All 40 of the skaters participating in Tuesday’s USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game are free to show off for prospective future employers.
With more than 100 National Hockey League scouts and team officials expected for the 7:05 p.m. game at Ralston Arena, the fourth edition of the event is designed to showcase the top talent in the United States Hockey League.
Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, said at a Monday press conference that this event is designed for players to demonstrate skills they normally might not get to display with their USHL team.
“This is a very important event on our calendar, an event for draft-eligible players,”
Marr said. “Sometimes with the younger members of the teams, they don’t always get to play on the top line or get the special teams play.
“But when they come to this event, they have a little bit more of a green light from the coaches to show what you can do. So they may be taking some chances or risks here, but I know they’ll be doing it in a responsible fashion.”
For skaters born in 1998, this is the first year they’re eligible to be drafted by an NHL franchise. Most of them will first go to college, but their rights can still be obtained in the June 24-26 draft in Buffalo, New York.
Tuesday’s event is nearly sold out, and those who have tickets are encouraged to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m. for a 20-minute skills competition. Among the expected events are target shooting, an obstacle course and a breakaway challenge.
Sixteen USHL franchises will have at least one player participating in the game, and most are teamed in the conference they play in during the regular season.
Sioux City has the most skaters in the game, with five players on Team West. Lincoln has four and Omaha has three on the West roster.
The Lancers scheduled to play are goalie Zackarias Skog, forward John Wojciechowski and defenseman Jacob Bryson. Lincoln will be represented by forwards Ludvig Hoff and Grant Jozefek, defenseman Christian Evers and goalie Peyton Jones.
Cedar Rapids, Chicago and Muskegon all have four players on the Team East roster. The 17th member of the USHL, Team USA, did not nominate any players for this game.
The head coach for Team West is Lincoln’s Chris Hartsburg, with Lancers coach Brian Kaufman serving as the assistant. Team East will be led by Dubuque coach Jason Lammers with Green Bay’s Pat Mikesch as the assistant.
Hartsburg, a former Lancers player, and Lammers were named head coaches because their teams were in first place in the USHL’s two conferences at the halfway point of the season.
“The players are excited,” Marr said. “They’re going to get the opportunity here to showcase themselves in front of NCAA coaches and in front of the NHL staff.”
Of the 40 skaters, 34 already have accepted college scholarship offers — something Marr said shows how much skill levels are improving at the highest level of junior hockey.
“That’s their development path, and they’ve already achieved a level of success in hockey,” Marr said. “The path to the NHL isn’t always through the draft, but it’s events like this that get more exposure for them for NHL personnel.”
Marr said he got his start in hockey as a trainer. From that perspective, he said Ralston Arena is one of the best around for junior players.
“For a junior hockey team to be playing in this facility with all the amenities that they have and the way it’s set up, there was a lot of thought put into this,” Marr said. “This truly is one of the best hockey buildings in the United States.”
Contact the writer: