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A quick viewer guide to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament
It's the start of hockey season.
I’ve written many, many times in my life that hockey season starts with the first game of the Traverse City Prospects tournament.
It’s the first game, teams wearing NHL jerseys, and even while the games are played in a rink in Northern Michigan, it’s typically the first time I get to spend considerable time in a rink, usually sipping bad coffee, after a long offseason.
I’ve covered each Traverse City Tournament since 2015 (obviously COVID years took a couple from us), and the tournament has shrunk from an eight-team showcase, with a proper championship, to a smaller four-team offering we’ll see this week.
There are several reasons for that, but it primarily comes down to cost and teams wanting prospects playing in a more convenient location. The St. Louis Blues, for example, I know are saving what I was told was a “boat load” of money by doing a prospect tournament in Minnesota, which doesn’t require lodging in a Northern Michigan vacation town — which isn’t cheap, I can tell you from experience.
So for 2023 we have the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Here is the schedule.
I believe the games are being streamed, but I also haven’t gotten official details on that yet. I will update this post when those become available.
Update: Per Red Wings PR, Detroit is streaming all of it's games from the Traverse City Prospects tournament on website and social channels. Wings are also providing links to the other 3 teams (Columbus, Dallas, Toronto) so they can also do so if they wish.
I’ll talk about some specific teams in a little bit, but let’s go over some of the how-to notes when it comes to watching the prospects tournament, whether it’s in person or over the internet.
There will be some sloppy moments. This is particularly true for the first game (and the first period) on Thursday. These are the first games these players have played in months, there are NHL scouts in the building, the adrenaline is pumping and it becomes chaotic. You need to account for that in your evaluation.
Players have sliding scales for success. There are some players playing their first shifts of “pro” hockey, while there are others who have spent a season, maybe more, in the AHL. The players with AHL experience, should look better. The kid out of junior, it’s ok if he looks like the kid out of junior. It’s when the players over perform their slot that you can start to get excited.
No one wins an NHL job in Traverse City. It can be the springboard for an opportunity in NHL training camp, but by simply outperforming other prospects a player isn’t going to win a job on the NHL roster. Some players at this tournament already have NHL jobs locked up no matter what happens (Adam Fantilli, for example), while others can try to go down the Mattias Janmark path.
For those unaware, Mattias Janmark was supposed to play in Sweden during the 2015-16 season, he was supposed to return to Frolunda after Traverse City and not attend NHL training camp. But his play in Traverse City altered that path, he went to NHL training camp, and won a job on the NHL roster.
Goalie evaluation at this tournament is close to useless. Sure there are some data points and things that you’ll notice, but really it’s crapshoot preseason hockey. I’ve seen goalies who became great (Jake Oettinger) struggle in Traverse City, and no-name goalies, on tryout invites, go out and steal games. So take all goaltending observations with a grain of salt.
Ok, let’s talk about some specific players that.
It should be noted, all prospects/players are worth watching and evaluating. But these are just some of the bigger names/storylines that give you a jumping off point heading into the games. We’ll at least mention most of the prospects, from all four teams, in coverage later this week.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Adam Fantilli, the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, is the main attraction for Columbus. He’ll be in the NHL this season, should contend for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
Fantilli dominated college hockey last season, I’m interested to see if he has a similar impact right away in Traverse City — I personally expect him to be one of the most imposing forces in this tournament.
David Jiricek is the other Columbus prospect I’m high on. My colleagues at EP Rinkside have argued Columbus may have snagged the best defenseman from the 2022 NHL Draft at No. 6. He played in the AHL last season as a 19-year-old, he should be dominant in Traverse City.
Mikael Pyyhtiä played in Traverse City last season before returning to Finland for the majority of the season. I like his game, he’s a reliable, well-rounded forward, had an NHL and AHL cameo at the end of the regular season, too.
Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque both played in Traverse City last season and both looked like junior players still. That’s not bad, but there was something more to Wyatt Johnston’s game, which lines up well with the fact that he he was NHL ready last season.
Stankoven and Bourque have a heavy hype train behind them, and I wrote about Bourque last week for a film room. It won’t change their trajectory, the contracts have blocked realistic chances for them to make the NHL opening night roster, but they could at least start to spark a conversation for Stars management.
Lian Bichsel is the Stars other top-tier prospect in Traverse City. The defender will be adjusting from Europe to North America this season, so keep that slight curve in mind while watching his performance.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit is bringing a “veteran” team to Traverse City. Elmer Soderblom, for example, should not be at the point in his career where he’s still playing in events like this. Carter Mazur is coming off an appearance for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships, he also feels overqualified.
Marco Kasper is coming off a freak injury in his first NHL game this past spring. He’s healthy, should be fun to track as he embarks on his first full North American season.
Same goes for William Wallinder, who I didn’t get to see in person this past summer because he didn’t partake in Red Wings development camp.
(Toronto has yet to release it’s roster.)
I’m heading up to Traverse City on Thursday morning to cover the first three days of the tournament. We’ll have coverage and observations here at Shap Shots from each of those games. If that’s something that interests you, consider a paid subscription to support the growth of this venture.