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Memorial Cup: The Super-Mega Preview

The Memorial Cup is back, with four of the best CHL teams fighting to become Canada's top junior hockey club. Get ready with a competitor breakdown.
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The Memorial Cup is back, with four of the best CHL teams fighting to become Canada's top junior hockey club. Get ready with a competitor breakdown.

Hamilton Bulldogs

The Hamilton Bulldogs were an absolute powerhouse, finishing 12 points ahead of their nearest OHL competitor, winning 51 games while no other team surpassed 44. Led offensively by undrafted 2002-born forward Logan Morrison and the midseason acquisition Mason McTavish. Defensively, they were led by a pair of 2001-born blueliners in Nathan Staios and Arber Xhekaj, the Bulldogs are a veteran-laden squad that has a legitimate claim to being a favorite among the CHL’s best teams.

The playoff run that the Bulldogs went on was an absolute masterclass. Morrison and fellow undrafted 2002-born forward Avery Hayes both averaged over two points per game while one of hockey’s best prospects, Mason McTavish, averaged just over a point-and-a-half while providing excellent two-way play. While the production from the backend hasn’t quite been as plentiful as it was during the regular season, the Bulldogs have been defending at an extremely high level and allowing the forwards to do the damage.

Prior to their OHL Final against the Windsor Spitfires who took the Bulldogs to seven games, Hamilton had not lost a single game since March 25th, an overtime loss against the Sudbury Wolves. Their last regulation loss came on March 15th. To say that Hamilton had hit their stride right as they needed to is an understatement. Windsor gave them an excellent test right at the end of their championship run to prep them for the nation's best at the Memorial Cup.

When you run through your league the way the Bulldogs did, there are a lot of things that go right in all aspects of the game. Offensively, Hamilton was consistently generating the majority of scoring chances for their squad. The OHL’s top team plays a tough and structured game from the top-line down, making it difficult for anyone to score against them. A +124 goal differential was by far the biggest in the OHL.

X-Factor: C Mason McTavish

The Anaheim Ducks' third overall pick from last year’s draft has played all over this year. He spent some time in the NHL, getting nine games in before being sent back to the OHL. Midway through his NHL time, McTavish was sent to the AHL on a conditioning loan for three games. After a quick four-game OHL stint, the Canadian power forward joined the World Junior squad where he was an absolute force through the two games that were played prior to COVID shutting things down. Upon his return to the OHL, he was traded to Hamilton where he would help his new club capture the league championship but not before representing his country one more time, at the Olympic Winter Games.

McTavish isn’t the team's highest scorer, that would be Logan Morrison, but he is their most highly touted player with a strong defensive game as a center to go along with a powerful offensive game. McTavish can absolutely rip the biscuit and his playmaking abilities have taken a massive step since last year. The Zurich-born Canadian understands how to play the game the right way while also bringing modern-day speed and skill elements to the game.

Anaheim’s top prospect is going to be a big reason why the Bulldogs have success at the Memorial Cup. McTavish’s play down the middle really solidified Hamilton as not only one of the OHL’s best teams but one of the best squads in the CHL as a whole. The 2003-born center is going to likely play up against the other team’s best players and will often find himself being the best overall player on the ice against many of them. If he can win his matchups consistently, the Bulldogs will be a tough out for anyone.

Sleeper: C/LW Jan Myšák

The Canadiens prospect could be one of the Memorial Cup’s most intriguing players. His energy and persistence on the forecheck make him a nuisance and his diverse scoring ability gives teams headaches. Myšák was the team’s second-leading goal scorer in the regular season, providing a punch in a depth role. He has been centering the third line, giving the Bulldogs some incredible depth down the middle through the OHL playoffs but has played on the wing on the first line at times this year as well. His versatility might be one of his best assets.

Myšák plays the simple game in an exciting way. He brings some flash and flair to the ice at times but he does it to further play and execute. The young Czech forward has an excellent shot from distance, whether off the rush or from a standstill in the offensive zone. His playmaking ability isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water but he makes the passes that present themselves. There is also an element of power in Myšák’s game, where he can lower his shoulder and drive to the middle of the ice when he works off the boards.

