The annual Memorial Cup tournament for Canadian junior hockey supremacy kicks off on Friday in Red Deer, as the host Rebels compete against the league champions from across the Canadian Hockey League. The tournament includes the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Here are five players to watch at this tournament, all expected to be drafted early in this summer's National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Kale Clague, Brandon Wheat Kings
An offensive defenceman with promising vision and playmaking ability. Ranked 27th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, and 30th by McKeen's, Clague could be drafted late in the first round. While the primary offensive support on the Brandon blueline during the regular season came from Flyers draft pick Ivan Provorov and recent Senators undrafted free agent signing Macoy Erkamps, it was Clague who drove the blueline offence during the WHL playoffs for his team, scoring six goals and adding eight helpers in 21 games.
Matthew Tkachuk, London Knights
Tkachuk will probably the highest drafted skater playing in the Memorial Cup this year. He is ranked sixth overall by McKeen's and ISS, and second overall for North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Tkachuk plays with a bit of an edge to his game on top of top line offensive production. He should be a highly sought after prospect at the draft. At 6'1" and almost 200 pounds, he is physically ready to play in the NHL. His 107 points for the Knights this season, and 40 points in 18 playoff games, easily ranked him first in the OHL for undrafted players. Expectations are high for him at the draft and is in the mix to be the fourth player taken.
Tyler Parsons, London Knights
The third highest ranked North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting, Parsons could be a surprise first round selection if he shows well at the Memorial Cup. Supported by a very successful offence, Parsons could just ride their success to boost his own numbers. However, a .921 save percentage tells another story, that of a talented goalie who could steal games for his team if needed to. He helped the Knights to a record 13 straight playoff victories this past year on their way to the OHL championship.
Max Jones, London Knights
Although he doesn't dominate on the scoresheet, standing at 6'3", Jones is a power forward who is hard to get off the puck, uses his speed, and is generally a nuisance to any opposing team's goaltender. He is ranked 14th overall by the ISS, 18th by McKeen's, and 14th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He just completed his first season in the OHL after spending time in the US Development Program. An ugly incident in the OHL playoffs this year saw him get suspended for 12 games by the League for a brutal headshot, but he has served his suspension, and returned during the OHL finals.
Olli Juolevi, London Knights
Rocketing up the prospect rankings this season, Juolevi is ranked fifth for North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, fifth overall by McKeen's, and 11th overall by the ISS, Juolevi should be the second defenceman chosen at this year's NHL Entry Draft, right behind with Jakub Chychrun. Juolevi is considered an excellent two-way defenceman, and at 6'2" is capable of playing physically in both zones. He led the Finnish national team to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships this past season. Despite being draft eligible, he played the most minutes on his team on the way to victory, registering nine assists in seven games.