The Tri-City Americans have had to make do without two of their top players the past two games, but their absence was given a stamp of approval.
Forward Michael Rasmussen and defenseman Juuso Välimäki will play in Monday’s CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at the Centre Vidéotron in Quebec City (4 p.m. NHL Network).
“It will be a great experience to play against great players and see some legends like Bobby Orr,” Välimäki said. “And maybe make some new friends. It’s nice to have someone to go with. It’s a long day, and a long flight.”
Rasmussen and Välimäki will play for Team Orr. Rasmussen was named an alternated captain for Team Orr, which will be captained by Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads.
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“This is exciting, especially to share it with Juuso,” Rasmussen said. “I’m excited to be a part of it. Bobby Orr is one of both of our idols. It’s special to have him as a coach.”
Valimaki said he is looking forward to meeting Orr.
“It will be great to meet Bobby Orr,” Välimäki said. “He was one of the greatest D-men to play in the league (NHL), and I’m a D-man too. It will be a great experience.”
This year marks the 22nd annual showcase of the CHL’s top-40 NHL Draft-eligible players, featuring talent from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League competing before hundreds of NHL scouts in attendance.
Rasmussen (sixth) and Välimäki (ninth) were ranked in the top 10 of the NHL Central Scouting in its midterm rankings earlier this month in advance of the 2017 NHL Draft, scheduled for June 23-24 in Chicago.
“It’s a big honor right now,” Välimäki said of the rankings. “I just need to keep working hard and keep my name out there.”
Rasmussen leads Tri-City in goals with 32, and is second in scoring with 55 points. Välimäki has 13 goals and 28 assists in 41 games, missing time while playing for Finland at the World Junior Championship earlier this month.
Rasmussen and Välimäki will have WHL rival Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs on their team, but Rasmussen said he is happy to have him on their side.
“I’m really good buddies with him,” Rasmussen said. “We see each other a lot in the summer. We have the same agent and we go to a lot of camps together. It will be fun to see him and enjoy this with him, too.”
Whereas Team Cherry has four WHL defensemen on its roster, Valimaki is the only WHL defenseman for Team Orr.
“I have seen some of the names before, but I haven’t met them,” Välimäki said.
Ramussen is the second Tri-City forward to be selected to the game, while Välimäki is the third defenseman. They follow in the skates of forward Scott Gomez (1998), defensemen Shawn Belle (2003) and Brandon Carlo (2015), and goalies Carey Price (2005), Chet Pickard (2008) and Eric Comrie (2012).
“I remember when I was 15 and I watched Brandon Carlo in the game,” Rasmussen said. “For Juuso and I, we are proud to represent the Americans at this game.”