The top 40 American prospects for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft will gather Thursday at Consol Energy Center for the second All-American Prospects Game, which gives NHL teams and fans the chance to examine these players on the same sheet of ice.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero said his organization sent seven or eight scouts to Buffalo for the inaugural event last year and enjoyed the evaluation opportunities.
"I found it very, very useful last year and very beneficial, actually. We had our whole group there. It's very fortunate to have this come together for USA Hockey," Shero said. "It worked out real well for us, and we have a whole group of scouts coming in again to take a look at these kids and get to know them and watch them."
The benefit of playing host to the All-American Prospects Game is threefold for the Penguins. First, and, perhaps, most simply, is the hometown advantage of having everyone come to them, in their arena, rather than traveling.
Second, it gives the best American players the chance to enjoy the city and associate Pittsburgh with hockey and their NHL futures, an opportunity Buffalo enjoyed last year.
Finally, the event allows Pittsburgh to bolster its resume as a worthy host for future galas of hockey, including the 2018 World Junior Championships, after recently having the 2012 NHL Draft and 2013 NCAA Frozen Four, as well as the Three Rivers Classic and various youth championships.
The game last year was highlighted by the presence of defenseman Seth Jones, drafted fourth overall in June.
Seven players in this event were given preliminary "A" ratings by NHL Central Scouting, indicating potential first-round picks: forwards Blake Clarke, Chase De Leo, Dylan Larkin, Sonny Milano and Nick Schmaltz; and goaltenders Thatcher Demko and Alex Nedeljkovic.
Twenty-three players have committed to NCAA teams. Several have NHL bloodlines, including Ryan MacInnis, son of Al, and Ryan Donato, son of Ted.
Demko already is playing at Boston College and is considered one of the top goaltenders in the 2014 draft. The Canadian TV network TSN recently ranked Schmaltz as the 13th-best preseason draft prospect and the top American.
Former Penguins Joe Mullen and Mark Johnson will serve as coaches for the event. Johnson is a Miracle on Ice alumnus, but prospect Jack Ramsey, whose father, Mike, also was on the 1980 Olympic team, was placed on Mullen's squad.
As far as scouting goes, though. Thursday is one game out of many that lead to a player's draft ranking. That doesn't mean the Penguins can't learn anything from it.
"With a lot of these kids, we saw this last year with Buffalo, our scouts have a pretty good read on a lot of these kids, having seen them numerous times [before the game]," Shero said.
"It's just a different setting. And I think they'll get a chance to meet [the players] a little bit off the ice as well. You're also looking for hockey sense, looking for that 'compete.'
"We're not gonna put too much into this game. ... It's one game in a broader picture we're always looking at. It'll be helpful."
The Penguins selected two Americans in the 2013 draft, but neither participated in the All-American Prospects Game.
To be eligible for the NHL draft, players must turn 18 by Sept. 15 of their draft year, meaning everyone on the ice Thursday will have turned 17 by last week.
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