Fresh Faces, Famous Families at the CHL Top Prospects Game
Saturday, 11 August 2007
Originally published in Prospects Hockey in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
“Hockey’s in his blood.” “He was born to play this game.” For some participants in the CHL Top Prospects Game, these aren’t mere clichés. They’ve clearly got genes that scream of athletic ability, and their hockey-oriented family environment has contributed toward their rosy prospects for selection in the annual NHL Draft.
This season, London Knights center Sam Gagner has made a name for himself by contending for the OHL scoring lead. Naturally, the 17-year-old Oakville product has a lot of hockey growth ahead of him before he can overshadow the achievements of his father Dave, who racked up 719 points in 946 games with seven NHL clubs.
Another good example is Vancouver Giants blueliner Brendan Mikkelson. He recently signed a three-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks, who drafted him 31st overall in 2005 after seeing him score a goal in that year’s Prospects Game in Vancouver. Mikkelson credits much of his success to the influence of his father Bill, who played defense for three NHL teams in the 1970’s.
“He always encouraged me,” recalls Mikkelson. “We’d go out together and play on the outdoor rink, one-on-one and keep-away. He’d give me lots of little tips on how to play defense. He was very inspirational, and he helped me get where I’ve gotten so far.”
Mikkelson’s skating ability is his calling card, and that’s a case of like father, like son: “My dad was a great skater, and that was always something I wanted to make sure I worked on. When I was growing up, he emphasized to me that if you can skate, you have a chance to play anywhere.”
Taylor Pyatt must have absorbed the same message from his father Nelson, who suited up at center for Detroit, Washington, and Colorado in the 1970’s. The Sudbury Wolves winger won the fastest skater competition at the 1999 Top Prospects Game with a lap time of 14.139. That year, he went eighth overall to the Buffalo Sabres.
Today, as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, the 6-4, 220-pound veteran still seeks out paternal pointers: “To have someone in my life who’s gone through the NHL experience has been a big help for me. Whenever I go through tough times or find myself struggling a bit, I always have him to call, and he gives me good advice.”
In 2005-06, Pyatt surpassed his father’s career mark of 296 NHL games. “It’s kind of weird now that I look back and see I’ve played more games than he did,” says Pyatt. “I’m still 25 years old and hopefully have many more to come.”
Pyatt’s ability to stick at the NHL level is also an inspiration to his younger brother Tom, a Team Canada World Junior veteran and star center for the Saginaw Spirit. Even though the 19-year-old didn’t play in the Top Prospects Game when he was eligible, Tom’s success and selection by the New York Rangers (#107 overall in 2005) provides hope for budding talents who may have been left out of this annual showcase.
Let’s face it: natural-born hockey ability isn’t always equally distributed. It can be tough to follow in the footsteps of fathers, brothers, and cousins who cracked the big time.
Just ask rookie Sudbury forward Jared Staal. His older brothers Eric, Marc, and Jordan all played in the Top Prospects Game. Eric subsequently led the 2006 NHL playoffs in scoring and won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes, while Jordan has emerged as a top rookie with Pittsburgh this season. Talk about pressure!
But sometimes, those sparkling examples are just what young players need to push them to the next level. Watch for more family feats at this year’s extravaganza.
More Family Connections
Here are some other Top Prospects alumni whose relatives cracked the NHL:
2006: Nick Foligno (son of Mike Foligno)
1999: Matt Carkner (cousin of Terry Carkner)
1998: Philippe Sauve (son of Bob Sauve)
1998: Eric Chouinard (son of Guy Chouinard)
1997: Joe Thornton (cousin of Scott Thornton)
1997: Nikos Tselios (cousin of Chris Chelios)
1996: Chris Hajt (son of Bill Hajt, 1996