The Memorial Cup field is now set. Hosted by OHL Windsor, the tournament will also feature Saint John from the QMJHL, Erie from the OHL and Seattle from the WHL. The Thunderbirds won their first WHL title ever this week, knocking off the potent Regina Pats. And while the Memorial Cup is always laden with talent, this year seems particularly good – we’re talking Dylan Strome, Matt Barzal, Thomas Chabot, Alex DeBrincat and Mikhail Sergachev all in the same tournament. Meanwhile, the USHL final is two games deep, with Chicago and Sioux City tied up. An eligibility issue nearly robbed Chicago of star goalie Ales Stezka, but the matter was resolved quickly. We’ve also got young talent at the World Championship in Europe right now, so let’s take a whirl around the prospect globe.
Carl Grundstrom, RW (Toronto): From one cauldron to the next, Grundstrom has been unflappable. The Swedish teenager helped Frolunda to the SHL semifinal, then immediately jetted off to Toronto once his Indians were eliminated. Since joining the AHL’s Marlies for their playoff run, Grundstrom has been a force with four points in five games. Apparently, getting used to an entirely different league on the fly isn’t an issue.
“It’s not so much different,” Grundstrom said. “Same intensity and a lot of hits, so pretty much the same.”
Grundstrom was pivotal in the Marlies’ Game 6 win over Syracuse on Monday, muscling his way to the puck en route to a wraparound goal, then setting the screen on Andrew Nielsen’s winner in the third period. But the Swedish national also got the puck out of his zone on several occasions when Toronto was protecting its one-goal lead late. Getting that sort of responsibility has been gratifying for the new guy.
“It’s real fun,” he said. “It’s fun to get a big role directly on a team and get power play time right away.”
Though the NHL’s Maple Leafs have a ton of youngsters already, it’s hard not to see how seamless Grundstrom’s move to North America has been and the fact he plays a hard, two-way game bodes well for his pro future. Right now, he’s just living in a hotel, playing games and keeping his roots by gabbing in Swedish with teammate Andreas Johnsson. He and the Leafs aren’t trying to complicate things right now, either.
“They just want me to play my game and feel comfortable out there,” he said. “So that’s what I do.”
Why mess with success, right?
In the Pipeline
Clayton Keller, C (Arizona): Team USA has been great about bringing youngsters to the World Championship and Keller is part of this year’s cohort that is paying off. The former Boston U. star has six points in six games for the Americans and I’m sure Coyotes fans can’t wait to see him use his skill and speed full-time in Arizona next year.
Warren Foegele, RW (Carolina): “Beast” is really the only way to describe Foegele during the OHL playoffs. The Erie Otters winger garnered playoff MVP honors on the strength of 26 points in 22 games, but it was more because of the way he did it: the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder played a fast, physical game that kept opponents on their heels.
Simon Bourque, D (Montreal): The Saint John Sea Dogs have plenty of firepower, but the stabilizing presence of Bourque really helped the team’s march to the QMJHL title. Acquired from Rimouski during the season, Bourque paid off with nearly a point per game in the regular season and 13 more points in 18 playoff contests, on top of his defensive duties.
Logan Stanley, D (Winnipeg): Out since late January due to knee surgery, Stanley is ready to return as his Windsor Spitfires host the Memorial Cup. That’s great news for the home squad, as the big blueliner’s reach and secondary offense will help a blueline that also features Mikhail Sergachev and Sean Day.
Vitek Vanecek, G (Washington): Playoffs are a time for heroes and Vanecek has been there for AHL Hershey. Starter Pheonix Copley went down with a leg injury in Game 4 of the Bears’ series with Providence, so Vanecek has taken over in the interim. He stopped all nine shots he faced in a loss that game, then helped Hershey to a 3-2 series lead with an overtime gem of a win in Game 5 that saw the Bears drastically outshot by the Bruins.
Joel Eriksson Ek, C (Minnesota): Another young’un getting reps at the World Championship, Eriksson Ek has three points in seven games for Sweden, despite playing a bottom-six role. Nevertheless, there’s a ton for Wild fans to get excited about here, as the kid plays a skilled and aggressive two-way game.
Julius Bergman, D (San Jose): The AHL’s Barracuda just dispatched rival San Diego in five games, so it’s on to the conference final for San Jose. Bergman, an offensively-inclined defenseman with decent size, has done his part with seven assists through 10 games.
2017 Draft Stars
Brannon McManus, LW – Chicago Steel (USHL): Locked in battle with Sioux City, Chicago has gotten to the final on the strength of team scoring, with many contributors clicking at the right time. McManus, the University of Minnesota commit, is certainly in that company. The small but deadly left winger had two goals in a Game 2 victory and has five points in his past four games.
Jarret Tyszka, D – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): With great size and skating ability, Tyszka has a couple big checkmarks on his side for the future. The key now will be figuring out a pro identity, as he’s not really an offensive guy or a shutdown guy. Nevertheless, he helped the T-Birds to the Memorial Cup with seven points in 20 playoff games.
Micah Miller, C – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): With four points in his past three games, Miller has provided excellent secondary scoring for the Musketeers. All the more impressive is that the St. Cloud State commit spent most of the season with Grand Rapids high school in Minnesota. Miller is short, but strong and speedy with a great work ethic.
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