward who has had an impressive start to his NHL Draft season. The 17-year-old has notched an impressive 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists) to rank sixth among draft-eligible forwards from the WHL behind Berkly Catton of the Spokane Chiefs, Terik Parascak of the Prince George Cougars, Andrew Basha of Medicine Hat, Tanner Howe of the Regina Pats, and Tij Iginla of the Kelowna Rockets. Each of the aforementioned skaters has already been named a participant in the exhibition.

“Marques is one of the higher ceiling offensive talents in Canada not currently on the Top Prospects Game roster,” said Donesh Mazloum, FCHockey’s chief Western scout. “His puck skill and rapid decision making allows him to live in the margins, navigating through traffic with deft handles and clever passes before darting into dangerous areas for scoring opportunities. His quick strike offence is top notch and he is always ready to exploit opposition mistakes. He also plays with an edge that can drag his team into the fight which is a valuable skill in an “all star game” with unfamiliarity in the roster.”

Eriks Mateiko, LW, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Eriks Mateiko, selected with the No. 108 pick in the 2022 CHL Import Draft, has had a productive second season with the Saint John Sea Dogs. The 6-foot-4, 201-pound forward is closing in on QMJHL career-highs with 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in just 31 games after the 18-year-old amassed 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 62 games last year. He also suited up for Latvia at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship, netting a goal in the process.

“I would like to see Mateiko leverage his dominant physique and puck protection in the offensive zone, as well as seizing scoring openings in the slot, should he get the chance to play against the CHL’s top draft eligibles,” Fortin Boulay said. “He’s been demonstrating it all season long in the QMJHL, but the Top Prospects Game is a different beast, and showing it at this event would catch some scouts eyes.”

Justin Poirier, RW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Justin Poirier has been one of the most explosive draft-eligible forwards in Eastern Canada this season, torching QMJHL goalies to the tune of 31 goals in 42 games. That line locks Poirier in a tie for first league-wide. In all, the 5-foot-8, 181-pound forward has 47 points (31 goals, 16 points), placing him second to Blais among first-year draft eligibles.

“Offensively he has the potential to be a force,” FCHockey regional scout Nathanial Duffett said. “He has a near-elite shot that has plenty of deception on the release. As a smaller guy, he still likes to throw his body around and is strong enough to use it to his advantage. I’m excited to see what he can do once he adds some more weight to his frame and gets in a professional environment. If he can improve on the defensive end well enough to be a reliable pro player then he may be a steal in a couple years for whoever drafts him.”

Nathan Villeneuve, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

Nathan Villeneuve has been a strong piece on the OHL’s third-most explosive offense this season. The 17-year-old has 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games this season — a respectable total that ranks him eighth on the club. The 6-foot, 183-pound pivot is one off his goal total of 12 from a season ago, and has surpassed his 22 points as a rookie from 202-23.

“Villeneuve’s defining quality to me would be the level of intensity he brings to each game,” Ontario-based FCHockey regional scout Mike Kennedy said. “His high compete level and versatility is evident. His 200-foot game is rounding into form and he is starting to contribute more offensively.”

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