2014 Memorial Cup Preview and Prediction

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TopShelfProspectsWith the 2014 Memorial Cup set to begin today, we are going to take a one day break from our draft previews and bring you a quick guide to the tournament.  The Memorial Cup is one of the oldest and most sought after trophies in hockey, and one of the best traditions in Junior hockey.  This year’s tournament is scheduled to start on Friday in London, and the final is scheduled for May 25th.  The Tournament features a number of previously draft top NHL prospects, as well as some eligible for the 2014 draft.  So without further ado, lets take a look at the participants in the 2014 Memorial Cup.

The teams are ordered geographically from East to West, and not based on who we think will win the tourney.  I will reveal a prediction at the bottom of the Article.

Val D’or Foreurs

Record: 46-20-1-1, 94 points, 3rd place in the QMJHL, Won QMJHL Presidents Cup with a seven game victory over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. 16-8 in the Playoffs
Top NHL Prospects: Anthony Mantha (Detroit), Antoine Bibeau (Toronto), Samuel Henley (Colorado), Ryan Graves (Rangers),
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Louick Marcotte (re-entry),

The Foreurs were led by the amazing play of Anthony Mantha this season, who led the QMJHL in goals with 57 in 57 games, and led the league in points with 120.  He also added 24 goals and 38 points in 24 playoff games.  Clearly we know that Mantha is driving the bus for Val D’or, but the rest of the team is more than just passengers.  Trade deadline moves for defenceman Ryan Graves, and goalie Antoine Bibeau shored up the back end and allowed the Foreurs to climb the standings late in the season, and to make a run for the QMJHL President’s trophy.  This is a team with plenty of scoring past Mantha, as Louick Marcotte also scored 100 points, while QMJHL defenceman of the year Guillaime Gelinas (92 points), and Randy Gazzola (74 points) add big-time offence in the back-end.  The other three teams will work to avoid getting into a shootout with Val d’Or.

The Foreurs are coming into the tournament as clear underdogs.  Other than Mantha, they just don’t have the hype of other squads and are a little under the radar.  However this is a team that has already taken out star studded lineups in the Halifax Mooseheads and Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL playoffs, and they could surprise if they are underestimated.

Guelph Storm

Record: 52-12-2-2, 1st place in the OHL, Won the J. Ross Robertson Cup 4-1 over North Bay (16-4 in playoffs)
Top NHL Prospects: Jason Dickinson (Dallas), Matt Finn (Toronto), Kerby Rychel (Columbus), Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg), Brock McGinn (Carolina), Zack Mitchell (Minnesota), Zac Leslie (Los Angeles), Tyler Bertuzzi (Detroit), Nick Ebert (Los Angeles), Ben Harpur (Ottawa),
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: Robby Fabbri, Phil Baltisberger,

The best team in the OHL this season, and winners of both the regular season title and the J. Ross Robertson Cup, now get the chance to show that they are the the best team in the CHL at the Memorial Cup. The Storm made it look easy in the playoffs, even when taking down highly hyped teams in the London Knights and Erie Otters.

To me, this Storm team is very special. It is incredibly deep both up front and on the defence. The Storm feature a lineup that is just full of size, speed, skill, work ethic, and grit. This is seen in Scott Kosmachuk, the team’s highest scorer, who is an absolute buzzsaw who just never stops moving his feet. The rest of the team’s forwards follow his lead and Guelph is an extremely difficult club to play against. On the backend Matt Finn captains the squad and can do it all both offensively and defensively. He is an absolute stud back there, and leads a defensive group that is both mobile and good in their own end. Moves for Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert from Windsor just strengthened this team down the stretch and added to the team’s identity. Guelph will be very hard to beat in this tournament.

