The final match-ups in major junior are set. The OHL title will be decided by Mississauga and Erie, while Regina and Seattle battle in the WHL and Saint John takes on Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL. Windsor, the Memorial Cup hosts, waits in the wings. The USHL is down to four teams, while Sweden crowned its top champion in HV71. We’ve still got important hockey to play in the prospect world, so let’s take a tour and check in on some of the future NHLers making noise right now.
Cale Makar, D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL): One of the most dynamic defensemen in the 2017 draft class, Makar will likely do battle with Finland’s Miro Heiskanen as the first blueliner off the board. On top of a record-setting performance at the World Jr. A Challenge this season (he had five points in the tournament opener for Canada West), Makar has steered his Bandits to an Alberta Jr. A League title and now he’s gunning for more.
Brooks is currently playing at the Western Cup, which brings together the champions (and a host team) from the Jr. A leagues in the western provinces. And Makar and the Bandits will not sit back – that’s not their style.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to rush the puck, I’m going to take it,” Makar said. “In Brooks, we’re not a chip-and-chase kind of team – we want possession.”
That attitude is one of the reasons Makar is rated so high for the draft, despite his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame. An excellent skater and puckhandler, he put up 75 points in 54 regular season games, then added 18 in 13 playoff contests. It’s been a meteoric rise.
“At the beginning of the season, my goal was to be a first-round pick,” he said. “I try not to look too much at rankings because you never know what can happen, but it’s been really cool.”
Cousin Mark Logan helped bring Makar to Brooks and influenced the defenseman to go the NCAA route (Logan is at R.I.T. right now). Makar is committed to UMass, a school that showed interest in the youngster from the start. Once there, Makar believes he will benefit from the development curve and off-ice training he’ll get with the Minutemen.
“It was pretty easy to say yes,” Makar said.
In the meantime, the Calgary native will continue on his quest for more hardware. If he and his boys can win the Western Cup (or even come second), they’ll move on to the national Jr. A championship – the RBC Cup. Don’t bet against them.
In the Pipeline
Anthony Cirelli, C (Tampa Bay): Think of Cirelli as the next Justin Williams: in any pressure situation, the kid produces. Already a Memorial Cup hero with Oshawa in 2015, the talented Cirelli is making another run with Erie in the OHL, putting up nine points in his past four games. That earned him league player of the week honors and now his Otters have a shot at their first title since 2002.
Thomas Chabot, D (Ottawa): Watch Chabot usher the puck around the ice with the Saint John Sea Dogs and stand in awe. The Senators first-rounder, who will undoubtedly play some serious NHL minutes next season, has been a force in the QMJHL playoffs with 19 points in 14 games. That’s tops among all blueliners and he’s got another series to add to the total.
Matt Barzal, C (NY Islanders): The Seattle Thunderbirds head into the WHL final shorthanded, with Keegan Kolesar suspended one game and Ethan Bear hurting. That will make Barzal more important than ever. The excellent playmaker is already Seattle’s franchise player, so really he just needs to continue putting up numbers. Like the 17 points he has in 10 games so far in the post-season.
Kasimir Kaskisuo, G (Toronto): The Marlies began the playoffs with Garrett Sparks in net, but Kaskisuo took over and produced superior results after Sparks injured his leg. The Minnesota-Duluth alum by way of Finland leads the AHL with a .952 save percentage and 0.96 goals-against average through three playoff appearances as Toronto gets ready to tussle with Syracuse in the second round.
Adam Musil, C (St. Louis): A two-way player with great size and NHL pedigree, Musil has made an instant impact with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves since graduating from junior’s Red Deer Rebels. The big pivot has five points in five games as the Wolves get set to take on Grand Rapids in the second round of the playoffs.
2017 Draft Stars
Lias Andersson, C – HV71 (SHL): There’s no experience like championship experience and Andersson finished his SHL season with a bang, helping HV71 to a Swedish League title. The competitive two-way center had two points in the seven-game series win over Brynas, while centering the second line.
Joel Teasdale, LW – Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL): An all-situations player that scouts call a “coach’s dream,” Teasdale has been at his best when the Armada have been closing out their past two playoff series. His skating needs work, but with 15 points in 16 games, he’s helping his draft cause.
Ben Mirageas, D – Chicago Steel (USHL): Mirageas played for a dump-and-chase Bloomington team for most of the season and languished. But a trade to Chicago saw his offense jump dramatically and now the Providence College commit is making a nice playoff run with the Steel. Smart and athletic, Mirageas needs to get tougher to play against.
Eeli Tolvanen, LW – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): One of the most dangerous offensive players in the draft, Tolvanen has continued his exploits in the USHL playoffs, helping Sioux City to the Western Conference final. The Boston College commit with the deadly release has five points in five games for the Musketeers.
Owen Tippett, RW – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): With eight points in his past eight playoff games, Tippett is heating up at the right time. The Steelheads will need all hands on deck when they take on Erie in the OHL final and Tippett’s combination of speed and a powerful shot can certainly help from the second line.