BUFFALO, N.Y. — As hockey players around the country gear up for the start of a new season, 42 players — on the brink of arguably their most important campaign to date — traveled to Buffalo, New York, for the fourth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
The game, which is slated for 7 p.m. on Thursday at the First Niagara Center (live on NHL Network), will feature top American players eligible for the upcoming 2016 NHL Entry Draft. In addition to fans checking out future NHL stars, some 150 NHL scouts and general managers representing every NHL club will be in the stands.
Twenty-two of the participants appeared on the NHL Central Scouting Futures List, which recognizes players who could potentially be drafted in the first three rounds, and will give scouts, managers and executives a chance to watch potential picks in a highly competitive game.
“This is an age where there’s so much viewing of those players going on at all of the levels they’re playing at,” said Jim Johansson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. “To bring them all together in one environment and to showcase them as a group just points out all the great things of grassroots hockey in the United States, but also the teams they’re currently with to put a little spotlight on them.”
The profile of that spotlight is not lost on the players, said Adam Fox, who will dress for Team Roenick on Thursday.
"It's definitely a privilege to play in front of so many people. You try not to think about it, you try to just take it like a regular game," he said, "but it's definitely a cool experience to play in front of so many high-end people."
The players and staff arrived in Buffalo throughout the day Wednesday before heading over to the First Niagara Center as a group to watch the Buffalo Sabres take on the Ottawa Senators in a preseason matchup.
Thursday, the two teams, led by guest coaches Derek Plante and Jeremy Roenick, will practice in the morning before taking the ice for the game. Fans wishing to watch can do so by tuning into the NHL Network’s broadcast or purchasing tickets at allamericanprospectsgame.com.
Johansson said the game, which is in its fourth iteration, was created to celebrate the American player and to utilize as a measurement tool both for player development in the U.S. and for players individually.
Because the CCM/All-American Prospects Game is a one-time show, it has a different feel than tournaments or development camps. There isn’t necessarily much time to adjust to different playing styles or get used to new linemates, and it’s up to the players to set the tone early.
“It’s one of the biggest messages we had the first time we did the game: ‘this event hinges on you guys. You’re hockey players, we brought you here to play hockey. It’s not an all-star game. Come, play with the speed and energy and physical parts of the game that you are,” said Johansson. “I think that’s part of the measurement of a player: does a guy show up every night?”