Two high-end prospects were sent back to junior from the NHL recently, adding even more star power to what could be an epic Memorial Cup. Quebec is hosting, so the Remparts are in, but who will join them?
You can debate whether or not the Edmonton Oilers were right to hold rookie center Leon Draisaitl out of the world juniors, where he would have been far and away Germany’s best player. And you can debate whether or not he should have been kept up by the Oilers as long as he was before they sent him back to junior in the Western League. But the trade that sent his rights (and consequently, him) to Kelowna from Prince Albert is huge in the WHL’s arms race. Just as big as the New York Rangers sending Anthony Duclair back to the Quebec Remparts.
The Remparts are hosting the Memorial Cup this year and the Quebec League powerhouse had already been stocking up. Team Canada’s starting goalie at the world juniors, Zach Fucale (Montreal), was acquired before the tournament from Halifax, while diminutive scoring sensation Vladimir Tkachev came from Moncton before that.
Import rookie Dmytro Timashov is already one of the highest scorers in the QMJHL, while Tampa Bay prospect Adam Erne should have a chip on his shoulder after being left off Team USA’s world junior entry. Now the Remparts add Duclair, fresh off a huge performance for Canada at the same holiday classic.
Duclair, of course, opened the scoring for Canada in the gold medal game and his combination of speed and slick hands made him a surprise addition to the New York Rangers this fall. This is actually a great time for him to return to the Remparts, since Quebec is in a dogfight with several teams for first overall. Even though the hosts don’t need to have a lot of playoff success in order to win the Memorial Cup, no team wants to back into the four-team tournament. And Duclair has never won a league title, so there’s something else to shoot for.
Out west, things are getting crazy. The Kelowna Rockets made a huge splash before the world juniors when they grabbed Winnipeg prospect Josh Morrissey, who had been teammates with Draisaitl in Prince Albert. Morrissey got some free chemistry time with Rockets blueliner Madison Bowey on Team Canada’s defense corps and now Draisaitl joins the pair in B.C. The Rockets also have one of the most terrifying lines in the ‘Dub’ already with Rourke Chartier (San Jose) playing between Tyrell Goulbourne (Philadelphia) and 2015 prospect Nick Merkley.
Draisaitl was a wrecking ball for Prince Albert last season and had very little talent surrounding him, other than Morrissey. Now he’s stronger and used to playing against the best players in the world thanks to 37 games with the Oilers.
If Kelowna doesn’t make the Memorial Cup, it will be a disappointment. The Rockets were already the best team in the WHL and now they add a big, powerful center. The Brandon Wheat Kings would be a potential opponent in the league championship and they just added Calgary Flames first-rounder Morgan Klimchuk from Regina, but the Wheaties could also be contenders next year, whereas many of Kelowna’s stars will turn pro after this campaign.
Big splashes don’t always work out (like when Saskatoon traded for Brayden Schenn), but there are some potent teams out there this year, making for a potentially super-charged Memorial Cup.
And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Connor McDavid will return to the Ontario League’s Erie Otters now with a gold medal around his neck and an OHL title in his gunsights.