One thing USA Hockey wants to make clear is it is not holding an All-Star Game tonight. Sure, there's elite-level talent in the All-American Prospects Game, but fans in Buffalo shouldn't expect a laughable 15-12 exhibition like those midseason "classics."
Instead, the people who come to First Niagara Center should see a bunch of U.S. kids eager to show they are ready for the NHL as soon as next year.
"When we drop the puck the game is in the players' hands, so for us the measurement [of success] will be that it is a good game, that the level of play and the intensity level is higher than fans see at what is, quote-unquote, an 'All-Star Game,'" Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of USA Hockey, said Friday. "This is not an All-Star Game. It's a prospects game to showcase their talent.
"Our emphasis is going to be there's 150 NHL scouts coming to this game, and they want to see some separation in talent."
Plenty of influential eyes will indeed focus on the 38 players eligible for the 2013 NHL draft. Unfortunately, one prominent name won't be ready for the 7 p.m. puck drop.
Williamsville's Justin Bailey, one of the top American prospects, was the recipient of a crushing blindside hit Thursday night in his junior game and has to sit out. The forward for the Kitchener Rangers is one of the seven players on the rosters who earned an "A-list" grade from NHL Central Scouting.
"It's unfortunate with Justin getting injured," Johannson said. "He's a real good prospect."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Bailey was skating through center ice when Windsor defenseman Patrick Sieloff cut him off, earning a charging major and depriving Bailey of the chance to perform in his hometown.
The remaining skaters will try to impress the fans and one of the coaches.
Former Sabres Phil Housley and Rob McClanahan will be behind the benches. While McClanahan hopes to instill wisdom and give encouragement, Housley will look to see which players are capable of performing on the international stage. He is the coach of the U.S. world junior team, a yet-to-be-picked squad that will travel to Russia in December.
"Certainly, it helps your chances by playing well," Housley said. "We're going to keep an open mind. I know we invited 45 players to Lake Placid [this summer for an evaluation camp], but we haven't picked the team. We're going to be watching a lot of hockey here come October, November as we head into December, so there's a lot of decisions to be made.
"I think this is a great opportunity for the kids that weren't playing or didn't get invited to Lake Placid to show their skills. Certainly, every year you look at historically the world junior team, there's always two or three guys that play their way onto the team."
Johannson is banking on the players' eagerness to impress scouts and the staff of USA Hockey to carry the inaugural event.
"For us the exciting part is they're not far from the NHL," he said. "I think hockey fans are identifying that much more sooner with the growth of the under-20 championships. Names like Seth Jones, Ian McCoshen, Ryan Hartman and some of these players, they're going to be names that are in the National Hockey League in a short period of time.
"The depth of talent that the fans will see is what sells the game and what USA Hockey is really proud of right now."
Though Bailey is unable to play, two players from Western New York remain in the game. Rochester's Matt Lane, who plays for Boston University, is on McClanahan's team.
West Seneca forward Sean Malone will skate for Housley's squad. Malone plays for Team USA in the United States Hockey League.
The 17-year-old had a goal and three points in four preseason games.
"He's a real smart player who in a real short time has elevated his game just in the first week," Johannson said. "He's on a real rise right now on the development curve."