Nugent-Hopkins impresses

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

TORONTO - For some players, performing well in the Canadian Hockey League top prospects game can lead to a boost in their draft ranking.

Trouble for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is he doesn’t have that far to jump, considering he’s ranked No. 3 among North American skaters by NHL central scouting for the draft in June.

Nugent-Hopkins simply was the best player on the ice on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, contributing two assists in Team Orr’s 7-1 drubbing of Team Cherry.

Gabriel Landeskog, ranked No. 1 in North America, didn’t play because of an ankle injury, and Sean Couturier, ranked No. 2, didn’t have the same kind of impact in the game Nugent-Hopkins did.

The baby-faced Nugent-Hopkins, who bears a resemblance to Colorado Avalanche youngster Matt Duchene, showed off the vision and ability to read the game two plays ahead of most of the other players that have scouts excited about his hockey future.

Nugent-Hopkins killed penalties, and his pass to Sven Bartschi for the game-winning goal on a 2-on-1 break was a thing of beauty.

“Hopefully they liked what they saw,” said Nugent-Hopkins, a 6-foot, 170-pound centre with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. “I just tried to play my game. I’m starting to take as much pride in the defensive zone as I do in the offensive zone, which I think is important.

“It’s hard to say (where he will be drafted). It depends what the teams want.”

Daniel Catenacci, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips, Vincent Trocheck and Dougie Hamilton also scored for Team Orr.

Shane Prince, who replaced Landeskog in the game, scored the only goal for Team Cherry.

From the hash marks

Liam Liston sports just a .884 save percentage with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, but you wouldn’t have known that on Wednesday night. Liston, in goal for Team Orr, stopped all 18 shots he faced before he was replaced by Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack midway through the second period. A native of St. Albert, Alta., Liston stopped Mark McNeill on a wraparound and later made a sharp save on Tomas Jurco. Goalies who have true NHL desires don’t come under 6 feet, and Liston, ranked No. 4 among netminders in North America by NHL central scouting, is 6 feet, 1 inch ... Fighting in the top prospects game does not happen often, but that didn’t stop defenceman David Musil, son of former NHLer Frank Musil, from going after Team Orr’s Duncan Siemens. The latter had checked Bartschi to the ice, and then jawed with Nugent-Hopkins. A few good punches were thrown by Musil and Siemens, but we’re willing to bet that most of the scouts in attendance couldn’t have cared less. Back in 2003, Dion Phaneuf and Paul Bissonnette scrapped during the game in Kitchener ... Catenacci burned a trail around the ice during the skills competition on Tuesday, when he was the fastest skater with a lap of 14.017 seconds. You can’t teach speed, and it helped Catenacci burst past a couple of defenders and score a short-handed goal on goalie Christopher Gibson. Ranked No. 43 in North America, Catenacci, a Newmarket native who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, established himself as a guy to keep a closer eye on in the next couple of months.

Point shots

Truth in numbers? Probably not: Couturier, who still should challenge for the first pick overall, was 0-for-8 in the target shooting during the skills competition on Tuesday night ... It’s unlikely he could get away with it in the staid NHL, but Jurco, of the Saint John Sea Dogs, has some unconventionally wicked moves during shootouts. The Slovak and some of his tricks have become a YouTube sensation — one of his goals from a shootout last season, when he came to a sudden stop in front of the opposing goalie and scored on a forehand shot, has been viewed more than 245,000 times ... Poor attendance for junior hockey of any level in Toronto is nothing new, and Wednesday night was no different. An announced crowd of 8,029 was on hand, and, as a result, the atmosphere had the intensity of a Leafs playoff run. The largest gathering for the game in Toronto was in 1997, when 11,627 were at Maple Leaf Gardens to watch Roberto Luongo, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and others ... One guy who stood out for positive reasons: Beaulieu, a defenceman with Saint John. The son of London Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu, the 18-year-old was smart defensively, using his stick to take away a scoring chance from Team Cherry, and had a big hit not long after the game started when he crunched the Barrie Colts’ Mark Scheifele. In the No. 9 spot on the mid-term rankings, Beaulieu scored on a wrist shot from the point in the third period ... Can’t help but wonder if the clobbering sustained by his team brought back warm memories for Don Cherry and his glorious days with the Mississauga IceDogs.


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