This year’s Top 80 Sask First event was held in Saskatoon on the weekend of February 15-17th. The tournament was cancelled last season, while two years ago the event was held in Regina in April. With a competitive tournament being held in the middle of the season there is obvious worry about how this may affect teams pushing for a playoff spot, unfortunately this event did hurt one team who had their top player injured at the tournament.
Saskatchewan’s 2004 class is one that is much deeper on the backend than it is upfront. The goaltending in the province is right up there with other provinces and there was an excess amount of defenders who could make the Saskatchewan U16 team next year. The forward group has a tonne of skilled and tenacity, there are a few players who really up their draft stock at the event. It is expected that 25-30 players will be taken out of Saskatchewan along with 4-5 goalies. We chose to do a top five performers on each of the four teams and write about what we thought of their play, all personal choices based on our scouting at the tournament.
Team 1 (Green)
Cole Tanchuk (Prince Albert Pirates) – Tanchuk asserted himself as one of the top defenseman in the province. A two-way defender who displayed efficient puck rushing abilities and a strong inside presence in his defensive zone. Tanchuk is a player who pushes his limitations and strives to be difference maker every chance he gets.
Justice Montgrand (Notre Dame Hounds) – The best hockey Montgrand has played all season long. Despite his lack of size, Montgrand imposed his physical two-way game with several hard hits. Mobility has improved since the beginning of the season and he’s looking more and more confident transporting the puck. Montgrand has the potential to be a late pick in the draft, he’s strong on his feet and plays to his strength.
Jakin Lawrence (West Central Wheat Kings) – Lawrence had one of the more impressive weekends in Saskatoon. A physically mature player who has some of the best speed and acceleration in Western Canada. Blends lateral attacking with quick hands and outside speed into a hard to contain transitional winger. Lawrence does a good job away from the puck offensively, looks for areas to take off into and sticks to his defensive assignment when his team is out of possession.
Matthew Henry (Prince Albert Pirates) – Henry came into the tournament as one of the most highly touted prospects in the province. Henry likes to impose his physical strength every chance he gets, as power winger who likes to get in on the forecheck and finish his checks. He’s a technical skater with a non-stop motor. Sticks up for his teammates. Heavy shot equipped with a quick snap release.
Mesele Klassen (Warman Wildcats) – Klassen may not have had the production at this year’s Sask first that he was looking for, but his utilities as a player were on full display. Klassen is a skilled power winger whose got strength and speed off the cycle to work pucks into the slot. Relies on quick hands to create space for himself. All in all, Klassen is a balanced winger who teams might really like to take high.
Honorable Mention – Max Hildebrand
Team 2 (Black)
Dylan Ersnt (Weyburn Wings) – Really asserted himself as the top net minder in the province. Ernst is an athletic net minder who never let more than two goals in on him at the tournament. Ernst plays deep in his net, relies on his posts to fix his angles and he tracks the puck with high end vision. Overall Ernst is one of the better Saskatchewan goalies we have seen in past years. Likely a second round pick.
Logan McCutcheon (Saskatoon Maniacs) – Competing to be the top defenseman in the province, McCutcheon had a nice showing this past weekend with a couple of performances in games. McCutcheon is a skilled puck moving defender with hard to contain footwork. He plays with composure and precision, everything he does is calculated and backed with proper intelligence. A smart player who’s a top seven player in the province.
Orin Olson (Notre Dame Hounds) – Olson established himself as a defensive expert once again, in terms of defenders who can make plays defensively and take care of his own zone first. Olson is a smooth skating defensive defender, plays tight to the play and does a smart job adjusting his body positioning to keep the play to the outside. Simplistic puck movement who can use both his feet or passes to transition the puck.
Carter Derenewsky (Yorkton Maulers) – Playing Midget this year as a WHL Draft Prospect, Derenewsky’s expectations were high going into the event. He lived up to our expectations with a string of dominant performances. Derenewsky’s two-way game along with his slick snap shot were noticeable every time he stepped on the ice. Above average skill he uses to exploits lanes in traffic and work pucks into high percentage scoring areas, deceptively agile with his feet. Derenewsky is a lock Top 44.
