Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the daily column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day I will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2015 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2016 Draft Articles Click here.
With the 2016 Memorial Cup set to begin Friday, we are going to 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 the Junior game. This year’s tournament is scheduled to start on Friday in Red Deer, Alberta and the final is scheduled for May 29th. The Tournament features a number of previously drafted, top NHL prospects, as well as some eligible for the 2016 draft. So without further ado, lets take a look at the participants in the 2015 Memorial Cup.
The teams are ordered geographically from West to East, and not based on who we think will win the tourney. Our contributors will reveal their predictions at the bottom of the Article.
2016 Memorial Cup Preview and Predictions
Red Deer Rebels (Host City) written by Zach Devine
Record: 45-24-1-2, 93 points, 6th in the WHL, 9-8 in the playoffs, Lost to the Brandon Wheat Kings 4-1 in the 3rd round.
NHL Drafted Prospects: Connor Bleackley (ARI), Jake DeBrusk (BOS), Haydn Fleury (CAR), Adam Helewka (SJS), Adam Musil (STL), Nelson Nogier (WPG), Michael Spacek (WPG)
Top Draft Eligibles: Jeff DeWitt, Brandon Hagel, Joshua Mahura
The host city of this year’s Memorial Cup made aggressive moves throughout the year to bring in talented players and made a lot of noise in the WHL playoffs because of it. Adam Helewka, who arrived from the Swift Current Broncos, had 42 goals in only 53 games in the regular season but struggled when Red Deer faced Brandon in the Eastern Conference Finals. He was brought in to fill the net and did post nine goals and nine assists in 17 WHL playoff games. Helewka will need to get back to form quickly and will be looked at to help keep the Rebels in games against the league champions. The Rebels leading scorer with 82 points in the regular season was former Everett Silvertips forward Ivan Nikolishin, who only skated in five games this postseason after returning from injury. The few extra weeks off between the third round and the Memorial Cup additional time to fully recover and practice for Nikolishin, a player fans have not seen fully healthy since March.
Haydn Fleury was able to post five points against the Wheat Kings should be a shot in the arm for the Rebels veteran blueline, which features Colton Bobyk and Nelson Nogier as well. Goaltenders Trevor Martin and Rylan Toth appeared in nine games for the Rebels and posted very similar and solid statistics, but Toth is fully back from a high ankle sprain he sustained in February and should backstop Red Deer during the tournament. Overall the Rebels are a very solid team with a lot of experience throughout the roster. They might not have a the firepower as the other teams, but they have played well as a unit and proven they are not to be taken lightly.
Brandon Wheat Kings written by Zach Devine
Record: 48-18-4-2, 102 points, 2nd in the WHL, 16-5 in the playoffs, Won the Ed Chynoweth Cup 4-1 over Seattle
NHL Drafted Prospects: Reid Duke (MIN), Jayce Hawryluk (FLA) Ivan Provorov (PHI), John Quenneville (NJD), Mitch Wheaton (DET).
Top Draft Eligibles: Kale Clague, Tanner Kaspick, Nolan Patrick (2017)
Last year’s WHL finalist, managed to earn Ed Chynoweth Cup and ticket to this year’s tournament, but it didn’t come easily. Brandon had an incredible amount of puck luck and jumped out to a 2-0 series lead and ultimately three of their wins in the WHL finals came in extra time. Brandon boasts a deep roster, perhaps the deepest of the Memorial Cup. Top 2017 prospect Nolan Patrick is tied with Jayce Hawryluk for the team lead with 30 points. John Quenneville and overager Tim McGauley are right on their heels with 27 and 26 points, respectively. But even if a team slows down the big dogs, there is plenty of secondary scoring that Brandon can roll out. The Wheat Kings have ten players with 10 points, or more and three of those ten players are Wheat King defenders: the top-paring of Ivan Provorov and Macoy Erkamps and 2016 top draft prospect Kale Clague.
But with all this talent and depth, the goaltending situation is not quite as clear. Jordan Papirny was able to put together some solid appearances but was not sharp in Game 4 en route to a 6-1 blowout win for Seattle. Papirny occasionally will have an off game, which could be an issue in a short tournament format such as the Memorial Cup. However, the team and continually succeeded with Papirny in net, and all he has to do is allow one less goal than the other guy, which he has done very well this year.
