With no amateur scouting staff in place yet, NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis will again be winging it this week at this continent’s most prestigious amateur showcase.
Fresh off the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic, Francis — along with assistant general manager Ricky Olczyk — is now back in his native Ontario taking in Thursday night’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton. While the world junior tournament includes global players and some already drafted by NHL teams, the prospects game features 40 of the top draft-eligible prospects strictly from the three major junior circuits — including the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips’ Western Hockey League — under the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) umbrella.
“It’s a pretty good tournament to get an idea of who’s going to get drafted this year and to try to get a book on those guys,’’ Francis said Wednesday by phone after arriving at his Toronto-area hotel, a half-hour’s drive from Hamilton.
Francis isn’t kidding, with projected No. 1 overall NHL pick Alexis Lafreniere, 18, of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski scheduled to play left wing for Team White in the game after winning gold at the world juniors. He’ll be opposed by fellow Team Canada gold-medal-winning center Quinton Byfield, 17, from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury — on Team Red.
The game features 31 of the top 51 players — including the top nine — on the recently released NHL Central Scouting midterm list guiding teams ahead of June’s draft in Montreal. Lafreniere and Byfield are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 on the list, while defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 17, another Canadian gold medalist and playing for Team Red, is ranked No. 3.
As a CHL-sponsored event, the game won’t have players from the U.S. National Team Development Program, United States Hockey League, NCAA, or U20 and U18 programs overseas that stand to also get drafted.
There will be some local presence among the game’s 14 WHL participants as newly acquired Everett Silvertips defenseman Kasper Puutio, 17, ranked 84th by Central Scouting, suits up for Team Red. That Red squad also features the only other player with Washington ties, 46th-ranked Spokane Chiefs forward Jack Finley, 17.
“With us not having an amateur scouting staff at this point, this helps us build that book on these players,’’ Francis said. “And mostly all of these guys will get drafted this summer and then we’ll have information on them as we move forward in the expansion process.’’
NHL Seattle expects some teams to attempt preemptive deals with them to avoid having certain players selected in the June 2021 expansion draft. Players in Thursday’s game could form part of such deals and others a few years down the road.
“If there’s any potential trades that may happen, then we have information on these players as we get into those situations rather than going in blind,’’ Francis said. “And once we hire our amateur (scouting) staff, we’ll pick up a lot more information in that regard as well.’’