Sports
Don’t tell Team Orr’s Aaron Hayden and Team Cherry’s Jacob Middleton that the Top Prospects Game is just a showcase. The two flung fists in the first period of the game that finished 4–3 for Team Orr.
Josh O'Brien/the Gauntlet

Top hockey prospects invade the Saddledome

Three Calgarians play in showcase as the countdown to the NHL draft begins

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The speediest guy on the ice wasn’t even supposed to be there in the first place.

But after an injury to Kingston Frontenacs forward Sam Bennett — who was recently named by National Hockey League Central Scouting as the top draft eligible North American skater in their midterm rankings — Brayden Point got the call on Sunday morning to pack his bags for his hometown of Calgary.

“I got the call from my general manager in Moose Jaw and he said that you’re in the game,” said Point following a skills testing session at the Saddledome ahead of the BMO NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game, the annual all-star game that showcases the best that the 2014 NHL Entry Draft has to offer.

The 17-year-old wasted little time showing he belonged amongst Canada’s elite young players, recording the best time in a tricky — and high-tech — drill that involved keeping control of the puck while lurching forward and backwards through several markers and being timed by an electronic wristband.

“Some of it was a little tough to grasp,” admitted Point, who is more accustomed to the old-school orange pylons and stopwatches. “It was a really cool experience to see what the skills competition is like at the pro level.”

Point wasn’t the only one initially vexed by the professional set up.

“Never been through anything like that in my life,” said fellow Calgarian Brycen Martin, who played three years of bantam and midget hockey as a teammate of Point.

Martin was ranked as the number 20 North American skater in the midterm rankings, and is thrilled to have the opportunity to play in such a high-profile game in his hometown with his old teammate.

“It’s an honour to play this big of a game in front of your friends and family and everyone you’ve grown up with,” said Martin. “Being able to be here with Point is really nice. I try not to let it get to me and add pressure, playing in front of everyone I’ve known. I just have to treat it like a regular game — just go there and do what I’m good at and show what I can bring to the table.”

Friends and family won’t be the ones Martin and Point are looking to impress — the Top Prospects Game attracts scouts and general managers from around the NHL, and will be the first time many of these players are viewed by their potential employers in person.

Ben Thomas certainly won’t be distracted by having friends and family in the stands. The local product has grown accustomed to playing for a familiar crowd as a member of the Calgary Hitmen.

“I don’t think it’s pressure. If anything I think it’s just a lot more support,” said Thomas, a self-described late bloomer who has blossomed into the 49th ranked North American skater. “I always have old coaches saying how they remember coaching me back when I was little and seeing how much I’ve developed. All my friends and family are really excited and really supportive of me. I’d say it’s just nice to be at home and in the comforts of my hometown.”

The Top Prospects Game marks the halfway point of these players’ draft year, culminating in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft on June 27–28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

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