London Knights written by Charlie Clarke
Record: 51-14-2-1, 105 points, 2nd most in OHL (5th playoff seed), 16-2 in the playoffs, Won the J. Ross Robertson Cup 4-0 over Niagara
NHL Drafted Prospects: Mitch Marner (TOR), Christian Dvorak (ARZ), Daniel Bernhardt (NYR), Kole Sherwood (CBJ), J.J. Piccinich (TOR), Chandler Yakimowicz (STL), Chris Martenet (DAL)
Top Draft Eligibles: Matthew Tkachuk, Olli Juolevi, Max Jones, Cliff Pu, Victor Mete, Tyler Parsons
The Knights are entering the Memorial Cup hot off one of the most outstanding OHL playoff performances of all time. After battling adversity in the first round against the Owen Sound Attack, they ripped through three of the most talented teams in Ontario, in the Kitchener Rangers, Erie Otters, and Niagara IceDogs, without losing a single game to any of them. This will be London’s fourth appearance in the tournament in five years, having won three recent OHL championships and hosted in 2014. They’ve only only won the Memorial Cup once, though, in 2005.
London is led by the most offensively gifted line in junior hockey, comprised of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, and Matthew Tkachuk. The trio combined for 50 goals in the playoffs, which is more than 13 entire teams scored in their postseason runs. Marner alone registered 44 points in 18 games, and would’ve been in position to challenge Justin Papineau’s OHL record 51 had the Knights lost a few more games. This London team has shed its top-heavy reputation in the playoffs, with the second and third lines contributing offensively on a nightly basis. Cliff Pu, Aaron Berisha and Owen MacDonald have all had their share of the spotlight, as have blueliners Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete.
In short, the Knights have the best player in the OHL (and arguably the Memorial Cup), are backstopped reliably by Tyler Parsons and his .925 playoff save percentage, and are riding an unprecedented hot streak. They led the OHL both in goals for and against in the regular season, and outscored opponents 84-40 in the playoffs. Five players are returning from the 2014 squad that disappointed in this very tournament, and Dale Hunter‘s team will not be looking to go home as losers after the incredible season they’ve had.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies written by Ben Kerr
Record: 54-9-5 first in the QMJHL, 16-4 in the playoffs, won the Presidents Trophy 4-1 over Shawinigan
NHL Drafted Prospects: Timo Meier (SJS), Martins Dzierkals (Tor), Francis Perron (OTT), Jeremy Lauzon (Bos), Jean-Christophe Beaudin (Col), Julien Nantal (Col), A.J. Greer (Col)
The Huskies were dominant all season long. They lost only nine games in regulation all year. Rouyn-Noranda was the highest scoring team in the QMJHL this season, with 301 goals, and were also the second best defensive club in the league allowing only 181 goals against. They romped through the playoffs, going 16-4 with 88 goals and only 33 against.
Already a powerful team, Rouyn-Noranda really loaded up for this run at the title by picking up Sharks prospect Timo Meier, and defenceman Nikolas Brouillard at the QMJHL trade deadline. Meier who put up 51 points in 29 regular season games after being acquired, and added 11 goals and 23 points in 18 playoff games. Senators prospect Francis Perron has long been a leader on the team, and won the QMJHL Regular Season MVP after putting up 108 points this season. He added 33 points in 18 Playoff games to win the Playoff MVP as well. Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Martins Dzierkals provide support. Beyond those four though there is plenty of offensive firepower upfront. The defence is led by Bruins prospect Jeremy Lauzon who quarterbacks things from the back end. Phillipe Myers and Brouillard provide the team with a big three who protect their own end. Chase Marchand and Samuel Harvey are both capable goalies. Marchand has handled the load in the playoffs and put up an incredible 1.35 goals against average, .946 save percentage, and six shutouts in the playoffs.
Zachary DeVine’s Prediction: The Brandon Wheat Kings rolled through the WHL playoffs and have a defensive unit that can compete against London and Rouyn-Noranda. The Wheat Kings have ten players with ten or more points in the postseason and Jordan Papirny has been enough. It will be a tough Memorial Cup but the Wheat Kings have what it takes and will beat the London Knights in the final.
Ben Kerr’s Prediction: The Memorial Cup is often a crap shoot, with four strong teams, and the single elimination format of the playoffs. However, I believe the London Knights will defeat the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the final on May 29th. Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, and Matthew Tkachuk are just too much firepower for the other teams to handle.
Charlie Clarke’s Prediction: As Ben said, it’s always hard to predict such a short tournament. Nonetheless, the time seems right for London to finally claim their prize. They can shoot the lights out of any time, and will shut the door in their own end. I believe the London Knights will defeat the Brandon Wheat Kings in the final.