They’re two of the biggest events on the Junior A calendar; the premier opportunities for scouts to check out the very best Canadian Junior A hockey has to offer in best-on-best competition.
And this season, for the first time, the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game will be under one roof – a one-stop shop of sorts for pro and college/university scouts, and for fans of the game.
Historically, the World Junior A Challenge is held in early November, with the CJHL Prospects Game following a month later. But in Langley, B.C., this November, a pair of prospects games will be part of the World Junior A Challenge festivities, adding another element to what is an already high-profile week for Junior A hockey.
The move is the latest initiative in the partnership between Hockey Canada, the Canadian Junior Hockey League and the National Hockey League, designed to advance the Junior A game to the highest level.
“We have always considered the CJHL Prospects Game on par with the World Junior A Challenge,” said Kirk Lamb, chairman of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. “We stepped back and asked whether these events would be better delivered and received together. Together, these events are more attractive to the NHL, Hockey Canada and scouts. We also felt that both events would benefit if the host community, CJHL, Hockey Canada and the NHL could focus all of their resources in one location and at one time.”
“As a scout it’s a huge benefit,” said Chris Edwards, a scout with NHL Central Scouting, of hosting the two events in one location. “It allows scouts the opportunity to maximize their viewing of players who are participating in the World Junior A Challenge from Canada, the U.S. and Europe, as well as catching the best draft-eligible prospects from Canada’s Junior A leagues, while reducing travel time and costs.”
NHL Central Scouting plays a major role in the CJHL Prospects Game, teaming with the CJHL to select the rosters for the two games.
Since the puck was dropped at the first CJHL Prospects Game in Yorkton, Sask., in 2005, the game has showcased some of Junior A hockey’s biggest names – Joe Colborne, Riley Nash, Dylan Olsen and Kyle Turris all played in the game just months before their names were called in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Last year, four players – Sam Jardine, Matthew Peca, Brennan Serville and Scott Wilson – were on the ice in Dauphin, Man., for the prospects game, six months before they were selected at the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn.
All eight of the players mentioned above also wore the red and white of Team Canada at the World Junior A Challenge, meaning they got twice the exposure.
And that’s one of the biggest advantages to combining the two events – even more draft-eligible 17-year-olds will have the spotlight shone on them. Players taking part in the World Junior A Challenge won’t skate in the CJHL Prospects Game, opening up roster spots for players who previously may not have had the chance.
In addition, those players will have the opportunity to experience the atmosphere surrounding the World Junior A Challenge a year before many of them could represent Canada and play in the tournament.
“It comes back to development, exposure and opportunity, and the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game provide each of these,” Lamb said. “Our players are exposed to scouts from the NHL, NCAA, CIS, Canadian Hockey League and other leagues because these events provide the scouting community with the convenience of seeing our best players and top prospects in one location. The result of development and exposure is more athletic and academic opportunities for our players.”
An added perk to the growth of the events has been the increased caliber of Junior A hockey, not only in the national and international events, but in all 10 of the CJHL’s leagues across the country. More players are realizing the opportunities that Junior A hockey offers, whether those opportunities be on the ice or in the classroom.
“We’re seeing a higher level of play,” said Dennis MacInnis, director of scouting for International Scouting Services. “Players are fitter, faster and more skilled. Programs in Canada have become more professionalized. Gone are the days of mom and pop-operated Junior A clubs. The leagues in general have raised their standards and the teams have followed suit. Looking at the number of quality college and pro players whose roots are in Junior A hockey, it is easy to see that Hockey Canada, the CJHL, its leagues and teams are continuing to develop high-level talent.”
That talent has been key to the Junior A game, which has grown exponentially in the few years since the World Junior A Challenge and CJHL Prospects Game came into existence. If that growth is to continue, the showcase events must develop, much the same way the players do.
And for everyone involved – from Hockey Canada to the CJHL and scouts at every level – bringing the game’s biggest events together in one location is a definite step in the right direction.