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With less than two weeks remaining until the U SPORTS hockey regular season, the hockey world is heating up, especially for top players.
As has often been the case since the introduction of early fall rookie and prospect tournaments, several U SPORTS players are donning NHL jerseys over the next week at their respective prospect camps.
In 2023, the field is dominated by those who have yet to play an entire U SPORTS season, a step away from past year’s themes. Still, 13 players who have or will play Canadian university hockey are set to showcase their skills at NHL rookie camps.
The Washington Capitals have an eye for the UNB Reds. Having brought former Reds standout Phil Maillet through their AHL ranks and into the NHL, the group in the American capital has not forgotten about the boys from New Brunswick.
Just months off their U CUP victory on Prince Edward Island, defenceman Adam McCormick and forward Connor Hall have joined the Capitals, with Hall having previously played in the organization during his eight-game spring foray with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, an affiliate of the Washington club.
While Hall seemingly won’t return to UNB this season, he will likely be in the cards to find an extension with the Stingrays after scoring a goal and three assists in his limited time with the club.
Meanwhile, McCormick finds himself in an intriguing situation, likely having the skill and talent to play professionally in North America. However, after just two seasons in U SPORTS, he still has substantial time remaining in his degree — and eligibility.
The left-shot defenceman is a critical piece to the UNB Reds and will likely play even more significant minutes for them this season, coming off a year where he scored seven goals and 24 points in 26 games en route to a U SPORTS title.
Also, McCormick was among the defencemen UNB and Team Canada head coach Gardiner McDougall relied upon at the World University Games.
Either way, the UNB Reds continue producing high-level talent on and off the ice and will see several past players feature in the pro ranks this season. For now, McCormick is probably at that level but will likely once again grace the ice at the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton, NB.
New recruit Sean McGurn also attends an NHL rookie camp as he links up with SMU Huskies recruit Ben Roger and Saskatchewan’s Gunner Kinniburgh at the Columbus Blue Jackets camp. McGurn, a native of Ottawa, Ont., scored 27 goals and 83 points in 67 games with the OHL’s London Knights last season.
The Reds open their regular season on Oct. 6 against Moncton after playing the OUA’s Ottawa and TMU in the preseason.
The Arizona Coyotes might be playing in a college arena for their second season in a row, calling Mullet Arena of Arizona State University home. However, they’ve not stayed committed to NCAA players.
The Coyotes are bringing Josh Prokop along for their 2023 rookie camp, as the Alberta Golden Bears defenceman joins their prospects for the Rookie Faceoff in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Through two seasons with the Golden Bears, Prokop has scored 27 goals and 57 points in 48 games and comes off a season where he played substantial minutes for the U CUP runner-ups. In the 2022-23 Canada West season, he bagged 18 goals and 37 points in 28 games, one of the better production lines in the conference.
The 23-year-old joins his brother in wearing an NHL jersey, albeit likely temporarily, with Luke Prokop within the Nashville Predators program. Yet, the Golden Bears forward will look to impress as one of the oldest players in the Coyotes camp.
On Friday, his first game will pit him against UQTR’s Simon LaFrance, Acadia’s Bayden Peters, and the Colorado Avalanche rookies. Sept. 15.
If a U SPORTS player could step into an AHL, possibly low-tier NHL lineup, it would be Simon LaFrance. Undoubtedly, the UQTR forward was the best player in U SPORTS last season, helping UQTR to a second straight OUA Queen’s Cup and a bronze medal at the national championship.
He also played a vital role in Team Canada’s run to winning a gold medal at the Lake Placid 2023 World University Games, where he scored two goals and 10 points in seven games. In the OUA, he scored 16 goals and 38 points in 23 games before adding another two goals and four points in six Queen’s Cup playoff games.
The 24-year-old centre has 36 goals and 86 points in 66 games in all competitions with UQTR.
While he may not be the size needed to excel in the NHL, he is an intelligent and shifty player with a strong sense of the game and a sharp shot. With UQTR, he’s played with several different profiles and can adapt to different types of hockey.
The reigning U SPORTS Player of the Year, he earned his first call to the Avalanche for their 2023 development camp in the summer and will now try to impress at rookie camp, seeking an NHL or AHL contract.
