In the midst of a glorious first round of NHL playoffs, let us not forget the other battles going on in the hockey world right now. Specifically, what is proving to be yet another dizzying chase for the Memorial Cup in the major junior ranks.
If anything, this season is looking even better than last year; a tall feat in itself. While 2008 gave us the monumental Western League goalie showdown of Nashville first-rounder Chet Pickard’s Tri-City Americans and future world juniors hero (and Tampa prospect) Dustin Tokarski’s Spokane Chiefs, star power will be even greater this time around.
In the ’08 Memorial Cup, the highest-ranked draft pick for that summer was Kitchener’s Mikkel Boedker, who ended up going straight to the NHL after Phoenix took him with the eighth selection. Nazem Kadri was also there for the Rangers as an underager and he’ll be a top-10 pick this summer (albeit as a member of the eliminated London Knights).
Belleville made the Memorial Cup tourney thanks to goalie Mike Murphy, who was skipped in his draft year, but taken by Carolina after his great showing, while the Quebec League brought the NHLer most impact to date in future Flyer Claude Giroux, whose Gatineau Olympiques got flattened, nonetheless. Tokarski’s Chiefs, helped along the way by underager Jared Cowen and Canes pick Drayson Bowman, took the title.
But thanks to juggernauts and star-laced squads, this year’s Memorial Cup is looking like a dandy. Let’s break down the juicy possibilities league by league.
The Ontario League is turning into a Battle of the Gods and we are all the beneficiaries. How good is it? John Tavares and his stacked London Knights didn’t even make the final. That means a team with Tavares, Kadri, John Carlson and Michael Del Zotto (both first-rounders) along with a strong supporting cast, wasn’t good enough to even get a sniff at a Mem Cup berth.
The Windsor Spitfires (who eliminated the Knights in a classic every-game-an-overtime-game series) do have a shot at the OHL title and do so through waves of skill. Taylor Hall is the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2010 draft. Ryan Ellis is another WJC hero and soon-to-be first-rounder. Andrei Loktionov was a late-round steal for the Kings last summer and Greg Nemisz a 2008 first-rounder for the Calgary Flames.
Their likely opponent in the OHL final? The Brampton Battalion, a team that boasts THN Future Watch ’09 cover boy Cody Hodgson (Vancouver), consensus 2009 No. 3 draft pick Matt Duchene and Russian demon Evgeni Grachev, who has become so good so quickly, not even the New York Rangers will be able to ruin him (like every other Blueshirts prospect not named Marc Staal). In net, Detroit’s top pick from 2008, Thomas McCollum. But the Wings don’t know anything about drafting, right?
Over in the Quebec League, the Memorial Cup host Rimouski Oceanic will be there, but can cool its heels after being dusted by the still playoff-undefeated Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Volts boast talent such as Chris DiDomenico (Toronto), Dmitri Kulikov (projected top-10 pick this summer) and several undrafted overagers. The Volts still need to beat Shawinigan (assuming the Cataractes finish off the Quebec Remparts), but expect them to be there.
In the Dub, the Calgary Hitmen are also still undefeated as they prep for the WHL final. The Hitmen are a veteran group, with players such as Paul Postma (Atlanta), Joel Broda (Washington) and Brandon Kozun (undrafted, but watch for him to go this summer) leading the charge. Potential Dub final opponents are Kelowna (featuring Buffalo first-rounder Tyler Myers) and projected top-five pick Evander Kane’s Vancouver Giants, who ran win-for-win with Calgary all season.
No matter which three teams join Rimouski at the Memorial Cup, the lineup will give any hockey fan chills – the perfect complement to Stanley Cup fever.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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