He isn’t going to be asked to be the star of the show in the Memorial Cup for Hamilton but his ability to fill any role will make him one of their most valuable players. Whether he is helping shutdown opposing offensive players on the third line and providing some depth scoring in key moments as he did in the OHL final or he is asked to jump up and play on the wing with either Morrison or McTavish, the 2020 second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens will be one of the Bulldogs sneakiest weapons at the Memorial Cup.

Edmonton Oil Kings

To say the Edmonton Oil Kings loaded up for a Memorial Cup run would be an understatement. The Oil Kings have built a juggernaut.

Edmonton had quite a strong team heading into the summer after three straight very strong seasons at or near the top of the league standings, including a league-best 20-2-0-1 record in last year's shortened season. Had there been a playoff, which was canceled due to COVID-19, the Oil Kings likely would have been one of the favorites to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions.

With depth and star power at every position, Edmonton was poised to be a strong squad once the WHL returned to its regular hockey calendar this season. One of the sneakiest additions they made heading into this season was the trade with Seattle for defender Šimon Kubíček. The Czech blueliner was acquired last season but was playing on loan in Czechia because of the pandemic. Over the summer, they also brought over Slovak forward Jakub Demek, their 2021 import pick. Both Demek and Kubíček brought pro experience with them, a major asset for the Oil Kings.

The most insane part of the Oil Kings' roster-building process is that they weren’t satisfied with the stacked roster they had, bolstering their squad with talent monthly through the New Year. First, they acquired blueliner Luke Prokop in October, just a few games into the season. In November, they got the news that their captain who had been in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues was returning. Jake Neighbours instantly became one of the league's best players.

December started with a bang as they acquired one of the WHL’s best two-way blueliners in Kaiden Guhle, the Prince Albert Raiders’ captain. The added physical element along with Guhle’s efficiency at both ends of the ice at the WHL level made Edmonton’s blueline tough to play against.

The additions didn’t stop there though. With a new month came a new impact addition. Edmonton made a trade with the Vancouver Giants to acquire their captain, Justin Sourdif. A two-way forward who has been able to add a workhorse mentality as well as some additional scoring touch, Sourdif was a welcome addition to a forward core that already had lethal threats like the aforementioned Neighbours as well as Dylan Guenther, Carter Souch, and Josh Williams.

The best player on the Oil Kings might be goaltender Sebastian Cossa. One of the best netminders to come out of the CHL in a decade, Cossa was the 15th overall pick of the Red Wings last year and his season in the WHL was absolutely outstanding from just about any angle you look at it.

They powered through the regular season and then looked dominant in the WHL playoffs. The Oil Kings lost five total games through their four-round journey en route to winning their first WHL title since 2014. They expected to be here, and the moves they made going back to last year showed that.

Edmonton’s strength is that they are strong everywhere. Loaded up front. Loaded on the blueline. One of, if not the best goalie in the CHL. Depth and star power at every position.

Sleeper: F Jalen Luypen

On a team full of talent such as the Oil Kings, almost any player that is chosen as a “Sleeper” will be cheating in a way. Jalen Luypen was nearly a point-per-game player this year with 64 points in 66 games. He plays a hard-working, high-energy game that generally thrives in playoff hockey environments. This year, that hasn’t been the case with nine points in 19 games thus far.

At an event like the Memorial Cup, a player who can bring some physical edge as well as find ways to produce offense, the way Lyupen did all season, can be extremely valuable. He isn’t going to try and overcomplicate the game with high-end skill or dangling around defenders. Luypen’s whole game is predicated on outworking the opponent. The Chicago seventh-round pick has developed his off-puck game in the offensive zone, finding spots to set up shop in pockets of space and maintaining east-west passing whenever he sees a lane develop. 

