Top prospects in spotlight at CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on TSN
TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button predicted in his latest draft ranking that defence will rule draft day this year and he expects a trio of defencemen to star at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Moncton, N.B.
In January’s ranking, Button has seven defencemen in his top 12 of 2024 draft-eligible prospects and he believes that all of them have top-pairing potential at the NHL level. Three are starring in the CHL this season in London’s Sam Dickinson (No. 7), Saginaw’s Zayne Parekh (No. 8) and Calgary’s Carter Yakemchuk (No. 12).
Dickinson and Parekh, who helped Canada win gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, will both play for Team Red at the top prospects game, while Yakemchuk will suit up for Team White.
Dickinson is playing at a near point-per-game pace with the Knights this season, recording 13 goals and 42 points through 43 games as London is first in the OHL with 63 points.
He helped London reach the OHL finals as a 16-year-old rookie in 2022-23, tallying four goals and eight points in 21 games and was a plus-12 with zero penalty minutes. Button doesn’t project Dickinson to be an 80-point offensive defenceman or one who will solely focus on the defensive side.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the parts are excellent,” said Button of Dickinson. “But it’s the overall game, it’s not like that he’s just excellent defensively or he’s got good offensive skills. He’s a great skater, territorial, somebody that, if you’re playing against him, he is not giving you an inch or half a second. He wants to close on you.
“He’s going to be that player that goes out onto the ice, the coaches’ heart rates are going to go down, their stress levels aren’t going to increase and they’re just going to know that everything’s under control with Sam out on the ice.”
After breaking the OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old defenceman last season with 21, beating Rick Corriveau’s previous record of 19 in 1988, Parekh is second in OHL defensive scoring this season with 22 goals and 64 points in 42 games, second only to Kitchener’s Hunter Brzustewicz, who has 69 points in 45 games.
As the Memorial Cup host, the Spirit are guaranteed a spot in the CHL’s year-end tournament and the organization has loaded up accordingly, adding Montreal Canadiens second-rounder Owen Beck and Ottawa Senators defensive prospect Jorian Donovan to a squad that already boasts Parekh, 2022 CHL exceptional status forward Michael Misa and forward Matyas Sapovaliv, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect.
“His sense of the game is outstanding,” said Button of Parekh. “He’s a player that understands where there’s opportunity, he’s going to seize it. He never plays the game back on his heels. He plays the game forward; he plays it on his toes, and he goes after it. He’s got a great initiative for creating offence. When the puck’s on his stick, he can shoot it, make a pass, and carry it.
“I think that revolves around his skating and his ability to really dictate the game however it’s presented to him. He’s a difficult player to defend against because like really smart players, they’re not going to be predictive.”
Yakemchuk, 18, helped Canada win bronze at the 2023 U18s. After putting up 19 goals and 47 points in 67 games last season as a second-year player, Yakemchuk is on pace to smash those numbers with 18 goals and 42 points through 40 games this season.
“His progression has been so significant and he’s bold,” said Button. “He’s another bold player that when he recognizes opportunities to jump into the attack, he’s jumping into the attack. And I love the fact that when he sees that opportunity, he might be the first guy on the breakout, that’s jumping into the attack, and he’s supporting the play.
“He’s big, he’s rangy. I wouldn’t say he’s physical like Sam [Dickinson] but he’s really good from a defensive point of view. Carter I think has the potential. He’s not going to run you over but you’re not going to get through him with his stick positioning and all those things that’s he learning that combined with his offence, become really, really important and significant.