The Chilliwack Bruins take on the Tri-City Americans tonight at Prospera Centre, and they do so with a new National Hockey League prospect in the lineup.
Defenceman Mitch Topping is officially on the scouting radar, listed 18th among Western Hockey League skaters in the just released Central Scouting Bureau rankings.
The 17-year-old is the only Bruin on the list, which includes nine blueliners among the 25 skaters rated.
“Obviously it’s an honour just to be mentioned on a list like this,” Topping said. “But it’s just a start, and there’s lots of work to do to get where I’d eventually like to be.”
This time last year, the Bruins had three players drawing the attention of talent evaluators; Kevin Sundher, Tyler Stahl and Dylen McKinlay.
All three players were eventually drafted.
Sundher went in the third round (75th overall) to the Buffalo Sabres.
Stahl went in the sixth round (167th ova) to Carolina, while McKinlay was selected in the seventh round (189th ova) by the Minnesota Wild.
Being ranked by CSB doesn’t make getting drafted a sure thing, but it certainly helps.
“For sure, it is a big first step,” Topping said. “But you can’t too excited about it and let it distract you.”
Topping learned a lot watching his teammates deal with the increased attention.
“I talked to them and saw it going on, and there is a some pressure that goes with being a scouted player,” he said. “You just have to put that to the back of your mind and help your team first.”
Topping knows he’s got work to do if he wants to improve his draft stock.
By his own admission, the 2010-11 season hasn’t started the way he’d hoped it would.
“I’m learning a lot this year, trying to play a steadier game on D,” Topping said. “Improvement is coming, and I need to get better for myself and the team.”
His defensive game has been inconsistent, leading to a minus-four rating through 20 games.
“That’s always something I’ve had to work at as a guy who’s always been more of an offensive defenceman,” Topping admitted. “But working with Pat (assistant coach Conacher), he’s helped me to understand that if you can’t play defence you can’t play. I’ve been working at it and it’s coming along.”
His offensive game has also been hit and miss.
For a guy who moves himself and the puck well, Topping expects more than the one goal and six points he’s collected so far.
“I’m learning that my offence will come from making simple passes out of my own end,” he observed. “I get a lot of second assists because of the first pass. With the power play stuff, it’s going to come. But we’ve got a very good first unit power play (with point men Brandon Manning and Jesse Pauls) that’s taking care of things right now.”