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NAPHL Blaine Showcase Preview

The NAPHL hits the National Sports Center for their fourth event of the year.

The North American Prospects Hockey League hosts their fourth event of the season this weekend at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.

The league, now it's 5th season, is comprised of 16 AAA programs that field teams at the U16 and U18 level. The teams come from around the country to compete in seven showcase tournaments throughout the year allowing for maximum exposure for teams and players from more non-traditional hockey areas.

One of the primary functions of the league is to help make scouting easier and cheaper for its' parent league, the NAHL. A number of players in the NAPHL have already signed tenders with NAHL clubs this year, with many more expected, in the hopes that their play in the NAHL will lead to a Division I hockey scholarship. Bemidji State sophomore forward Cory Ward is one such example of a player that went from the NAPHL to the NAHL to the NCAA, and now, with 9 goals already on the season for the Beavers, has begun to draw attention as a potential NHL free agent signing.

The league has also produced its' fair share of high-end talent. Last summer, three former NAPHL players were selected in the NHL Draft (Zach Pochiro, Miles Liberati, and David Drake), and the league is expected to add to that list at this summer's NHL Draft with alums like Thatcher Demko, Chris Wilkie, Lawton Cournall, Dysin Mayo, and Alex Schoenborn possibilities to be selected.

Three of the NCAA's top four freshman scorers this year--Quinnipiac's Sam Anas, Northeastern's Mike Szmatula, and Lake Superiors Alex Globke--are all also alums of the NAPHL.

As for this year's season. Here are the standings for U18 division. Anaheim has been the top team in the league after returning a good chunk of their very good U16 team from last year, followed closely by Pittsburgh's Esmark Stars.  Here are the U18 division leading scorers. Anaheim's Elijah Barriga, a fast, lanky forward leads the scoring with 27 points, followed by POE Academy's(British Columbia) '98 Tyler Benson. Benson was the top overall selection in the WHL's Bantam Draft last spring.

In the U16 division standings, San Jose has the most points, but Omaha and Lansing are still both undefeated. Omaha, led by Minnesota recruit Tarek Baker, is regarded as one of the top U16 teams in the country. California Titans forward Cody Key leads the U16 division in scoring, followed by Baker, though Baker has played half as many games.

The NAPHL will also hold a U16 all-star game on Sunday evening, showcasing some of the leagues top young talent. The rosters for the all-star game can be found here.

I'll be in and out of the National Sports Center all weekend, trying to catch as much of the action as I can. Follow me at @ChrisDilks on Twitter for updates throughout the tournament, and expect a more thorough write-up on the event right here sometime next week.