By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard took part.
So did Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley and David Legwand.
Each of those players went from young, up-and-coming prospects to become NHL standouts.
The next wave of talent from eight different teams will be on display as the 2013 NHL Prospects tournament hits Centre Ice Arena today through Monday.
“The level of hockey player that you will see here are the best in the world,” said tournament director Ann Reeves. “I compare it to the World Junior tournament, which I’ve been to before. These GMs are picking and selecting talent to come here that is the best of the best. They’re the best players from Czech Republic, the best players from Sweden, the best players from Canada. That’s why the level is as high as it is.”
Besides the Red Wings, Buffalo, Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota, Columbus, Dallas and the N.Y. Rangers are taking part in the event, which features as many as five top-10 draft picks from the past two NHL drafts.
For Detroit, former first-round picks Riley Sheahan, the 21st pick in 2010, and Anthony Mantha, 20th overall this year, headline the Wings’ 24-player roster.
The Red Wings are seeking their first championship in the history of the tournament, which was first held in Traverse City in 1998. Buffalo won it the last time it was held in Traverse City in 2011. Last year’s tournament was canceled due to the NHL lockout.
Detroit is hopeful it can break through this season behind a solid core of forwards that includes the newly-drafted Mantha — who last played with Val d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — Sheahan, who played with the Red Wings in two games last season and was a big part of the Grand Rapids Griffins run to the Calder Cup and 2010 second round pick Calle Jarnkrok from Sweden, who ended up suiting up with the Griffins for nine games last year and some have suggested has an outside shot to make the Wings as soon as this season.
Since Traverse City began hosting the Prospects Tournament, more than 400 players have ended up playing at least one game in the NHL, with others becoming among the best players in the world.
“We like to call ourselves the gateway to the NHL,” Reeves said. “This has become a scouting mecca. I was talking to (Red Wings general manger Ken) Holland and we were talking about how this is the cream of the crop.”
For many players this week’s action is much like an audition for prospective teams. A number of scouts will be in attendance, as well as various team’s front office personnel.
“It’s great hockey for fans. It’s fast. For players, 10 percent of the guys who are here will have an NHL contract by the time they leave,” said Reeves.
Each day will include a slate of morning practices, followed by four round-robin games today, Friday and Sunday starting at 3:30 p.m. On Monday the tournament concludes with the four championship round games, including the title matchup at 7:30 p.m.
The morning practice sessions are free and open to the public. Tickets for the games are available for $10 per day at the arena or through the web site www.CenterIce.org.