Luypen has also developed a knack for disrupting play at the defensive end of the ice as well. Even when he isn’t producing at the offensive end of the ice, which can very easily be covered up by Edmonton’s star power, Luypen is a contributing factor for Oil Kings. If he can recapture the scoring touch he displayed in the regular season, he could win up being a big reason that the Edmonton Oil Kings go on to win the Memorial Cup.

Saint John Sea Dogs

The Memorial Cup host were one of the QMJHL’s best teams in the regular season just to be upset in the first round by a feisty Rimouski team in a best-of-five series that went the distance. Can they redeem themselves from a first-round elimination the way the Windsor Spitfires did in 2017, the last time a host team won the Memorial Cup?

That'll be the question that this iteration of the highly skilled Saint John's squad will attempt to answer. A team with a boatload of skill and built for a long playoff run, the Sea Dogs were aggressive in adding talent over the last couple of years. With the summer additions of William Dufour and Yan Kuznetsov, supplemented by Connor Trenholm, Philippe Daoust, and Raivis Ansons at the deadline, the Sea Dogs were ready to roll.

One of the biggest challenges was the team's surprising dismissal of former head coach Gordie Dwyer after the team's disappointing first-round exit. The team replaced him with Gardiner MacDougall, who has won seven national titles in 22 seasons with the University of New Brunswick's men's hockey program.

The team has had a month to prepare with their new head coach, practicing and getting ready for the Memorial Cup. They boast the QMJHL’s MVP and the league's first 50-goal scorer since 2018 in William Dufour to go along with their other 100-point forward Josh Lawrence. Saint John has a highly skilled blueline with Jérémie Poirier and William Villeneuve leading the charge, both of whom eclipsed the 55-point mark this season.

X-Factor: G Thomas Couture

The undersized goaltender has been lights out for the Sea Dogs. Acquired along with Daoust at the deadline, Couture has become the Sea Dogs’ best goaltender. Carrying a .925 save percentage into the playoffs, the former Moncton Wildcats netminder showed off some excellent athleticism and a real battle mentality.

His 5-foot-10 frame isn’t ideal but Couture has been an outstanding find as he had just three games of QMJHL experience prior to this, his age-20, season. After helping the underwhelming Wildcats stay competitive, The Sea Dogs identified him and how he could help them on their Memorial Cup run. They likely expected their QMJHL playoff run to be longer, but Couture certainly wasn’t to blame for that.

Couture has the chance to be the reason that Saint John competes with the powerhouses from the WHL and OHL. The scoring offensive firepower of the Hamilton Bulldogs or the top-to-bottom star power of the Oil Kings will need to be stopped somehow. Although leaning on a goalie for a long period of time is often unsustainable, the Memorial Cup is a short tournament format and if Couture can get hot for a short period, as he often did for the Sea Dogs, he can steal a game or two and put the squad in position to win it all and redeem their early QMJHL Playoff exit.

Sleeper: RW/C Ryan Francis

Acquired last season, Francis tore the QMJHL up last year when he joined Saint John. The undersized forward put up nearly two points per game as a Sea Dog last season and was expected to take a step this year. That didn’t quite happen though as he put up 65 points in 54 games. His underwhelming season was deemed such a step back by the Calgary Flames that they decided not to sign their former fifth-round draft choice to a contract, making him eligible for this year’s draft.

Francis has incredible playmaking ability and flashes of game-breaking talent that have been what keep fans and analysts in his corner. The consistency isn’t there and his play has seemed to fall off this year but the Memorial Cup could be where Francis reasserts himself into the conversation of NHL front offices. His talent is undeniable but he needs to show it.

When at his best, Francis is a high-level playmaker who can score his fair share of goals to ensure that he isn’t too one-dimensional. The Sea Dogs forward is creative and daring with his passing ability and uses the shiftiness of his skating ability to open space for himself. There is so much to like about Francis’ game that outside of his size, 5-foot-9, he would be a supremely valuable player in an NHL system. The consistency is just so lacking that he is seemingly on his last legs in that regard. A big Memorial Cup could go a long way to ensuring his hockey future and the Sea Dogs' success.

