This Week's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament is a Win for Everyone Involved
By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com
With a seemingly endless supply of young hockey players who are eager to showcase their skills in front of scouts from the sport’s highest levels as they pursue their college and professional hockey dreams, there also seems to be an ever-expanding array of exposure events popping up in all corners of North America every year.
They aren’t hard to locate; these days showcases can be found within reasonable driving distance of most areas of the continent, and they literally are held at all times of the year. If there are a few open sheets of ice, some scouts who are willing to attend and enough players to fill a few teams, that’s all you need.
Unfortunately, many of those events are not what they pretend to be, but there is one that is unique and always exceeds expectations. And it just happens to be taking place this week near Pittsburgh.
The North American Hockey League’s Top Prospects Tournament is set for Monday and Tuesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Center in Cranberry, Pa. Nearly 200 junior and 18U players from the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the only sanctioned USA Hockey tuition-free Tier 2 junior league; the North American Tier 3 Hockey League (NA3HL); and the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) will participate in the tournament, which will be attended by more than 200 professional, college and junior scouts.
The Top Prospects Tournament is one of the most highly scouted hockey events in North America, with almost every National Hockey League team and NCAA Division I program having a presence. It doesn’t end there, however, as the NAHL holds the tournament in conjunction with its partner leagues, the NA3HL and the NAPHL.
The NA3HL is a pay-to-play Tier 3 junior league that is affiliated with the NAHL and sends many of its players on to play in the NAHL as well as at the NCAA Division III level. Also affiliated with the NAHL, the NAPHL is a youth showcase league with 18U, 16U, 15U and 14U divisions. NAPHL players and teams compete in several showcases held throughout the hockey season that are attended by coaches and scouts from all 31 NAHL organizations.
The NAHL pools its resources many times each season to bring members of its partner leagues together to compete at the same venues during the same weekends to maximize the exposure for the players while making it as easy as possible for its coaches and scouts to see as many prospects as possible in a short period of time. Everyone wins.
The same can be said about this week’s Top Prospects Tournament. Not only will teams representing all four of the NAHL’s divisions be competing, but also there will be teams representing the five NA3HL divisions as well as a team of NAPHL top 18U prospects participating in the event.
"The NAHL Top Prospects Tournament is the most unique event we host because its sole purpose is to provide those players who are still uncommitted a great opportunity to play in front of hundreds of NCAA and NHL scouts for a chance to make a great impression and earn an NCAA commitment or get drafted into the NHL,” NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld said when announcing the 2023 Top Prospects Tournament venue.
Instead of simply showcasing its top players who already have made NCAA Division I commitments, the NAHL created the Top Prospects Tournament with the goal of getting its best uncommitted players in front of as many scouts as possible. The only committed players who will participate are those chosen by NHL Central Scouting to have the opportunity to play in front of the assembled NHL scouts.
Minnesota Duluth-commit Adam Gajan is one of the 10 NCAA D1 committed players who will be participating in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament this week. A goalie for the Chippewa Steel, Gajan has played four games in the Tier 1 USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers and was a member of the Slovakian team that took Canada to overtime at the recently completed World Junior Championship.
He will be joined by the following committed players (Top Prospects team and college commitment in parentheses):
Ryan Schelling (Central, Providence), Cameron Korpi (East, Western Michigan), Hunter Ramos (East, Lake Superior State), Reid Daavettila (Midwest, Michigan Tech), Shawn Ramsey (Midwest, Wisconsin), Arthur Smith (South, Princeton), Charlie Lieberman (South, RPI), Owen Thomas (South, Providence) and Thomas Kiesewetter (South, Princeton).
Once again, everyone wins, and that trickles down to the NA3HL and NAPHL players who also are afforded the opportunity to play in front of college and higher-level junior coaches and scouts. It’s an event that truly is designed with the best interests of the players at the forefront, something that can’t be said about many other exposure events that are run by other organizations throughout the year.
