When the 40 players selected to compete in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game hit the ice Thursday in Pittsburgh, they’ll have many eyes on them. Among those paying closest attention will be Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting Services.
NHL Central Scouting’s staff is in rinks throughout the world all season watching players and providing a professional opinion to every NHL team and the public at large. Its staff even helps with compiling the final roster for the All-American Prospects Game, which has quickly become a must-see event for those in the NHL scouting community.
“Any time you can assemble the top draft-eligible prospects, it’s a bonanza for NHL scouts,” Marr said. “Even though this is only for one game, this is the cream of the crop. It may take one shift for them to get into the game, but once they’re into it, they’ll be able to display to us what they bring to the table and what they are as a hockey player.”
Marr likes the fact that this prospect game will force some players into roles they might not be used to and might force them to show some other skills, but for the most part he and other scouts want to see players do what they do best.
“You want to see their skills and how they implement their skills against good players,” said Marr, who was chief scout for the Atlanta Thrashers before joining Central Scouting.
For scouts, Thursday's game is one of the more unique prospect games as it combines players from many different backgrounds and leagues. Bringing together such a diverse group of players is another huge benefit for the scouting community, Marr says.
There will also be no shortage of top-end players when the American prospects hit the ice Thursday.
Central Scouting released its “Ones to Watch” list for the 2014 NHL Draft Monday. It is an early look at the draft class, in which CSS assigns a letter grade to various prospects to give an early projection as to where they might fall on draft day.
The All-American Prospects Game will feature seven players that have been identified as “A” prospects by Central Scouting. A-rated prospects are considered strong candidates for the first round of the draft. They include Portland Winterhawks forward Chase De Leo, North Bay Battalion forward Blake Clarke, Green Bay Gamblers forward Nick Schmaltz, U.S. National Under-18 Team forwards Dylan Larkin and Sonny Milano, Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko and Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Marr, who was able to watch Milano and Schmaltz recently at the United States Hockey League’s Fall Classic East in Indianapolis, thinks they could be among the most skilled players in the draft.
“I take Nick Schmaltz and Sonny Milano and put them in the same category,” Marr said. “They’re highly-skilled, offensive players that bring some energy to the game. They’re capable to be difference makers out there.
“These are dynamic players. Schmaltz has got to be the quickest player with the quickest hands coming into the draft. Sonny Milano can make some backhanded passes that some NHL players can’t.”
Beyond the star players, Marr is also looking forward to seeing which players can rise to the occasion and make a name for themselves, much like last year’s AAPG most valuable player, Ryan Fitzgerald, who ended up as a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins.
“Last year, Fitzgerald upped his game,” said Marr, who called the 2012 AAPG an overwhelming success. “There’s a kid playing in the EJHL and he came in as an unheralded player, but everyone certainly knew all about him after the game.”
When looking at the American draft class as a whole, Marr likes what he sees.
“It’s still early in the process here, but I think the volume of [U.S.] players is strong,” he said. “There’s some size on defense and a lot of skilled players available in this year’s players.”
Though only in its second year, Marr sees the All-American Prospects Game as an important event for all involved.
“It will be very well attended by NHL scouts and for the fans, these are the future stars of the NHL,” Marr said. “You won’t see these kids in this environment ever again, until they get into the NHL. It’s one of the few opportunities U.S. fans get to see the top U.S. players.”
As great an experience as it is for the fans, the experience for the players is what makes it all so worthwhile.
“Already, this game has achieved the notoriety,” Marr said. “It’s a destination event that every draft-eligible player wants to be nominated for and it’s just going to grow and grow and grow.”
The puck drops on the second CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.