As the NHL playoffs remain in full swing, another hockey postseason requires some much-deserved attention as the individual leagues in the CHL have concluded their respective postseasons and are getting set to do battle in Brandon for the Memorial Cup. The pinnacle of Canadian Junior hockey, the Memorial Cup is a tournament comprised of the winners of the three CHL leagues and the host city. This year those teams will be the defending Memorial Cup champs from last year, the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, the Calgary Hitmen from the WHL, the Moncton Wildcats from the QMJHL and the host city's very own Brandon Wheat Kings from the WHL.
Here is a preview of the four teams that will be competing starting Friday, May 14th with the Spitfires taking on the host city Wheat Kings. Also included are notable player profiles, some players who were and weren't among my offical prospects rankings list and mid-season draft rankings:
Taylor Hall, Left Wing, 2010 eligible, PP rank #1
Adam Henrique, Center, 3rd round 2008 NJ, PP rank #83
Ryan Ellis, Defense, 1st round 2009 NSH, PP rank #42
Greg Nemisz, Center/Right Wing, 1st round 2008 CGY, PP rank #49
Cam Fowler, Defense, 2010 eligible, PP rank #3
Zach Kassian, Right Wing, 1st round 2009 BUF, PP rank #73
Team Preview: The Spitfires are the obvious favorite coming into the Memorial Cup. When you donít need to overplay a star like Taylor Hall, you know you have depth at the forward position and the Spitfires can roll waves of talented front gunners towards the opposing net. World Junior fans will recognize not only the acclaimed Hall, but also Greg Nemisz and Adam Henrique from Team Canada as the three complement each other well. Also 2010 elite defensive prospect Cam Fowler, who played for the US at the World Juniors as well, will display his puck-moving prowess. The hard-nosed power forward in Justin Shugg, also a 2010 draft eligible, Eric Wellwood, Zach Kassian and Scott Timmins complement a great offensive core. Never mind the blistering shot from Ryan Ellis on the point who is a premier powerplay quarterback in the CHL. The teamís lone weakness may be that they arenít very strong in the net, as they will be relying on the draft eligible German in Philip Grubauer to hold the fort. Heís not an all-star goalie, but has good reflexes and should be able to keep them in games.
Friday May 14th @ Brandon 8 EST
Monday May 17th vs. Calgary 8 EST
Tuesday May 18th vs. Moncton 8 EST
Moncton Wildcats- QMJHL
Brandon Gormley, Defense, 2010 eligible, PP rank #6
Nicolas Deschamps, Left Wing, 2nd round 2008, ANA, PP rank #71
David Savard, Defense, 4th round CBJ 2009, Unranked
Mark Barberio, Defense, 6th round TBL 2008, Unranked
Marek Hrivik, Left Wing, 2010 eligible, Unranked
Gabriel Bourque, Left Wing, 5th round 2009 NSH, Unranked
Team Preview: The weak sister of the CHL is and has for a while been the QMJHL. To say Iím optimistic about Monctonís chances in this tournament would only make me guilty of lying. However, the Wildcats do have some decent players on their roster. Gabriel Bourque was the playoff MVP in the Q as he and Kelsey Tessier formed a dynamic duo. Hrivik is an underrated scorer and if Deschamps is healthy their forward core will get a big boost. Kirill Kabanov is not on the team anymore due to a variety of reasons that could take a whole other column to get into. Savard and Barberio are good puck-movers on the backend and of course thereís top 2010 prospect Brandon Gormley. The Wildcats were definitely a force in the QMJHL, but they lack enough high-end weapons to matchup with the big boys of the CHL. So they will have to rely on their defense-first mindset and try to trap the offensive juggernauts like Windsor and Brandon if they want to win games. It doesn't help that they unfortunately caught a bad break with the scheduling, playing three games in four days.
Saturday May 15th vs. Calgary 3 EST
Sunday May 16th vs. Brandon 3 EST
Tuesday May 18th @ Windsor 8 EST
Calgary Hitmen- WHL
Brandon Kozun, Right Wing, 6th round 2009 LAK, Unranked
Matt MacKenzie, Defense, 2010 eligible, PP rank #92
Martin Jones, Goalie, Undrafted signed by LAK, Unranked
Joel Broda, Center, 5th round 2008, WSH, Unranked
Team Preview: The Hitmen may not have an elite 2010 Draft prospect or any high-end NHL prospects, but donít be fooled because Calgary can bring it in the CHL context. At the frontline is the small and skilled Brandon Kozun who suited up for Canada at the World Juniors this year. He may not be projectable as an NHL forward, but Kozun has torched the WHL this year registering over 100 points and will be the go-to guy for the Hitmen. Another Team Canada counterpart is the teamís goaltender Martin Jones who is the top netminder in this tournament. Jones backstopped the Hitmen to a WHL championship and was named the WHL goaltender of the year and the MVP of the WHL Championship Series. Calgary will rely on their solid defensive core of Michael Stone, Giffen Nyren and Matt MacKenzie to hold the fort and be the anchor for the team as they were throughout the WHL playoffs.
Saturday May 15th @ Moncton
Monday May 17th @ Windsor
Wednesday May 19th vs. Brandon
Brandon Wheat Kings- WHL
Brayden Schenn, Center, 2009 1st round LAK, PP rank #5
Scott Glennie, Right Wing, 2009 1st round DAL, PP rank #21
Toni Rajala, Right Wing, 2009 4th round EDM, Unranked
Travis Hamonic, Defense, 2008 2nd round NYI, PP rank #20
Matt Calvert, Left Wing, 2008 5th round CBJ, Unranked
Team Preview: The hosting Wheat Kings will be a formidable threat despite not actually having a championship to their name. The top line of Schenn, Glennie and Calvert is amongst the most dangerous in the tournament, if not the most dangerous. The former two were first round picks last year with Schenn going 5th overall and this line can be very physical and offensively dominant. They donít rely solely on those three however, as the 2nd line of the skilled Finn Toni Rajala, Fehr and Lewadniuk helps give them depth and an ability to spread out ice time more. They will also be anchored by probably the best group of defenseman in the tournament starting with the top pairing of Travis Hamonic, who was a great shutdown man for Team Canada at the World Juniors as well as probably the best two-way defenseman in the CHL, and Colby Robak. The Wheat Kings are going to have to hope that Jacob De Serres is able to keep them in games. Heís at best an average goalie and while Brandon never usually relies on him to win games, against this kind of competition he has to be at least average for them to have a chance. Also to no surprise, the host city got some favorable scheduling.
Friday May 14th vs. Windsor 8 EST
Sunday May 16th @ Moncton 3 EST
Wednesday May 19th @ Calgary 8 EST
Due to the brevity of the tournament, itís always a crapshoot trying to pick a winner. Even though Moncton is the weakest of the bunch, they still have a fighterís chance to hoist the Memorial Cup. The favorite remains the defending champion Spitfires, who are an all around excellent team, with the Hitmen, who have the best goalie in the tournament along with a very good defensive core, a close second.
So whether youíre a fan of a lottery team dissecting Taylor Hall or Cam Fowler, looking at your teamís Junior prospects or just watching to catch some fantastic hockey, enjoy the Memorial Cup!
Follow Corey on Twitter at @coreypronman.
Corey Pronman is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project. You can contact him at CPronman@fau.edu.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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