“We try to send our best players but also to be loyal to our older players,” said Bryan Erikson, head coach and president of hockey operations for the NAHL’s Massachusetts-based Northeast Generals. “It’s a balancing act. This goes for both our NAHL and the NA3HL teams. For our NA3 team, one of our most deserving guys isn’t going because he’s already tendered in the NAHL for next year. But we are sending one ’04, three ‘03s and one ’02, so we really do try to give the most-deserving kids the opportunity. We owe it to the kids who have performed the best, but a tiebreaker always would go to the older player.”
According to the NAHL, 168 players already have made NCAA commitments during the 2022-23 season. More than half of the players who played in last year’s Top Prospects Tournament made their NCAA Division I commitment following their participation in the event.
The number of players NAHL and NA3HL teams get to send to the tournament was determined based on their winning percentage as of Jan. 8. Each team is comprised of 22 players (13 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goalies).
Here is the NAHL player breakdown by team:
Head Coach: Steve Howard (Austin Bruins)
Assistant Coach: Scott Langer (Aberdeen Wings)
Austin Bruins (4)
Aberdeen Wings (3)
Minot Minotauros (3)
North Iowa Bulls (3)
St. Cloud Norseman (2)
Bismarck Bobcats (2)
Head Coach: Clint Mylymok (Maryland Black Bears)
Assistant Coach: Craig Doremus (New Jersey Titans)
Maryland Black Bears (4)
New Jersey Titans (3)
Northeast Generals (3)
Maine Nordiques (2)
Johnstown Tomahawks (2)
Philadelphia Rebels (2)
Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks (1)
Head Coach: Brett Skinner (Minnesota Wilderness)
Assistant Coach: Dave Allison (Fairbanks Ice Dogs)
Minnesota Wilderness (4)
Fairbanks Ice Dogs (3)
Kenai River Brown Bears (3)
Janesville Jets (2)
Wisconsin Windigo (2)
Chippewa Steel (2)
Anchorage Wolverines (1)
Springfield Jr. Blues (1)
Head Coach: Dan Wildfong (Lone Star Brahmas)
Assistant Coach: Garrett Roth (Oklahoma Warriors)
Lone Star Brahmas (4)
Oklahoma Warriors (3)
Shreveport Mudbugs (3)
New Mexico Ice Wolves (2)
Amarillo Wranglers (2)
Odessa Jackalopes (2)
El Paso Rhinos (1)
Corpus Christi IceRays (1)
NAHL Top Prospects Tournament Rosters (click links)
South (Black) | Central (White) | Midwest (Red) | East (Blue)
All NAHL and NA3HL Top Prospect Tournament games can be seen on HockeyTV.
NAHL Top Prospects Tournament Schedule (all times Eastern)
Monday, February 6
1:00pm: South vs. Midwest
4:00pm: East vs. Central
Tuesday, February 7
11:00am: Central vs. South
2:00pm: Midwest vs. East
NA3HL Top Prospect Tournament Coaches
Central – Head Coach: Eric Fenton (Oregon), Asst. Coach: Chris Ratzloff (Rochester)
East – Head Coach Darryl Locke (Northeast), Asst. Coach: Kevin Cunningham (Norwich)
Frontier – Head Coach: Ethan Hayes (Gillette), Asst. Coach: Scott Cunningham (Helena)
South – Head Coach: Mike Beavis (TX RoadRunners), Asst. Coach: John Goffredo (TX Brahmas)
West – Head Coach: Brad Willner (Granite City), Asst. Coach: Jeff Crouse (Alexandria)
2023 NA3HL Top Prospects Rosters (click links)
NA3HL Top Prospects schedule (all times Eastern; games on HockeyTV)
Monday, February 6th
9:00am: South vs. East
12:00pm: NAPHL vs. West
3:00pm: Central vs. Frontier
Tuesday, February 7th
8:00am: Frontier vs. South
9:30am: NAPHL vs. Central
12:30pm: East vs. West