Zach Somers (North East Wolfpack) – Despite being one of the smaller players in the event Somers willingness to get involved in the forecheck and play with tenacity was impressive. Plays a high pressure up-tempo game where he doesn’t let his size hold him back. Relies on quickness and skill on his forehand to generate chances in the offensive zone.
Honorable Mention – Brett Leonard
Team 3 (Gold)
Nicholas Andrusiak (North East Wolfpack) – A player to watch going into the event, Andrusiak was someone we kept a close eye on and left impressed with. A thick mobile two-way defender who commands the ice from the back end. Manages pressured situations with passes to the nearest option and rarely causes turnovers in his own end. A player you can rely on to make smart plays and won’t cost your team with mistakes. Shutdown potential with physical play down low.
Tre Fouquette (Warman Wildcats) – Physically there weren’t many players at the tournament who could showcase the kinds of athleticism and mobility that Fouquette displayed. Fouquette is a two-way defender who has a big time shot. Above average puck transporting as he can hit the red line and get pucks deep on a consistent basis. Toolsy defender with high end upside.
Kobie Anderson (Battleford Barons) – Not well known going into the event, Anderson’s motor and speed down the wing were eye catching every time he touched the puck. Keeps his feet moving, slippery along the wall, and good vision from the perimeter. Anderson got his name out there.
Kyren Gronick (Regina Aces) – Combating to be the top prospect in the tournament, Gronick previously came off of an upper body injury going into the tournament and shy’s away from that signature physical play that he commonly uses. A thick power winger who plays with nastiness in corners. Puck skills are impressive along with heavy puck protection to drive pucks to the net. Plays a similar style of game to Regina Pats Auston Pratt. Competing to be a first round pick.
Jhett Larson (Notre Dame Hounds) – Well known in the province for some time, Larson had himself a few nice goals in the weekend and plays with more offensive flare than he has with his Notre Dame Hounds. Larson’s skilled around the net, patience to allow holes to open up and he can pick his spots in close. Plays with a sneaky nature to get behind defenders. A two-way center, Larson should get drafted come May.
Honorable Mention – Kalem Parker
Team 4 (Red)
Ethan Chadwick (Saskatoon Stallions) – In terms of goalies at the event, Chadwick was right up there with Dylan Ernst. Chadwick is athletic and dynamic in his crease, he loves to compete and has the mobility to save first, second, third chance opportunities. Will be in our top ten for goalie rankings.
Kevin Korchinski (Saskatoon Generals) – Established himself as the top pure puck moving defenseman in the province. Korchinski’s excellence in transition and ability to create scoring chances off the blue line is spectacular to watch. Able to adjust his pace and use his agility to spring back and open up passing options in transition, not many players read the neutral zone like he does. Mature defensive game, exploiting his awareness and intensity to pick off plays. Korchisnki potential is top tier, making him a high demand player at the draft.
Hunter Mayo (Martensville Marauders) – Left the event with Mayo as our top ranked defender, Mayo is the complete package on the back end. A physical two-way defender who increases puck possession and creates offensive chances of his own with above average footwork. Keeps the play to the outside in his defensive zone, looking to close guys out along the wall and doesn’t give an inch to the inside. Mayo is as balanced of a defender you will find in Saskatchewan and his footwork has been improving the entire season.
Connor Hvidston (North East Wolfpack) – It seemed like whatever line Hvidston suited up on he found ways to get on the score sheet. Hvidston is a two-way winger whose smooth skating and versatile offensive tool’s equal out into one of the top ready to play players in the province. Hvidston has the vision of the wall to read developing chances and find the open man, as well as the pin point accuracy and net front presence to finish in tight.
Tye Spencer (Saskatoon Maniacs) – Reminded our scouting crew of Cohner Saleski with his deft creativity with the puck and deceptive high velocity shot. Spencer took over the pace of the game when he had the puck. A top offensive forward in the province, Spencer makes his presence known every time he steps on the ice with heady zone entry awareness and puck possessive mindset.
Honorable Mention – Dallyn Peekeekoot