Memorial Cup 2013 Preview
All eyes will be on the 2013 NHL Entry Draft when the Memorial Cup kicks off in Saskatoon this weekend. The Saskatoon Blades, Portland Winterhawks, London Knights and Halifax Mooseheads will battle it out to be crowned Canadian Hockey League champions. But what makes this version of the tournament even more intriguing is the amount of top-ranked talent for the forthcoming draft that will be on display.
For the first time in Memorial Cup history the top-three ranked players will all be on the ice and there are eight players ranked in the top-40 North American skaters by Central Scouting.
Portland defenceman Seth Jones is the top-ranked player and all eyes will be on Saturday evening's game between the Winterhawks and Mooseheads will go up against Halifax's dynamic duo Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, ranked #2 and #3 on the final rankings.
Let's take a closer look at the team's competing at the Credit Union Centre.
The Saskatoon Blades are a very tough team by today's standards and with physical forwards Michael Ferland (signed by the Calgary Flames), Jessey Astles, Collin Valcourt and Lukas Sutter (Winnipeg Jets draft pick) they are gritty up front.
On the back end, they have physical hard-hitting defensemen like Dalton Thrower (Montreal Canadiens draft pick), Duncan Siemens (signed by Colorado Avalanche), Darren Dietz (signed by the Montreal Canadiens) and Graeme Craig. All of those player are willing to mix it up, although their most prolific fighter Astles may be hampered by a sever skate blade cut to his wrist earlier in the season.
Power forward Ferland is one of the toughest in the WHL, but is a key player for the Blades so needs to pick his spots. Sutter is more of an agitator, but he isn't afraid to fight and get his nose dirty.
The Blades have been very inconsistent all season and have had a long lay-off after being eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs. At one point during the season the Blades were near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and at the other end of the scale went on an 18-game winning streak. Offensively, they are led by Josh Nicholls (signed by the New York Rangers), Matej Stransky (signed by the Dallas Stars), Shane McColgan (New York Rangers draft pick) and captain Brenden Walker.
Dietz provides much of their offense on the back end with his heavy shot and ability to quarterback the power play.
Toughness isn't one of the strengths of the Winterhawks. Joe Mahon is the top dog in town, but it's doubtful he sees much action, or any at all. He didn't play a game in the WHL finals so his chances will most likely be limited. The other player that will fight, but does play consistently is Adam De Champlain. Forwards Joey Baker and Taylor Peters (signed by the Dallas Stars) are good for a scrap every once in a while. Even skilled offensive defenseman Derrick Pouliot (signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins) will occasionally drop the mitts.
The Portland Winterhawks are a very strong team full of speed and skill. They have three 100-point plus players during the regular season and one of — if not the best — line in the entire WHL consisting of Brendan Leipsic (Nashville Predators draft pick), Nic Petan and Ty Rattie (signed by the St. Louis Blues).
You can't really heap enough praise on Jones. He is a great skater and rarely makes a mistake. He's reliable in all three zones and is a workhorse that logs a ton of minutes. Portland also has three more solid defensemen consisting of Pouliot, Tyler Wotherspoon (signed by the Calgary Flames), and Troy Rutkowski (signed by the Ottawa Senators).
That said, he has looked more mature and focused this year than in seasons past.
The Mooseheads are similar to Portland in that there isn't a ton of toughness on the team, but the team toughness element has worked well for them all season. Co-captains Trey Lewis and Stefan Fournier are the most likely to step up if business needs taking care of and blueliner Mack Weegar plays a rugged two-way game.
The Mooseheads have been led all season by Jonathan Drouin, who was named both the regular season and playoff MVP. Drouin recorded 105 points in just 49 games to finish second in the scoring race and then led all scorers in the postseason with 35 points in 17 games. Drouin has off-the-charts vision and elite hockey sense, while being an under-rated skater.
Linemate MacKinnon is the best skater in the Canadian Hockey League and has explosive speed and together with Detroit Red Wings prospect Martin Frk their line has been dangerous all season. Frk possesses one of the hardest shots in junior hockey and is deadly from the point.
Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme has mixed up his lines effectively all season and top-line aside he regularly rotates his lines on the fly. Halifax's second line of Luca Ciampini, Matthew Boudreau and Darcy Ashley hasn't been as effective in the postseason as they were in the regular season, but gritty forwards Stefan Fournier, Andrew Ryan, Brent Andrews and Stephen MacAulay have stepped up.
This will be MacAulay's third straight Memorial Cup after previously plying his trade with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Halifax's weak point will be on the blueline. There are no stars back there and they've been led all season by San Jose Sharks prospect Konrad Abeltshauser at nearly a point per game pace. Lewis and Weegar are gritty two-way defenceman and Brendan Duke has quietly had an effective postseason.
Halifax is still a young club and could have five players taken in the draft in Drouin, MacKinnon, Fucale, Weegar and defenseman Matt Murphy.
Fucale has given Halifax solid goaltending after a shaky opening to the regular season and has often lifted his game the more that rides on it.
With Olli Maatta the Knights have a deep roster, most of which will likely be returning for the 2013-14 campaign when they will host the Memorial Cup, guaranteeing them a third straight appearance.
The Knights, like Halifax and Portland, aren't a team you'd expect to go out looking for fights. Paxton Leroux led them with 10 fights during the season and Josh Anderson was the only other player that had more than five. Both have dropped their gloves in the postseason, while Zadarov has twice to show he isn't afraid to mix it up when called upon.
Contributors: Chris Phillips and Shawn LaRoche.