Also, his first game on Friday, Sept. 15, will likely see him line up across the ice from the Arizona Coyotes prospects, including Alberta’s Josh Prokop and SMU’s Ben Boyd.
The SMU Huskies send the most players to NHL rookie camps of any U SPORTS school in 2023, with Ben Allison joining the San Jose Sharks, while Ben Boyd links up with Alberta’s Josh Prokop and the Arizona Coyotes. Ben Roger is off to Columbus with UNB commit Sean McGurn, and Jake Uberti has also earned a spot with the Detroit Red Wings.
While the Huskies weren’t able to punch their ticket to the 2023 U CUP, they’ve certainly got some bright young talent coming into head coach Tyler Naugler’s group for the 2023-24 season.
Allison, 21, enters the San Jose camp after playing seven games with the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder to end last season. While he mustered a goal and three points in his cup of coffee at the professional level, he scored significant numbers in the QMJHL, scoring 32 goals and 78 points in 68 games as an assistant captain with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Meanwhile, Boyd joins the Coyotes and will get a chance to face UQTR’s LaFrance and get up to speed ahead of the AUS preseason as he enters his first full season with the Huskies. Joining mid-year in 2022-23, Boyd played nine games, registering a single assist.
Yet, there’s intrigue for Boyd entering the Arizona camp, coming in as an older NHL Draft pick, having been selected by the Blue Jackets in 2021, 165th overall.
On the Columbus side, however, will be former Kingston Frontenac Ben Roger, who also comes into the camp as an intriguing prospect, having already had pro experience during an ametur tryout contract with the AHL’s Bellville Senators. At the same time, he’s one of the highest NHL Draft picks to commit to U SPORTS in recent years, as the Ottawa Senators selected him in the second round, 49th overall in 2021.
Not known for his offensive game, Roger played critical minutes for a Frontenacs team often hemmed in their own end in the OHL last year while showcasing his mobility despite being 6-foot-4. Although unlikely, there’s a potential the 20-year-old could earn himself a professional contract.
Rounding out the SMU foursome is Jake Uberti, a versatile forward who struggled to produce offensively in the OHL and QMJHL but will likely be an enticing U SPORTS player.
The Saskatchewan Huskies see two players attend NHL Rookie Camps, with Gunner Kinniburgh and Jace Isley joining the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils respectively.
Kinniburgh, who did not put up astounding offensive stats through his junior career, has seen his scoring improve substantially since joining the Huskies in 2019-20, as he’s adjusted to become a reasonably offensive blueliner.
Lethbridge, Alta. Native played his rookie season with the Huskies under Olympic and U SPORTS champion head coach Mike Babcock and joins a Blue Jackets club that welcomed Babcock back into an NHL coaching role.
While calm defensive play and 11 points with ten assists are likely not enough to warrant an AHL contract, Kinniburgh impressed the now 60-year-old bench boss and earned himself an NHL glimpse.
Meanwhile, Isley has yet to suit up for the Huskies, a recent recruit from the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels. Known to be a defensively responsible forward, the 21-year-old scored 30 goals and 56 points in 67 games with the Rebels in 2022-23.
One of the smoothest defenceman in U SPORTS last season, McGill’s Scott Walford joins the Tampa Bay Lightning rookie camp this fall, having previously joined them for summer prospect development camp.
A 2017 third round NHL Draft Pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Walford has impressed in his first two seasons with the Redbirds. After taking the shortened season to settle in, he thrived in 2022-23, becoming an offensive blueliner with 21 assists and 24 points in just 23 regular season games.
Similar to UNB’s McCormick and UQTR’s LaFrance, Walford played significant minutes for the Canadian team that captured the FISU gold medal at Lake Placid 2023, where he posted five assists in seven games.
When Brayden Peters makes his way to Wolfville, NS, for his rookie season with the Acadia Axemen, he will bring some experience from an NHL rookie camp. After spending his entire junior career with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, the 21-year-old joins forces with UQTR’s Simon LaFrance with Colorado.
While he comes off a 41-game season with a save percentage of .909 with Calgary, the rookie camp will serve as a strong preparation point ahead of his rookie season with head coach Darren Burns and the Axemen.