01/21/2015 04:28 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT

CHL prospects game could help shake out draft order beyond McDavid, Eichel

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. - Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel should go first and second in the NHL draft. Beyond that, there's plenty left to sort out in the next five months.

Next up in the process of jockeying for draft position is Thursday night's CHL top prospects game. Forty of the top draft-eligible players will be on the ice at Meridian Centre in St. Catharines with hundreds of scouts watching carefully.

"I heard something like there's over 250 scouts are going to be here," McDavid said. "It's the best-on-best. It's the best draft eligibles against the best draft eligibles. It'll be a good test, and it'll be a good game and it will be a good kind of measuring stick for scouts to see."

McDavid doesn't need any more measuring. But a handful of potential top-10 picks will be under the microscope against each other.

Winger Lawson Crouse of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs is fourth among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's latest rankings, Dylan Strome of the Erie Otters is fifth and Mitchell Marner of the London Knights is seventh. Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin is favoured to be the third pick after McDavid and Eichel, but former NHL executive Craig Button believes Strome and Marner may be better.

They can show it Thursday.

"I think that's kind of what this game is made for: to show the scouts that you can compete against the best and that you can be the best," Marner said. "You really want to show that you can be higher in the rankings than you are listed. That's a big part."

One of the biggest competitions is between Crouse, Strome and Marner. Crouse was a big fourth-line winger for gold-medal-winning Canada at the world juniors, while Strome and Marner weren't invited.

Marner (90 points on 34 goals and 56 assists) and Strome (80 points on 28 goals and 52 assists) lead the OHL in scoring. Strome has been developing well with McDavid as a teammate and helped the Otters when McDavid was injured.

"You see how many points he has and all that and all the stuff he goes on the ice, he does so well," McDavid said of Strome. "He's just a great player and you guys are going to see that Thursday."

Even though he could be a top-five pick, Crouse said there are a lot of critics of his game and he's "trying to prove them all wrong."

"I think my skill is underestimated," Crouse said. "People don't realize that I do have good hands and I can bury the puck. I've scored a couple of nice goals this year and it proves to myself that I can score and I can do other things than just throw the body and play defence."

Everyone knows what Marner can do offensively. He's only five-foot-eleven, but his production is bigger than he expected.

"My goal at the start of this year was to try and finish with 90 points or a little higher, and I'm already at that plateau," Marner said. "I'm just trying to get to more open areas and I'm trusting my teammates more with the puck than I was at the start of the year."

An all-star game takes these players out of their comfort zone. McDavid, who's on the team coached by Bobby Orr, and Strome, on the team coached by Don Cherry, will be opponents after building chemistry and a friendship in Erie.

Strome is ready for the challenge and the spotlight.

"Obviously you've probably never played with a lot of guys on your team," he said. "But at the same you've just got to have fun and stay focused and try not to worry too much about the media. That's always going to be there and you've just got to kind of block everything out. It's just a hockey game, so I'm going to try to have fun."

Team Cherry captain Anthony Beauvillier of the Shawinigan Cataractes said one key is not caving to the pressure of the situation.

"Just play the game as you can play on your regular team and everything's going to be fine," Beauvillier said.

Competition is the name of this game, beyond the top five or 10 picks. The top-ranked goaltender on NHL Central Scouting's list, Mackenzie Blackwood of the Barrie Colts, is out with illness, so Michael McNiven, Samuel Montembeault, Nick McBride and Liam Herbst get to show why they should be drafted higher.

The same goes for players like defenceman Brandon Carlo of the WHL's Tri-City Americans. Carlo is 16th among North American skaters but won't try to do too much to stand out from the crowd in St. Catharines.

"I want to show (scouts) who I am," Carlo said. "I want to go out there and play a simple game, a hard-nosed defenceman like I am. I don't want to try and doing anything drastic offensively or anything like that. I just want to go out there and do what I do."

Of course plenty of eyes will be on McDavid because it's impossible to ignore his talent. Those watching include his teammates and opponents.

"I knew he was an incredible player, and by playing with him (at the world juniors), you just realize that he takes it to a whole new level each and every game," Crouse said. "I was fortunate enough to get to watch him play, and the things that he does just blows my mind. His speed and his skill is incredible."


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