By Allan Muir
The 2013 NHL Draft sets up as showdown between Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
Fortunately, so does the 2013 Memorial Cup.
The four-team tournament, emblematic of Canada's major junior hockey championship, gets underway this weekend and features Jones' Portland Winterhawks and the Drouin and MacKinnon-led Halifax Moosheads as the co-favorites. Games will be shown on Sporstnet in Canada and on the NHL Network in the United States, giving draftniks, prospectors and hopeful fans of the Avalanche, Panthers and Lightning something to look forward to.
Here's your guide to the teams, the elite players and the must-watch games.
Regular-season record: 58-6-3-1
Playoff record: 16-1
NHL prospects: RW Martin Frk (Red Wings, second round, 2012)
Draft eligible: C Nathan MacKinnon; LW Jonathan Drouin; G Zach Fucale
The skinny: The CHL's top-ranked team for much of the season will be looking to make it three straight Cups for the QMJHL...and with three likely first-rounders on their roster, they'll be the tournament's most closely watched side. Led by the Dynamic Duo of MacKinnon and Drouin, the Mooseheads boast junior hockey's most explosive offense, averaging 5.1 goals-per-game during the regular season and a stunning 5.3 per in the playoffs. But they also ranked as the top defensive club in the Q, allowing just 176 goals, with 17-year-old goaltender Fucale and veteran defenders Konrad Abeltshauser and Brendan Duke setting the tone on the back end. Abelthauser averaged better than a point per game during the playoffs and posted a plus-18 rating. Duke anchors a brutally efficient penalty kill (90.7 percent in the playoffs) that helps establish the Mooseheads as the pre-tournament favorite.
Regular-season record: 50-13-2-3
Playoff record: 16-5
NHL prospects: D Olli Maata (Penguins, first round, 2012); D Scott Harrington (Penguins, second round, 2011); G Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia, second round, 2012); C Seth Griffith (Bruins, fifth round, 2012); C Alex Broadhurst (Blackhawks, seventh round, 2011); C Chris Tierney (Sharks, second round, 2012); RW Josh Anderson (Blue Jackets, fourth round, 2012); C Ryan Rupert (Maple Leafs, sixth round, 2012);
Draft eligible: C Max Domi (C); C Bo Horvat (C); D Nikita Zadorov (D)
The skinny: The Knights squeezed into the tournament by the slimmest of margins -- Horvat's buzzer-beater with less than one second left on the clock decided Game 7 of the OHL Final -- but they come in highly motivated to avenge a loss to Shawinigan in last year's final. London boasts a deep offense led by veterans Griffith and Broadhurst, but they'll get significant contributions from Domi (son of NHL legend Tie) and Horvat, both of whom should be top-20 picks this June. Domi, a small, crafty center, has 32 points in 21 playoff games this spring. Rupert and his twin brother Matt are miserable to play against. Building on their experience in last year's tournament, they should be impact players. Harrington and Maatta lead a defense that is solid, but may not be up to the challenges posed by Halifax and Portland. Stolarz carried most of the load in net after joining the Knights from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but Jake Patterson has to step in with London trailing Barrie 3-1 in the OHL Final. He rang off three straight wins and enters the Memorial Cup as the starter, but Stolarz will be called on quickly if he falters.
Regular-season record: 57-12-1-2
Playoff record: 16-5
NHL prospects: RW Ty Rattie (Blues, second round, 2011); D Derick Pouliot (Penguins, first round, 2012); LW Brendan Leipsic (Predators, third round, 2012); D Troy Rutkowski (Avalanche, fifth round, 2010); LW Taylor Leier (Flyers, fourth round, 2012); Tyler Wotherspoon (D, Flames, second round, 2011)
Draft eligible: D Seth Jones; C Nicolas Petan; F Oliver Bjorkstrand
The skinny: It's been an interesting year for the Winterhawks, who lost coach Mike Johnston for the season, among other penalties, after violating player benefit regulations. The Hawks rallied around acting coach Travis Green and ran away with the league title, coming into the tournament as co-favorites with Halifax. Portland is loaded up front. Leipsic, Petan, and WHL Player of the Year Rattie finished 1-2-3 in the league scoring race, while Bjokstrand, Leier and Chase de Leo provide reliable secondary pop. Keep an eye on 16-year-old forward Dominic Turgeon, son of former NHL center Pierre. He'll likely have a limited role, but he could surprise if given an opportunity to step in. As deep as it is up front, the team's real strength is on the back end, where Pouliot, Wotherspoon, Rutkowski and likely first-overall pick Jones combine to form the best top-four in the CHL. Over-age goaltender Mac Carruth was sensational in the playoffs, posting a 1.63 GAA, a .937 save percentage and five shutouts. His experience could be a difference-maker.
Regular-season record: 44-24-2-4
Playoff record: 0-4
NHL prospects: D Duncan Siemens (Avalanche, first round, 2011); D Dalton Thrower (Canadiens, second round, 2011); RW Matej Stransky (Stars, sixth round, 2011); RW Josh Nicholls (Maple Leafs, seventh round, 2010); RW Shane McColgan (Rangers, fifth round, 2011); D Darren Dietz (Canadiens, fifth round, 2011); LW Michael Ferland (Flames, fifth round, 2010); C Lukas Sutter (Jets, second round, 2011); G Andrey Makarov (Sabres, free agent)
Draft eligible: NA
The skinny: How to put this delicately. The Blades are an embarrassment to the entire Canadian Hockey League. Awarded the opportunity to host the tournament last spring, Saskatoon struggled through a fair-to-spare season, then wet the bed in the first round as it was swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers. The team hasn't played in nearly two months, and is likely to get its doors blown off here. Led by Nicholls and Stransky, the Blades were a high-end offensive club during the regular season, but managed just five goals in four playoff games. Dietz led all WHL defenders with 24 goals. He'll need to be even better to keep the Blades in the mix. Team Russia's World Juniors goaltender Makarov is a hit-or-miss stopper. If he's on, the Blades might catch someone by surprise. If not -- and hey, two months of rust can't help -- then tournament organizers may need to resort to running time to spare the Blades any further humiliation.
Round Robin (all times EDT)
Game 1 – London vs Saskatoon; Friday, May 17; 6:00 pm
Game 2 – Portland vs Halifax; Saturday, May 18; 5:00 pm
Game 3 – Saskatoon vs Halifax; Sunday, May 19; 5:00 pm
Game 4 – Portland vs London; Monday, May 20; 6:00 pm
Game 5 – Halifax vs London; Tuesday, May 21; 6:00 pm
Game 6 – Saskatoon vs Portland; Wednesday, May 22; 6:00 pm
Tie-breaker (if necessary): Thursday, May 23; 6:00 pm
Semi-Final: Friday, May 24; 6:00 pm Memorial Cup Championship Game; Sunday, May 26; 5:00 pm