CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game 2023 takeaways: Connor Bedard held scoreless, Carson Rehkopf shines in showcase

CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game 2023 takeaways: Connor Bedard held scoreless, Carson Rehkopf shines in showcase

A staple of the scouting season, the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game saw 40 of the top prospects from the Canadian Hockey League eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft hit the ice in a best-on-best event.

Team White, headlined by top prospects Brayden Yager, Calum Ritchie and Colby Barlow, won the game 4-2 over a Team Red team with Connor Bedard, Zach Benson and Riley Heidt.

While a one-game performance is just one point along a long line of analysis required to evaluate these players, the Top Prospects Game allows scouts and fans to see how these players perform on a heightened stage against the best of their peers. It’s not enough to significantly sway draft stock, but it might lead to a player earning a deeper look.

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With this year’s edition now in the books, here are five takeaways from the highly-anticipated event.

Five takeaways from the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

Connor Bedard held scoreless

Coming into the game, expectations were that this would be yet another edition of the Bedard show, who has taken over the WHL this season with 81 points (39 goals, 42 assists) in just 33 games — and dominated the World Juniors with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in seven games.

That wasn’t the case in this game, as a rare occurrence took place: the Regina Pats superstar finished with zero points.

The top prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft still showed flashes of why he’s the top prospect, showing off his excellent hands and ability to drive the net. He led the game with six shots while standing out in the faceoff circle, going winning nine of 11 draws. He even showed off his physical side in an intense game. 

Carson Rehkopf makes his mark

Not often discussed in the top end of the draft or even in the OHL, Carson Rehkopf has been a fairly under-the-radar name this season. He’s collected 34 points (18 goals,16 assists) for the Kitchener Rangers this season, not exactly popping, but putting together a respectable sophomore season. But in the Top Prospects Game, Rehkopf made sure that scouts saw what he can do.

On top of this goal that gave his team the lead in the third period, the winger added an assist to lead all players in the game with two points, tied with fellow OHLer Ritchie. For his efforts, he was awarded the Jim Gregory Player of the Game for Team White.

His performance in the game, as mentioned, isn’t enough to give him a big boost in the draft, but it may lead to additional looks from scouts down the stretch to the 2023 NHL Draft.

Know the name Gracyn Sawchyn

While Heidt won the Player of the Game Award for Team Red, it might just have been his linemate Gracyn Sawchyn that was the true winner on Team Red. The Seattle Thunderbirds forward has 44 points this season (13 goals, 31 assists), and came into this game expected to provide some secondary scoring to the big guns on the roster. While he was held scoreless, he still made a big impression with his performance.

The winger stood out all game with his ability to make things happen for himself and his teammates. He was a huge play driver for his line, consistently creating space and opportunities. The flashes with his hands and puck control stood out too, along with just the pace he brought to the ice.

He knew scouts would have eyes on this game and he didn’t waste the opportunity, standing out every time he hit the ice. 

Scott Ratzlaff stands tall in the crease

Of the four goaltenders to play in this game, it was another Thunderbirds player, Scott Ratzlaff, that stood out as the top performer in the crease. The goalie is already having himself a year, starting with a Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold medal thanks to a .976 save percentage and continuing into the WHL season where he’s 16-5-0 with a .916 save percentage. Coming into this game staring down Bedard, Benson and Heidt, he was up to the challenge.

Ratzlaff faced the most shots of any goalie in the game, stopping 24 of 25 for a .960 save percentage. On top of the big save on Heidt above, he denied him again on a Michigan attempt and made some key saves on Bedard’s attempts. His ability to track the puck, his patience and his reaction time were on full display in this one.

If there was a goaltender of the game award, it would go to Ratzlaff.

Luca Pinelli is a player who steals focus

Whenever Luca Pinelli is on the ice, for the Ottawa 67’s or Team White of the Top Prospects Game, you can bet that he’s going to capture attention. The prospect plays with such high intensity, and that translates into offense. He can always be counted on to drive to the net, get pucks on the goalie, and lead his team in transition. 

And that’s exactly what he did in this game. Pinelli potted one goal but could have easily had more, as he finished tied for second in the game with five shots. His ability to create chaos and opportunity seemed to be on display every time he hits the ice. This season, he’s amassed 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games for the 67’s.

Pinelli’s height (5-9) might cause NHL teams to pause, but he has first-round skill.