Several players hitting the ice with their national teams in the 2012 World Junior Hockey Tournament will be in Kelowna in about a month, including a Russian star who could be the first Russian to be selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft since Alexander Ovechkin.
The top 40 NHL draft eligible players will converge on Kelowna Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 for the CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game.
Russia’s Nail Yakupov, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, is among those players that will be in town. Considered a potential first overall pick, Yakupov is one of eight players playing in the World Junior Tournament that will also be in the Top Prospects Game.
“He’s a dynamic player who plays with offensive energy,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said on NHL.com. “He wants the puck and loves to score.”
Yakupov’s explosive skill is just a sampling of what will be on display for Okanagan hockey fans when the Kelowna Rockets host the Top Prospects game at Prospera Place.
The two-day event will bring a wealth of talent to Kelowna, including a pair of hometown favourites in Rockets’ captain Colton Sissons and offensive defenceman Damon Severson.
“I think this is going to be a real treat for our fans because you are never going to see all 40 of the best draft-eligible players playing against each other,” said Gavin Hamilton, the Rockets vice-president of business development. “When we bid on this game our thought process was that this would be an exciting event for our fans to be able to see.”
Team Canada players include Tanner Pearson (Barrie Colts) and Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips). Other World Junior includes Czech players Radek Faksa, Tomas Hyka and Martin Frk, as well as Olli Maatta of Finland and Russia’s Mikhail Grigorenko.
Murray is the top-ranked WHL skater while Russia’s Grigorenko is the highest rated skater in the QMJHL, meaning the top player in each of the three CHL member leagues will be in Kelowna.
“It’s going to be an excellent showcase of players that are the next generation of NHL stars,” said Hamilton.
Historically, the Top Prospects Game has been held in an NHL city, making the Kelowna event one of the first times the game has been held outside of a traditional NHL market.
Hamilton says more than 250 NHL scouts, general managers and owners have already confirmed attendance at the game as they look to build their respective prospect lists ahead of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
The Top Prospects Game began with teams coached by Don Cherry and Bobby Orr but has expanded in recent years to include several well-known ex NHLers as coaches.
The event begins with a skills competition on Jan. 31 and concludes the next night with what has traditionally been a hotly contested hockey game.
Tickets for the game can be ordered online at www.selectyourtickets.com.