The Memorial Cup kicks off tonight when the OHL champion London Knights take to the ice against the host Red Deer Rebels. Game 2 will be on Saturday, when the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings play the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
It’s the final bit of junior hockey on the season – and for some, the final chance to impress. Matthew Tkachuk headlines all draft-eligible players at the Memorial Cup this year, expected to go in roughly the fourth to sixth overall range. The Flames are right on the outside edge of that, so they might be picking him up – but there’s a fairly good chance he goes to one of the enemy instead.
Tkachuk isn’t the only player to watch, though. The Memorial Cup is a brief tournament with a limited player pool, but there are still a few more players to see in it that the Flames might just pick up in a month’s time.
Matthew Tkachuk | LW | #2 North American Skater
There’s good reason Matthew Tkachuk is predicted to be one of the top picks of the draft. He scored 107 points through 57 regular season games (37 even strength primary); he added 40 points through 18 playoff games on top of that (19 ESP, second in the OHL behind Mitch Marner). He’s 6’1 and 195 lbs.; he’s a big body who’s likely going to have a very productive NHL career. Though he did fall in his final ranking – at the midterm he was ranked the #1 North American skater – he’s clearly a top prospect who should help make some noise on a stacked London team.
“Smart, creative and hard-working, Tkachuk has been locked in at No. 4 in the draft rankings by scouts, behind Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi.” – Ryan Kennedy, April 5, 2016
Olli Juolevi | D | #5 North American Skater
With 42 points in 57 regular season games (13 ESP) for the Knights, Olli Juolevi was their top defensive scorer. The 6’2, 180 lb. defenceman added on another 14 points through 18 playoff games (four ESP) on top of that. He’s a May 5 birthday, so he’s a bit closer to the younger side of this draft class, having only just recently turned 18. Juolevi is one of the top-ranked defenceman of this draft, and his stock has stayed rather consistent – he was ranked as the #5 North American skater in the midterms as well.
“An incredibly competent player who makes the game look easy in all areas. He makes the essential and key plays at every turn. He shows mastery of his position under the most challenging of circumstances, and his poise, calm and assuredness are the stuff of pillar-type defencemen.” – Craig Button, March 22, 2016
Max Jones | LW | #14 North American Skater
Behind Tkachuk, Max Jones was the next-highest scoring draft-eligible player on the Knights. The 6’3, 200 lb. winger picked up 52 points over 63 games (32 ESP), but just another two points in the playoffs, as he was limited to six games due to a 12-game suspension after a particularly brutal blindside hit to the head. (And if we ever want to talk about character issues with 18-year-old prospects, Jones laughing as he left the ice after that should be a big part of that – that’s far worse than whatever offences someone like Oliver Kylington may have ever committed.) He picked up 106 penalty minutes through the regular season. Jones slipped a bit in the rankings, as during the midterm he was ranked #11.
“He is quite agile, using solid footwork and a decent first step (for a power forward) to catch defenders flat footed. His anticipation skills are fairly strong, as he knows his long reach allows him to loiter near his own blue line without giving away much in positioning. If he intercepts a cross-ice pass, forget it… it’s off to the races with little to do about it. He can shift gears and change direction, making him difficult to defend in one-on-one or two-on-two situations.” – Steve Kournianos, Feb 28, 2016
Victor Mete | D | #74 North American Skater
Behind Juolevi, there’s Victor Mete. The 5’10, 174 lb. defenceman put up 38 points through 68 regular season games (11 ESP), and added another 11 points through 18 playoff games (five ESP). He’s a June 7 birthday, so he’s on the younger end of this draft class. Mete’s fallen in the rankings as the season has gone on – at the midterms, he was the #58 North American skater.
“He’s a smooth, mobile skater that loves to drive the play from the back end. He is a smart, offensive minded, puck-moving defenseman that contributes significantly to the Knights offense. His defensive coverage and his ability down low aren’t the greatest, but he has been making improvements over the course of his two OHL seasons. His hockey sense and vision coming up ice is noticeable practically every shift and while he makes some risky plays, they more often than not lead to something tangible for the Knights.” – Daniel Deschenes, May 16, 2016
Cliff Pu | RW | #75 North American Skater
Cliff Pu is part of a stacked team, but he’s definitely someone who can play. The 6’1, 188 lb. forward posted 31 points through 63 regular season games this season (21 ESP), and added another 13 over 18 playoff games (seven ESP) for good measure. His birthday is June 3, so just like his defencemen teammates, he’s one of the younger players available this year; he also rose his stock from the midterms, when he was ranked #83 out of all North American skaters.
“Potentially, Pu looks to be a power forward. One of his best assets is taking the puck straight to the net. But he also has good hands. He has a very good, accurate and fast shot, but could work on getting it off quicker and cleaner. He will not shy away from the physical battles; in fact he seems to relish it. And he’ll battle as hard defensively. He’s shown that he can create his own offense while also creating offense for his teammates. Pu is a very good skater who is adept at being both a playmaker and a goal scorer.” – Dominic Tiano, Feb. 6, 2016
Nicolas Mattinen | D | #136 North American Skater
Nicolas Mattinen is ranked further down the draft, but he could be a name to watch out for in later rounds. The 6’4, 220 lb. defenceman provides a big body; he also had 10 points through 39 regular season games (six ESP) and one goal through the five playoff games he played. He fell quite a bit from his #103 midterm ranking, however, and wasn’t one of the go-to guys for London on defence.
