College Hockey Inc. held another showcase for potential Canadian NCAA recruits last week, featuring approximately 80 elite teens from Ontario facing off against each other in front of a raft of college coaches. It took place in Toronto with the players divided into four teams, each playing two shortened games.
Among the talent assembled were three kids with strong NHL genes - Jake Gilmour (son of Doug), Dylan Gartner (son of Mike) and Brendan Lemieux (son of Claude), who one coach told me afterward may have been the best player there. But the real eye-opener for me was 6-foot-4, 190-pound right winger Brett Hargrave.
Not only does Hargrave have size (did I mention he’s still only 15 years old?), but the kid used breakaway speed and nimble hands to create many surprising scoring opportunities. Hargrave cites Sidney Crosby as an inspiration, but those breakaway skills harken back to another surprising favorite.
“I liked the way Bobby Orr played, actually,” he said. “I liked the way he skated up the ice and made exciting plays.”
Hargrave played for the midget AAA North Bay Trappers last season, but has moved to Mississauga for this campaign, where he’ll suit up for the Rebels.
“I wanted to come down for a new experience,” he said. “Play some good hockey, see what it’s like and have as much fun as I can.”
Though the Trappers are an elite program in Northern Ontario, it’s still a wide-open part of the province where teams are spread out and travel rivals anything the Ontario League could throw at a kid. Movies and card games were essential to the Trappers’ routine.
“We had a couple of six-hour drives after our games,” Hargrave said. “I think our closest game was an hour and a half to Sudbury, but we’d go as far as Kapuskasing (seven hours). It was fun.”
The big right winger considers himself a playmaker and prides himself on his backchecking. Despite his advanced speed, he’d also like to improve in that area.
“You can always get faster,” he said.
Here’s a look at some of the other players that caught my eye at the showcase:
Connor Murphy, F – Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs
Has a dogged determination around the puck. Murphy didn’t look like a big kid, but he has good offensive instincts and was very quick. Plays for the same program that produced Owen Sound’s Jarrod Maidens.
Robby Fabbri, F – Mississauga Rebels
Fabbri looks like one of those players goalies don’t notice until it’s too late. He’s very deceptive offensively and has a wicked wrister. In the shifts I saw him take, he scored once and rang another shot off the iron.
Jonathan Duchene, D – Vaughan Kings
College Hockey Inc.’s showcase was designed to focus on skill, so players were discouraged from laying each other out with big hits or, obviously, dropping the gloves. But within those parameters, Duchene still managed to demonstrate his surliness in defending his goaltender with some chippy play. An imposing blueliner, Duchene also showed how responsible he was in his own end.
Brandon Klerer, G – Vaughan Kings
It’s not easy being a netminder at these all-star-type affairs, but Klerer looked pretty solid when he was between the pipes. The kid’s got a quick glove hand and is flexible and athletic. He never gives up on a play, which sounds like faint praise for a goaltender, but it truly reflects Klerer’s determination.
Robbie DeMontis, F – Vaughan Kings
Good size and speed. Showed great patience with the puck on rushes, freezing defenders and setting up an easy goal for his linemate.
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