London Knights

Record: 49-14-1-4, 3rd most points in the OHL, 4th seed in the Western Conference, Lost in the second round to the Guelph Storm in 5 games (5-4 in playoffs)
Top NHL Prospects: Bo Horvat (Vancouver), Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo), Max Domi (Phoenix), Michael McCarron (Montreal), Chris Tierney (San Jose), Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia), Ryan Rupert (Toronto), Matt Rupert (Toronto), Brett Welychka (Tampa Bay), Josh Anderson (Columbus), Brady Austin (Buffalo), Gemel Smith (Dallas)
Top Draft Eligible Prospect: Christian Dvorak (injured, unclear if he will play)
2015 Draft Eligible to Watch: Mitch Mariner

Is the third time the charm for the host Knights? Winners of the OHL title 2 years in a row, and featuring four 2013 first round NHL draft picks in their lineup, along with numerous other NHL prospects, this is the team the Hunters set up for this moment, winning the Memorial Cup on home ice. Unfortunately, the club didn’t live up to the hype in the OHL regular season, finishing behind both Guelph and Erie, and then lost in the second round to Guelph in just five games. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good club, but considering their expectations, they’ve underachieved to this point.

So what happened? Losing Olli Maatta before the season began when the youngster unexpectedly made the Pittsburgh Penguins was a major blow, as it took away the club’s #1 defenceman and while they were thankful to get Zadorov back from Buffalo, they have never quite had the same defence as they had the last two seasons, featuring a big three of Scott Harrington, Maatta, and Jarred Tinordi (2011-12) and Zadorov (2012-13). Now its the big one with just Zadorov. Bringing in Anthony Basso helped, but he didn’t replace Maatta. Then in the playoffs, Anthony Stolarz was suspended before the series with Guelph could even begin, and without their number one goalie the Knights goose was cooked.  Edit: Chris at hockey inside out reminds me that the Knights were further weakened on the blue line with the losses of Brady Austin (mononucleosis) and Zach Bell (broken leg).

That said, this team has a deep and talented offence, they are getting Stolarz, Austin, and Bell back, they are well-rested and healthy with approximately a month between games, and they will have the home crowd behind them. The Knights have the chance to wash away a disappointing season, and live up to the hype, if they can make magic happen for just nine days, at home, in front of that pro-London crowd.

Edmonton Oil Kings

Record: 50-19-2-1, 3rd most points in WHL, 1st in the Eastern Conference, Won the Ed Chynoweth Cup 4-3 over Portland (16-5 in the playoffs)
Top NHL Prospects: Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix), Curtis Lazar (Ottawa), Mitch Moroz (Edmonton), Cody Corbett (Colorado), Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh), Reid Petryk (Edmonton), Griffin Reinhart (Islanders),
Top Draft Eligible Prospects: Brett Pollock, Ashton Sautner (re-entry), Dysin Mayo, Aaron Irving

The Oil Kings made their third straight WHL final, and for the second time in three years advanced to the Memorial Cup. Its hard to stay on top for a long time in junior hockey and the Oil Kings were supposed to take a step back this year. Most predicted they’d still be a very good team, but there were few who saw them as WHL Champions before the season began. Even after finishing first in the Eastern Conference, the Oil Kings were supposed to lose to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL final, but a determined Edmonton team battled through all of that to win a game 7 shocker in Portland.

The Oil Kings are led up front by Samuelsson and Lazar, two former first round picks, who play great at both ends of the ice and give Edmonton a real one-two punch. On defence, Reinhart is the big name, as the former 4th overall pick of the Islanders. While the offensive numbers might not be there, Reinhart continues to develop as a very effective shutdown defenceman. Add in Tristan Jarry having an excellent season between the pipes, and a team who has bought in to what their coaches are selling and play a very efficient system, and you have a team that could prove the doubters wrong again.

2014 Memorial Cup Prediction

Because of the fact that the teams come from three different leagues, who have never played each other during the season, and the tournament is a single game elimination in the playoffs, the Memorial Cup is always hard to predict. That said, I’m gonna give it my best shot, taking the Guelph Storm to raise the trophy in an enemy barn, and defeat the London Knights for the Championship on May 26th.

Enjoy the tourney which starts with London and Val D’Or tonight.

 

Tomorrow we will get back to prospects and you’ll be able to check out my #42 prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft.

 

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