Ivan Provorov (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The CHL classic kicks off today with London, Brandon, Rouyn-Noranda and the hosts from Red Deer doing battle. There's a lot of talent on deck, so we break down who to cheer for, based on which NHL team you follow.
The Memorial Cup begins today in Alberta, with the hosts from Red Deer taking on the OHL champs from London. Along with the Rebels and Knights, fans will be treated to performances by the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings and QMJHL's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. These teams didn't get here by employing a bunch of scrubs, so there are many players to get excited for.
A lot of those kids have already been drafted by NHL teams and for franchises that don't have any prospects in the tournament, there is also a raft of talent eligible for this summer's draft in Buffalo. With that in mind, here's my list of who to watch, no matter which NHL team you follow.
ANA – The Ducks don't have any draftees here, but London center Cliff Pu should be available when Anaheim picks in the latter half of the first round and he's a big talent who has elevated his speedy game in the post-season.
ARI – London center Christian Dvorak is the jewel for Coyotes fans, but Red Deer's Conner Bleackley has a more crucial tourney ahead of him; he needs to prove his worth to Arizona (who got his rights in the Mikkel Boedker deal with Colorado). Otherwise, the unsigned center goes back into the draft pool.
BOS – First-rounder Jake DeBrusk has been a scoring mercenary for Red Deer since coming over from Swift Current, but also watch for Rouyn-Noranda D-man Jeremy Lauzon, who was having an incredible year before a scary skate-to-neck injury in the playoffs. He has been cleared to return, however.
BUF – Should the Sabres fancy themselves a D-man in the first round of the draft, London's Olli Juolevi would be a great pick. He's smart and moves the puck very well.
CGY – The Flames can upset Buffalo's hopes on Juolevi, since they're slated to pick two spots higher. On a team with more young forwards than D-men, that might be the play.
CAR – Carolina is laughing when it comes to young defensemen and Haydn Fleury of Red Deer is part of that company. He's the Rebels' top threat from the back end.
CHI – The Hawks need a goalie of the future and draft eligible Tyler Parsons would be perfect. On a great London squad, he provides clutch stops. Sound familiar, Chicago fans?
COL – Rouyn-Noranda is practically an Avalanche farm team with forwards Julien Nantel, AJ Greer and J-C Beaudin all starring. Power forward Greer was the top Avs pick in the playoffs with 22 points in 20 games.
CBJ – An Ohio kid who was signed as a free agent, Kole Sherwood struggled in the second half and the playoffs as a sometimes-scratch in London. But there is some potential there thanks to his size.
DAL – The Stars actually just inked towering 6-foot-7 London defenseman Chris Martenet to his entry-level contract after taking him in the fourth round of the draft last year. Needless to say, the kid's got reach.
DET – Brandon's Mitch Wheaton never earned his deal in Detroit, so Red Wings fans can look to draft eligibles instead. One intriguing name? Red Deer blueliner Josh Mahura, who missed most of the year with a knee injury. But I see sleeper potential and the Wings tend to be good at picking up those kids. He's a puckmover.
EDM – The Oilers are slated to pick early in the second round and Brandon D-man Kale Clague would be a nice pickup. He has gone through the wars in his draft year but come on strong in the playoffs, leading the Wheaties 'D' in scoring with 14 points in 21 games.
FLA – Gritty and skilled, Jayce Hawryluk was a points machine for Brandon this season, netting 136 points in 79 games (regular season and playoffs combined). Look for him in the pro ranks next year.
LA – The Kings will have to wait until the middle of the second round to draft this summer and that would be a good slot for London defenseman Victor Mete, a smallish offensive defenseman with great escapabiity and power play acumen.
MIN – Quick and scrappy, Reid Duke plays on one of Brandon's top scoring lines and popped in 24 points in 21 playoff games. Can play in all situations and had an overtime winner during the Wheaties' run to the title.
MTL – I know the Habs aren't slated to pick until No. 9, but I have a feeling they're going to trade up and London's Matthew Tkachuk would be a perfect fit. He's got size, smarts and skill on the wing, plus he's really close to being NHL-ready.
NSH – With pick No. 21, the Preds could go after Pu, but a depth player to consider for later in the draft is Brandon's Tanner Kaspick. He plays with a lot of energy, provides secondary scoring and can kill penalties.
NJ – One of New Jersey's top prospects this year, Brandon's John Quenneville blends skill and physicality up front. The smart center had 27 points in 21 playoff games.
NYI – With just one pick in the first three rounds (No. 19), the Islanders won't have much to watch for, but given their willingness to take chances at the draft, perhaps they move up to grab London power forward Max Jones. He's a great north-south guy with a nasty streak.
NYR – He came over from Sweden to run with the Knights, but it's been a tough go for London's Daniel Bernhardt. The big left winger is a depth guy and you might not see him much.
OTT – The clever and skilled Francis Perron has been a demon for Rouyn-Noranda all year long, leading the playoffs in scoring (33 points in 18 games) after finishing second during the regular season (108 points in 62 games).
PHI – Sure, the Flyers have big Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Philippe Myers, but let's face it: anything Philly prospect-related comes down to Brandon D-man Ivan Provorov, who, if there is any justice in the world, will be wearing orange and black in the NHL next year.
PIT – The Penguins have no first-rounder, but they do have two second-rounders in the draft and Rouyn-Noranda blueliner Jacob Neveu may be in play for one of them. He's a classic shutdown guy who sacrifices his body for the greater good.
STL – Big Red Deer center Adam Musil has some decent offensive upside, while right winger CJ Yakimowicz also boasts size in a depth role for London.
SJ – Right winger Timo Meier of Rouyn-Noranda has been one of the most dangerous offensive players in the 'Q' this season, while Red Deer left winger Adam Helewka led the Rebels in scoring during the post-season with 18 points in 17 appearances.
TB – Thanks to the Lightning's march to the conference final, they'll have one of the final four picks of the first round, which is a tough spot, historically. But Brandon's Kale Clague would be in range there and he'd be a nice asset.
TOR – London's Mitch Marner will likely terrorize the Memorial Cup, as he has done throughout the junior season. But the Leafs also have JJ Piccinich on London and a very nice Rouyn-Noranda piece in Martins Dzierkals.
VAN – Picking fifth overall, the Canucks will likely get a crack at whichever defenseman they want in the draft. London's Olli Juolevi would certainly be a fine pick at that slot and Vancouver could use his poise and mobility.
WSH – Brandon's Tim McGauley exploded for offense last year and that netted him a contract with the Capitals. His final year in junior hasn't been as prolific, but he's still pretty good at putting points on the board.
WPG – Red Deer import Michael Spacek was pretty lethal in his rookie WHL season and the Rebels will need all hands on deck to protect home ice. Jets fans can also size up defenseman Nelson Nogier, who patrols the Red Deer blueline. Winnipeg got both players as mid-round draft picks.