The 99th Memorial Cup kicks off Friday with the host Windsor Spitfires taking on the the Saint John Sea Dogs, champions of the QMJHL. This is a particularly good year for talent, with all four squads (rounded out by the Erie Otters and Seattle Thunderbirds) boasting NHL-ready game breakers and nice depth. Gun to my head, I see Erie and Saint John in the final but honestly, there are no pushovers in this crop. As a preview, here’s a look at players to follow for fans of all 31 NHL teams. For franchises that do not have a drafted or signed player in the tourney, I am including a player eligible for the 2017 draft that could be selected in the range your team is drafting around right now. Those teams are marked with an asterisk.
ANA – Julius Nattinen is a big center who provides secondary scoring for Windsor.
ARI – Dylan Strome is one of the top prospects in all of hockey and he’ll bring his dominating game down the middle with him from Erie.
BOS – Part of the Bruins’ infamous 2015 first round, Jakub Zboril is a tough defender who rediscovered his offense this season for Saint John.
BUF* – Ivan Lodnia is playing a checking role for Erie right now, but the 2017 prospect has smarts and quickness. Could be a second-rounder for the Sabres.
CGY* – The Flames pick too late in the first to get Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi, then don’t pick until the fourth round. Seattle’s Sami Moilanen is an option; he had a nice playoff run.
CAR – The Hurricanes have four major prospects here, led by OHL playoff MVP Warren Foegele of Erie. Saint John brings starting goalie Callum Booth, center Spencer Smallman and powerful scorer Julien Gauthier.
CHI – Erie's Alex DeBrincat will be one of the most deadly scoring threats in the tournament. The Hawks also roll deep here with Windsor power forward Graham Knott and a pair of Sea Dogs, Nathan Noel and Matthew Highmore.
COL* – With a high pick in the first round, the Avs have a shot at Windsor’s Gabe Vilardi, a potent center with great hockey sense and a lethal stick.
CBJ – Power forward Keegan Kolesar had an incredible run for Seattle, leading the WHL in playoff scoring with 31 points in 19 games.
DAL* – There is already talk of the Stars trading down from No. 3 in the draft, but Vilardi (see COL) would be an excellent choice if they stand pat.
DET – Erie defenseman Jordan Sambrook brings mobility and size, contributing at both ends of the ice.
EDM – Ethan Bear has been a revelation in Seattle the past two seasons, pumping in points from the blueline.
FLA* – With a pair of third-rounders in 2017, the Panthers could grab Seattle defenseman Jarret Tyszka, who blends size and great mobility.
LA* – Jonathan Quick is a big influence on draft-eligible Windsor goalie Michael DiPietro, so the Kings might as well go for a next-generation talent now.
MIN* – The Wild could use another goalie in the system and if Michael DiPietro’s six-foot height scares off teams, perhaps Minny can nab him with their first pick in the third round (or trade up to secure him earlier).
MTL – Mikhail Sergachev is the big fish here, patrolling the blueline with authority for Windsor. But you’ve also got D-man Simon Bourque with Saint John and left winger Jeremiah Addison in Windsor.
NSH* – For an organization that knows what to do with mobile defensemen, Nashville sure seems like a good place for Jarret Tyszka (see FLA) in the third round.
NJ* – No way the Devils pass on Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with their top pick, so let’s give them a crack at Ivan Lodnia (see BUF) in the second round.
NYI – Matt Barzal has already played a couple games for New York, but as the WHL playoff MVP for Seattle, his task right now is running the offense for the T-Birds.
NYR – Mobile defenseman Sean Day has been a good fit in Windsor since getting traded from Mississauga, while Ryan Gropp brings scoring punch to Seattle.
OTT – Thomas Chabot may be the most important player in the tournament, logging major minutes on the Saint John blueline, while Logan Brown is Windsor’s top center.
PHI – Samuel Dove-McFalls is a veteran left winger for Saint John who brings secondary scoring.
PIT* – Instead of a draft pick, I’m gonna go with free agent D-man Darren Raddysh here. He had a monster offensive campaign for Erie and is in high demand.
STL* – With two late first-round picks, no one high fits in St. Louis, but Sami Moilanen (see CGY) would be an option in the fourth or fifth round.
SJ* – A competitive organization that doesn’t have a ton of D-men in the pipeline, the Sharks could certainly make a pitch to Darren Raddysh (see PIT).
TB – The Bolts are loaded here, with Captain Clutch Anthony Cirelli, sniper Taylor Raddysh and big D-man Erik Cernak of Erie, plus gritty scorer Mathieu Joseph and rugged Boko Imama of Saint John.
TOR – Jeremy Bracco holds the torch for the Maple Leafs, using his brilliant offensive mind and slick hands to create offense for Windsor.
VAN – Kyle Pettit of Erie went unsigned, so Canucks fans should laser in on Windsor blueliner Jalen Chatfield, a recent free agent signing who plays a two-way game.
VEG* – There’s a possibility that Vegas could nab Gabe Vilardi (see COL) with their first pick – especially if Dallas is in the mood to trade down.
WSH* – Like their rivals from Pittsburgh, I could also see the Caps in on the Darren Raddysh free agent sweepstakes.
WPG – Logan Stanley has been cleared for action after a lengthy recovery from knee surgery and his size and reach will be important for Windsor’s blueline.