The Memorial Cup is off and running and it has been very different than expected. The OHL teams have romped so far and we’ve seen some pretty bad blowouts. Meanwhile, the Cobourg Cougars upset the Brooks Bandits to win Jr. A’s RBC Cup, while the AHL post-season is down to four teams. I’ll have more coverage of the Memorial Cup from Windsor on the weekend, but in the meantime let’s take a look at some of the NHL prospects still making noise this late into the season.
Ivan Lodnia, RW – Erie Otters (OHL): Lodnia had pretty good offensive numbers in his draft year with 56 points in 66 games. But as the Otters loaded up by trading for Warren Foegele and Anthony Cirelli, the youngster was pushed to a shutdown line with vets Patrick Fellows and Kyle Pettit. No matter, though: Lodnia has simply added another skill to his impressive resume and is happy to be influenced by his older linemates.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s something I had never really done before so I had to get used to it. You have to plant your feet in the ‘D’ zone and once you get it out, then you go in there.”
A big fan of Pavel Datsyuk because of the ex-Red Wings’ combination of sublime skill and defensive work, Lodnia has been lauded by scouts for his ability to fit in anywhere in the Erie lineup. Most of Erie’s big guns will be gone to the pros next year, but in the meantime he’s happy to watch the Stromes and DeBrincats of the world.
“Every game and practice all you can do is learn from them and try to do what they do,” he said. “They’re all drafted, they all have contracts and they all know what they’re doing, for sure.”
Born in California to Ukrainian parents, Lodnia has jumped around the U.S. playing hockey. And every step of the way – Chicago, then L.A., then Detroit and now Erie – his parents have come along. It helps that the family business is an ice rink in Anaheim; so they know the score. But it’s also nice for the youngster to get home-cooked meals all the time.
Now he’s at the Memorial Cup and very happy that he decided to go the major junior route in the OHL.
“You see a lot of great players coming from there,” Lodnia said. “It’s kind of a pre-NHL league. You have the road trips, the time before the game – it was the best fit for me.”
In the Pipeline
Dylan Strome, C (Arizona): Seven points in one game, a Memorial Cup record. That’s what Strome did in a 12-5 demolition of Saint John and it’s scary how easy he made it look. With his size, skill and mind, Strome has the Erie Otters in a very good place right now.
Graham Knott, LW (Chicago): The maturation process was slow at first, but Knott has become a very good junior player and Windsor has been the beneficiary. The power forward combines skill and physicality and has three points through two games at the Memorial Cup.
Jake DeBrusk (Boston): With four points in his past five games, DeBrusk is having himself a nice playoff run with the Providence Bruins. The rookie pro is providing secondary scoring in the AHL post-season and proving his two-way game belongs with the big boys.
Matthew Peca, C (Tampa Bay): Another two-way player making good in the AHL playoffs, Peca has been a nice driver for the Syracuse Crunch. Tampa’s affiliate has relied on more experienced players during its run and the 24-year-old Peca has been there with 12 points in 13 games, tied for first on the squad.
Kevin Labanc, RW (San Jose): We’ve seen Labanc in the NHL with the Sharks, but right now he’s helping the AHL’s Barracuda shoot for glory in the Calder Cup playoffs. The talented youngster has seven points in 12 games, using his great hands and mind to create.
Evgeny Svechnikov, RW (Detroit): It’s been a nice post-season run for Svechnikov, who is enjoying his first long AHL playoff swing with Grand Rapids. The big and talented winger has nine points in 10 games for the Griffins.
Ales Stezka, G (Minnesota): Stezka’s USHL final nearly got nixed when reports of him signing a pro contract back in the Czech Republic surfaced, but the deal was voided and all was OK again. That’s great for the Chicago Steel, because they wouldn’t be on the cusp of a title without Stezka’s .931 save percentage and stellar play.
2017 Draft Stars
Cale Makar, D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL): It took overtime for Cobourg to wrest the RBC Cup away from Brooks, but once again Makar was a force with assists on both Bandits goals. The puckmoving UMass commit was also named tourney MVP for the second year in a row – the first time that has ever happened.
Michael DiPietro, G – Windsor Spitfires (OHL): So far at the Memorial Cup, goalies have been exposed up high by the OHL’s shooters. But DiPietro knows his fundamentals and has kept his Spitfires on the right side of the scoresheet with a .936 save percentage in two victories.
Eeli Tolvanen, RW – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): With the final on the line, Tolvanen came up big with two points in a 5-4 Sioux City win. The Boston College commit has three points through four games against Chicago and his goal-scoring prowess will be needed again Tuesday if the Musketeers are going to clinch the title.