“Mattinen is more of a stay at home defenceman. He already has very good size with a filled out frame at 6’4” and 220 pounds. He controls his gaps extremely well and with his long reach and active stick shuts down passing lanes quickly and effectively.” – Dominic Tiano, Feb. 15, 2016
Tyler Parsons | G | #3 North American Goalie
The Knights’ starting goalie, Tyler Parsons posted a .921 SV% over 49 games through the regular season, tied for the best save percentages in the OHL with Mackenzie Blackwood among starters. The 6’1, 185 lb. netminder followed that up with a .925 SV% in the playoffs: easily the top goalie of the OHL post-season. His stock rose as the year went on; he was ranked the #6 North American goalie at the midterm rankings.
“He tracks the puck exceptionally well and as such, his reaction time and ability to make that “highlight reel” save is fantastic. Over the course of the year, Parsons has also worked hard to improve his rebound control and ability to fight through traffic to make a save. When he gets in trouble it’s because he scrambles too much and gets himself out of position, but again, he’s worked hard to refine his approach and stay in the butterfly.” – Brock Otten, May 19, 2016
Red Deer Rebels
Jeff de Wit | C | #80 North American Skater
At 6’3 and 185 lbs., Jeff de Wit still has size to grow into. He put up just 22 points through 70 regular season games (eight ESP), and had another seven points through 17 playoff games. He was one of the younger players to play for the Rebels this season. His stock rose from the midterms, where he was initially ranked #98.
“A budding young centreman who plays down in Red Deer’s veteran-laden lineup. He’ll fill-out enough to provide coveted size down the middle and is defensively responsible, good in the faceoff circle and can skate skate, but is still improving in that area. He shoots the puck well thanks to an above average release and being a right shot at centre ice also a big asset.” – Sam Cosentino, May 19, 2016
Brandon Hagel | LW | #104 North American Skater
With 47 points through 72 regular season games (25 ESP), Brandon Hagel was fourth in Red Deer scoring. Throw on another 10 points through 17 playoff games, and this WHL rookie can clearly put up the points. It’s worth noting his birthday is on Aug. 27, making the 6′, 165 lb. forward one of the younger draft-eligible players this year. He had a modest rise in draft stock, up from #114 among North American skaters at the midterm.
“Has underrated hands, shot and release and has played up and down the lineup, including on special teams. He’s slightly undersized but plays bigger than he’s listed. Hagel has a solid work ethic. He never stops skating and is consistently chasing down loose pucks while also being good on the backcheck and creating in the neutral zone with a quick stick. He’s likely not a top-six player at the next level, but is somewhat similar to Jean-Gabriel Pageau of Ottawa in that there is enough skill not to be overlooked.” – Sam Cosentino, May 19, 2016
Rylan Toth | G | #16 North American Goalie
Now 19 years old, this is Rylan Toth’s second go-through the draft. The 6’1, 192 lb. goalie started 44 games for the Rebels in the regular season, posting a .912 SV% – 10th among WHL goalies with at least 40 games played. He dropped to a .905 SV% in the playoffs. He was unranked at the midterms.
“He’s efficient, relying on good positioning and play-reading ability, and isn’t afraid to challenge shooters. His quick feet make for good low net coverage, but his glove hand and puck-playing ability are average. Toth responded well once Red Deer got through the trade deadline without adding another goalie and got back in the lineup for nine post-season games after missing two months with a high ankle sprain.” – Sam Cosentino, May 19, 2016
Brandon Wheat Kings
Kale Clague | D | #27 North American Skater
With a June 5 birthday making him one of the younger players available, Kale Clague was the top-scoring draft-eligible player for the Brandon Wheat Kings this past season. He scored 43 points through 71 regular season games (13 ESP), and had another 14 in 21 playoff games, tying him for second in WHL playoff defencemen scoring. Standing at 6′ and 178 lbs., Klague’s stock slipped slightly, as he was ranked #22 at the midterm.
“A light-footed skater who excels at agility and fine-tuned movement. He skates well in relation to the speed of opponents and has the attributes to be very slippery when looking to avoid contact. His puck skills are superior for someone his age, especially now that he has learned to scale back the cuteness to be more effective in elusion situations. His passing is precise and accurate. He does play with a little risk on some his longer range and cross ice plays but his ability to spot play development is high end.” – Justin Froese, May 17, 2016
Tanner Kaspick | C | #79 North American Skater
Standing 6’1 and 202 lbs., Tanner Kaspick is a big body who has some offensive talent in him. He scored 31 points through 53 regular season games (18 ESP), and had another 10 points through 21 playoff games. Kaspick stayed consistent through the year; at the midterms, he was ranked the #76 North American skater.
“A difficult-to-play-against-type power forward with excellent net-front presence who’s a more than adequate skater with sneaky stick skills. A hard worker with a good shot and quick release, Kaspick plays with energy and good bite to his game, especially on the forecheck. He’s defensively responsible and is well adjusted to playing the agitator role.” – Sam Cosentino, May 19, 2016
Jacob Neveu | D | #107 North American Skater
On a team filled with older players, Jacob Neveu is one of the few Huskies to be draft-eligible this season. He put up 16 points through 59 games (seven ESP), and had another five points through 20 playoff games. Standing at 6’2 and 194 lbs., his size is an asset. Neveu slipped from his midterm ranking, though: he was initially the #72 North American skater.
“He’s good on his edges to quickly pressure forwards after skating backwards and turn deceiving gaps into good stick-on-stick checks. While he doesn’t have the offensive upside to become more than a third pairing defenceman at the next level, his shutdown game and success as a composed, cerebral defenceman on an excellent team certainly bodes well for his chance to become a late round NHL pick. His skating doesn’t inhibit him in either direction and he effectively rubs out opposing attackers to come away with the puck and exit the zone. He’s a quiet, efficient defender.” – Scott Wheeler, May 18, 2016