The game Moose Jaw Warriors forward Brayden Yager and goaltender Jackson Unger have been anticipating for over a month is finally here.
The duo will take the ice in front of hundreds of scouts and personnel from National Hockey League teams during the annual Kubota NHL / CHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver.
Both players are listed by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau heading into the game, with Yager ranked fifth among North American skaters and a bona fide first-round draft prospect and Unger listed 17th among goaltenders, indicating a late-round selection this June.
The Top Prospects Game features the top draft-eligible players from throughout the Canadian Hockey League taking the ice in a mid-season showcase to show off their skills in front of not only NHL scouts but a national television audience on TSN.
“I’ve been pretty anxious and excited to get this opportunity to play in this game,” Unger told Marc Smith of www.mjwarriors.ca prior to leaving for Vancouver. “I’ve spent the last week really focusing and preparing.”
Unger carries 4.15 goals against average and a .867 save percentage through 16 appearances this season and will be looking to maximize his performance in the short time he has to show off his skills.
“Only playing half a game, I’ve got only 30 minutes to worry about, but I’m just focusing on mentally preparing and getting comfortable,” he said. “You’ll probably only see 15 shots, maybe, but when it comes down to those 15 shots, it matters each individually.”
The good thing is both Unger and Yager have been able to draw on the experience of two players who excelled in the Top Prospects Game in 2022 and went on to be selected in the Draft -- Denton Mateychuk at 12th overall to Columbus, Jagger Firkus 35th overall to Seattle
“[Jagger] said there’s a lot of media and camera action on you, so that’s going to be pretty special to see,” Unger said. “And just the game in general, the environment, all those top players, you’re going to see all of them in the NHL eventually, so it will be special.”
As a likely top-10 selection in June, Yager will naturally have plenty of eyes on him. That’s nothing new for the Prince Albert product, though, and he plans to take it all in stride.
“I’m at my best when I’m smiling during the game and stuff like that, so just stay focused but also be loose and make sure I’m having fun,” he said. “Just stick to what I do best, use my skating, shoot the puck lots, try to utilize my shot to my advantage and obviously try to use my hockey IQ as well, showcase not just my offensive ability, but the 200-foot game as well.”
The reigning CHL Rookie of the Year has put up 20 goals and 54 points in 46 games this season, precisely the kind of campaign that draws all sorts of attention from scouts.
Both players took part in on-ice fitness and skills testing on Tuesday, with Yager turning in some positive results -- his 4.748 seconds in the 30-metre backwards skate was third-best among all skaters, while he was fourth-best in weave agility (10.613 seconds) and third in reaction with the puck (9.6222 seconds).
Yager was quick to thank his coaches and teammates when asked about the team during a Top Prospects media scrum.
“I can’t thank them enough, they’ve given me a lot of opportunities, starting in the (Regina Hub in 2021),” Yager said. “They’ve given me lots of confidence, and I have to give lots of credit to my teammates and to my coaches, they’ve been a big part of my growth as a player and as a person, especially my D zone. My coaches are pretty hard on my 200-foot game, so I have to thank them for that.”
Puck drop for the game Wednesday night is at 9 p.m. Moose Jaw time, and you can catch all the action on TSN.