Shawinigan Cataractes

Possibly the most surprising team in this year’s Memorial Cup, the Shawinigan Cataractes really found their gear in the QMJHL playoffs en route to the Presidents Cup as QMJHL champions. If there is any ‘Cinderella team’ this year, it’s Shawinigan. Finishing third in the conference and seventh in the league standings through the regular season, Shawinigan certainly had the talent to be an impact team but they were far from the dominant team that Hamilton or Edmonton showed to be in their respective leagues at times. They finished with seven fewer wins than the host Sea Dogs did in the regular season.

The Cataractes were a dangerous team with the man advantage this year, leading the QMJHL with a 31.4 percent conversion rate. They will need to do their best to take advantage of the man-advantage when they get their opportunities at the Memorial Cup because, on paper, they lack the depth that the other squads bring at 5-on-5. They will have one of the CHL’s most exciting duos in Xavier Bourgault and Mavrik Bourque, who they will rely heavily on to bring the bulk of the scoring. Their backend doesn’t have a wealth of talent but they boast three solid pairs that can get the job done in their own end and move the puck up ice to their forwards quickly.

Shawinigan took a step in the playoffs, becoming a team that used its skill and pace to upset opponents throughout the playoffs, including the QMJHL’s top two teams from the regular season. They defeated the league’s top team, the Québec Remparts, in a hard-fought series that went the distance before going up three games to none in the QMJHL final before winning the series in five games against the league’s only other 100-point team, the Charlottetown Islanders. They earned the right to be here by taking out the QMJHL’s best, now they’ll have to continue slaying giants.

X-Factor: RW Xavier Bourgault

One of the most dangerous scorers in the QMJHL, Bourgault - and his running mate Bourque - both missed time due to injuries this year. Bourgault finished with just 75 points on the year but did so in 43 games, good for fifth in the league on a points per game basis. The lethal dual-threat scorer was one of the most valuable players in the QMJHL when he was on the ice, making him and Bourque one of the league's most dangerous and dynamic duos.

The Edmonton Oilers’ first-round pick from the 2021 NHL draft is one of the most dangerous players in the offensive zone away from the puck because he lurks in space and jumps on opportunities with the best of the best in junior hockey. Bourgault is the definition of an ‘elite passenger’. A player who isn’t always going to be the on-puck play driver but makes a line absolutely filthy with his ability to supplement a play driver like Bourque in so many ways. Whether he is finishing a play with his precision shooting ability or playing a bumper role in a give-and-go, Bourgault is consistently pushing play in a positive direction.

If Bourgault can help provide ample offense as he has done virtually every time he is on the ice, the Cataractes will be much more difficult of an out at the Memorial Cup. Bourgault has the ability to be a game-breaker and he will need to be for the Cataractes.

Sleeper: G Antoine Coulombe

There is no doubt about it, the Shawinigan Cataractes are going to need a massive performance from Coulombe if they have any hope of capturing the Memorial Cup. The Cataractes are very clearly underdogs, even when it comes to their games against the host Sea Dogs. Shawinigan won the QMJHL title and that’s certainly worth love but in a tournament full of champions and loaded rosters, Shawinigan comes in as the underdog, at least on paper. That’s where Coulombe comes in.

Coulombe has a history of stepping up when it matters. Last year, he went from a .885 save percentage in the regular season to a .930 in the postseason. This year, the Cataractes netminder went from .907 to .921 en route to the title. Coulombe is big when it matters most and the Memorial Cup is the pinnacle of that.

The 6-foot-0 goaltender shows off some athleticism and battles hard in the crease to stay in front of the shooter. He is rarely seen lazily sliding across his crease without control as many junior-aged goalies do. Coulombe certainly isn’t the most skilled goaltender in this tournament but his improved play in the postseason every year going back to his U16 seasons is a sign that he could very well steal a game or two at the Memorial Cup and oftentimes in a short tournament as this is, a hot goalie can make all the difference. 

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